Legendary, Iconic... And Improved?



It is an undeniable reality that there are only so many adjectives to choose from when describing a given vehicle. Here are two that tend to be both overused and misused perhaps more than any other: legendary and iconic.

Forgive us for regaling you with these descriptors yet again, but when it comes to the 2013 Land Rover Range Rover, there simply aren't any words in the English language that can be applied to this sport utility vehicle that are as accurate and forceful as legendary and iconic. And what's especially impressive about our use of these adjectives is that they apply equally well when discussing the Range Rover's off-road capabilities as they do its position as a status symbol.

This marketplace position, however laudable and desirable it may be, presents a unique problem: How do you redesign a legendary SUV to be better, faster and stronger while maintaining its posh image? The boffins at Land Rover think they've nailed the art of the redesign, and we spent a week with the 2013 Range Rover to find out for ourselves if you really can mess with success and come out the victor.

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The new 2013 model is more of the same, for the most part.

"Don't change it, just make it better." Those were the words of Andrew Polsinelli, Land Rover North America's head of product planning, to our own Jonathon Ramsey when describing how current Range Rover owners drove the product development team at the Indian-owned-yet-still-very-British-feeling automaker for 2013. The only problem with that directive is that "better" can mean different things to different people – do you want the Range Rover to drive better on the road, or do you want it to enhance its legendary off-roading capabilities? As it turns out, the answer to that question was simple: Owners wanted both.

One area where making it better caused a recognizable change or two to the latest Range Rover is its external appearance. The previous generation of Land Rover's SUV gave off an unmistakable vibe that ingrained into the onlooker that it was just as happy crossing a random stream in Africa as it was parallel parking in front of the local Starbucks. The new 2013 model is more of the same, for the most part.

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It's an attractive SUV that will never be mistaken for anything else.

Signature elements like the clamshell hood, broad roof held up by thin pillars (well, they at least look thin, since they are blacked out to hide them from view) and fastback rear glass join with the more-recent vertical vents behind the front wheels and intricately detailed grille insert to make this latest Rover immediately recognizable. At the same time, changes to the recipe like a much more steeply raked windshield and jewel-like head- and taillamp clusters bring the 'ute kicking and screaming into modern times.

When push comes to shove, we prefer the less ornamental and more purposeful look of the last-generation Range Rover to the more streamlined appearance of the 2013 model, but we're probably being picky. The 2013 Land Rover Range Rover is an attractive SUV that will never be mistaken for anything else – it just doesn't bludgeon its 'I'm better than you' ethos into our retinas quite like the last Range Rover did.

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It's a similar story inside. It's incredible how many buttons, dials and switches Land Rover was able to delete in this latest Range Rover remake. The spec sheet says interior clutter has been reduced by 50 percent, but it feels like way more than that when sitting behind the wheel. Ergonomically, the new Range Rover is much easier to use than the last one, with a large eight-inch touchscreen interface dominating the center of the dash that controls such items as the audio and navigation systems, which includes settings for on-road and off-road driving.

It's incredible how many buttons, dials and switches Land Rover was able to delete.

Directly behind the steering wheel is another screen measuring a full 12.3 inches and housing the twin digital gauges along with trip information and cool bits of data reminding you how you've configured the numerous drivetrain functions. The climate control switchgear is kept separate in a bundle tidily located between the two front occupants, and we appreciate how easy it is to make quick adjustments without resorting to the touchscreen interface above.

The interior is much less imposing for 2013 compared to the button-heavy 2012 model, but again, part of the Range Rover's charm may have been lost in the process of modernization. There still isn't a more luxurious place in the world to experience all that the beaten path hides from plain sight, but the more industrial look of the last-gen Range Rover somehow appeals to our inner senses and insensibilities.

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Much of the Range Rover's legendary status comes from that fact that it has proven time and time again to be the most extraordinarily capable production SUV in the world, and for 2013, it's more functional than ever before. As in past years, there's a dial in the center of the console with settings for the kind of use the vehicle is required to get you through – General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Rock Crawl. For 2013, though, the system is called Terrain Response System 2 and it comes with an Auto setting. Land Rover has made the system smarter and quicker, reading the wheels and body motions with sensors aplenty and processing all that data into the proper amounts of wheel articulation while sending torque to the wheel with the most available traction.

