Land Rover Range Rover: Untapped Talents

By Frank A. Aukofer, February 13th, 2016

It must be frustrating, or at least disconcerting, to produce the 2016 Land Rover Range Rover, one of the world's most capable off-road civilian vehicles, only to learn that most of its owners are blissfully unaware of its attributes.

It's an anomaly in the car business: In order to earn a reputation for greatness, a manufacturer must produce a superior vehicle. It's the reason for the popularity of Land Rovers, as well as expensive vehicles from BMW, Maserati, Audi, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz.

But most buyers have little knowledge of the engineering and design of powertrains, suspension systems, brakes, and the array of other components and computer software that go into a sophisticated modern automobile. That's especially true of the Range Rover, which not only is a fine road machine but also has impressive off-road credibility -- as does its fraternal twin, the Range Rover Sport.

Customers essentially buy a Land Rover for its reputation. The vast majority of Rover buyers never take their vehicles off paved roads and, when they do, Land Rover's cadre of expert off-road instructors find that many owners have never used the systems and don't know how to operate them.

Besides, why would anyone want to go bashing about in the boonies with a vehicle this expensive? The Range Rover HSE Td6 tested for this review had a starting price of $94,445 and, with options, a delivered price of $103,925. You take the chance of wiping off an outside mirror, dinging an expensive 20-inch alloy wheel or, at least, scratching the paint with tree branches.

Usually, according to Land Rover off-road instructors, owners -- or even second or third owners -- finally take Range Rovers into the wilderness only when these vehicles are seven or eight years old.

It's a shame in a way because the 2016 model has a most intriguing new system for off-roading. It's called ATPC, for All Terrain Progress Control. Combined with Land Rover's existing Terrain Response, which has settings for general conditions, snow, mud and sand, the ATPC makes the Range Rover nearly unstoppable.

Added to the mix, for the first time in North America, is a new 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 diesel engine, which produces 252 horsepower. More important, especially for off-roading and towing, the engine delivers a whopping 443 lb.-ft. of torque, or low-speed twisting force. It gets the power to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual paddle control.

Suppose you're off the highway on a craggy dirt road, strewn with humps and rocks of every size: Simply set the Terrain Response for rock duty and boot up the ATPC. You control the latter with up and down buttons on the steering wheel at speeds ranging from as low as 1 mph up to about 5 mph, then take your feet off the pedals and steer.

When the Range Rover encounters an obstacle -- say, a big boulder -- all four wheels grab on like an octopus on its prey, then pause momentarily while the computer considers which wheels provide the best traction. Then it simply gets a grip and moves forward. Need to slow down? Touch the down arrow. If you're not using the ATPC, the Range Rover also has hill descent control.

In other respects, the tested Land Rover diesel is a rolling luxury vehicle with leather upholstery, heated wood steering wheel, panoramic motorized glass sunroof, navigation with voice control and a touchscreen with around-view monitoring, three-zone climate control, premium audio system with satellite radio, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, heated back seats, heated and cooled front seats, adaptive cruise control, parallel and perpendicular automatic parking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, and a tailgate with hands-free opening and closing.

An especially neat feature is an automatic system that lowers the ride height by as much as 2 inches to ease entry and exit. It raises up again for off-road gamboling.

On the road, the Land Rover Range Rover is a confident and quiet long-distance cruiser. It accelerates smartly, tracks true on straight stretches, and handles curves with ease (though it may not be the best sort of vehicle to attack twisting mountain roads). Set the adaptive cruise control, crank up the audio system, and relax with little intrusion of mechanical, road, or wind noise.

If you have the bucks, there are few more-rewarding vehicles. But enjoy learning the systems

Specifications

Base price $94,445 (as tested: $103,925)
Curb weight 4,883 lbs.
Displacement 3.0-liter
Engine type V-6 turbocharged diesel w/
Epa mileage rating 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 23.5 gal.
Horsepower (net) 254 at 4000 rpm
Overall length 196.9 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 443 at 1750 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger 4WD SUV
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