The air suspension can raise the Range Rover 11.9 inches off the ground.

It's all very high-tech, but just as importantly, this Land Rover is capable of shielding the driver behind laminated panes of glass so he can go about pounding the terrain into submission without actually breaking a sweat or spilling his drink. Which would be hot Earl Gray tea, naturally, and please hold the lemon.

Underneath the snazzy bodywork is an air suspension system that can raise and lower the car using a switch in the cabin. Not only is it a fun party trick when the car is full of passengers, it's also able to raise the Range Rover 11.9 inches off the ground. Combined with 10.2 inches of suspension travel up front and 12.2 inches out back, the 2013 Range Rover can scurry up and over just about any obstacle in its way. We recorded a quick demonstration of this system at work that you can check out below.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2013 Land Rover Range Rover

There's a shocking 700-pound reduction from the last model's weight.

On-road handling is exemplary as well. We're not sure how Land Rover has managed to make a vehicle that feels like it rides on its own bespoke set of billowing clouds on tarmac while simultaneously managing to crawl over jagged rocks and washboard surfaces with aplomb, but they did it. Stopping performance, headlined by the six-piston Brembo calipers up front, is also good, helped in no small part by the dramatic reduction in weight. Land Rover says its 2013 Range Rover weighs in at 4,850 pounds. It's no lightweight, but that figure represents a shocking 700-pound reduction from the last model, thanks largely to a massive increase in the use of aluminum in place of steel.

Driving the 2013 Range Rover is a pleasure, as it is quiet, smooth and comfortable. Handling is aided by a new system called Dynamic Lean Response, which electronically controls the sway bars to keep the car flat through corners. You can't actually feel it working, but we suppose that's probably a good thing.

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Our lead feet led to a week-long tally of just 13.9 mpg.

For 2014 (that's next model year – our test car was a '13), power for a base model comes from a newly launched supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that sends 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. We haven't sampled this supercharged V6 in the Range Rover, but the company promises better performance than the previously standard 5.0-liter V8, along with improved fuel efficiency estimated at 16 miles per gallon in the city, 22 on the highway and 18 mpg combined.

Currently, though, shoppers have the choice of two V8 engines, the aforementioned base V8 and what our test vehicle was equipped with, a supercharged version with 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque. That's plenty of power, since Land Rover has managed to remove all that weight. Dividends are paid in the form of 0-60 runs of 5.1 seconds – a 0.8-second improvement. Fuel economy is also improved to 13/19/15 (city, highway and combined). Our lead feet led to a week-long tally of just 13.9 miles per gallon, though that did include a few extended stints at idle with the air conditioning on. In any case, we doubt the SUV's intended buyer will care how much fuel it drinks in between 27.7-gallon tank fill-ups if they are choosing the big supercharged V8 engine, and the ones who do mind will probably be more than content with the smaller supercharged V6. We wish the company could find a way to offer a diesel engine in the States, but we look forward to sampling the new six-cylinder base engine since the oil-burning mill doesn't seem likely on our shores.

2013 Land Rover Range Rover rear 3/4 view

The Range Rover has always managed to feel worth its high-dollar sticker price.

If nothing else, the V6 engine may help lower the price of what is undeniably an expensive vehicle. The base 2013 Land Rover Range Rover starts at a heady $83,545, and it only goes up from there. Equipped with the supercharged engine and a few luxury packages that we can't imagine owning a Range Rover without, our test car carried with it a sticker that just crested $115,000. The top-shelf Autobiography model begins emptying wallets with a dizzying $130,995 sticker price, and you can push that within spitting distance of $150,000 after adding a few more bits of decadence.

The Range Rover, though, has somehow always managed to feel worth its high-dollar sticker price. The accommodations couldn't be nicer, and the 2013 model is the kind of vehicle that can quite literally take you anywhere you may want to go. But the same thing could be said of the last generation of Landie's off-roader. So, the question remains: Did they "make it better"? In the end, they did. We just didn't realize how much we liked the last Range Rover until it was... well, made better.

And so go the perils of updating an iconic SUV with legendary capabilities.