Prior to our stint with the 2011 Range Rover Supercharged, we enjoyed some time with a Jaguar XKR. The Jag and the Rover have the same supercharged 5.0-liter V8 and about the same six-figure price tag, which led a friend to ask which vehicle we'd prefer to own. Without hesitation, this author's answer is the one you'd willingly take off-road. The supercharged Rover has more than enough power to be an exhilarating drive, is extremely capable off road and has room to spare for family, friends, pets, groceries and golf clubs. It just makes more sense than the Jag. Sense, however, usually doesn't factor in when you're making a four-wheeled wish list, so we took our friend for a ride, after which he hopped out with a smirk and said, "I'd take the Rover, too..."
This particular Landie is the latest iteration of Land Rover's most famous sport utility vehicle. Sold alongside the same model with a naturally aspirated version of its 5.0-liter V8, the Supercharged is perhaps not as visually athletic to behold as the Range Rover Sport, or the Jaguar XKR for that matter, but it's just as powerful as both and can carry more cargo. Which makes the 2011 Range Rover Supercharged an Alex Trebec-approved answer to the clue, "A $102,365 vehicle famous for off-roading that does things on road you didn't know it could."
Photos copyright ©2010 Jeff Glucker / AOL
The Range Rover received a major overhaul in 2002, and Land Rover has refined and tweaked the vehicle ever since to keep it fresh. It was significantly updated for the 2010 model year, which coincided with the 5.0-liter V8's arrival, a delightful engine that has found its way under the hood of most Land Rover and Jaguar products. For 2011, the Range Rover has again been tweaked, but with a lighter touch and only where it matters most. Let's start with the outside.
Range Rovers have always been boxy, like the auto industry's take on a bar of gold: simple, heavy and expensive. Its upright grille and vertical slabs of sheetmetal accentuate its towering presence, as the rest of the lines move backward in a perfectly parallel manner. Look closer, however, and you'll see the designers have built in a few subtle curves, most noticeably in the slight hood creases and subtly flared fenders filled by 20-inch, 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels. 2011 models also sport new headlamps and a set of LED taillamps that turn from bright to brilliant when the sun retires.
While the exterior of the Range Rover Supercharged melds tradition with the modern era, its interior pushes further into the future. The tech-laden cabin is incredibly welcoming and swathed in a mixture of top-shelf textures. Like metal? You'll enjoy the shifter, pedals and countless metal accents throughout the cabin. In the case of our tester, you'll also find a dark Black Lacquer Finish trim that contrasts nicely with the shiny bits. Finally, an abundance of soft Ivory-colored leather creates a transition between the other two materials and adds some warmth to the cabin. Our tester also featured Arabica Oxford hides with contrasting stitching and white piping on the seats. The cornucopia of colors and textures works surprisingly well; owners who have interior decorators on retainer should feel right at home.
The Range Rover's high seating position and abundance of glass provide lighthouse attendant levels of visibility, while the power-adjustable front seats are a Recaro-meets-La-Z-Boy mix of capable and comfortable. They also offer both heating and cooling to help keep bottom temperatures in the zone. When the latter is switched on, the cooling fans are clearly audible, but that's the price you pay for cold buns. Back seat passengers may miss out on the cooling experience, but the heated rear seats are adequate for people over six-feet tall and also recline.
Located in the center of the dashboard sits a clean stack of controls that mimics the upright nature of the Land Rover's exterior. Its borders run vertically up from the transmission tunnel, disappearing for a brief moment behind a stretch of Ivory leather, and then reappear to frame the touchscreen interface. That seven-inch display is crisp and the menus easy to operate – the learning curve is minimal despite the multitude of features available. One of those is the optional upgraded HarmonKardon audio system with 1200 watts of clear surround sound joy pumped through 19 speakers. We took a spin through a varied music catalog courtesy of local FM stations, satellite radio and an iPod, with each audio source coming through crisply, even when the volume knob was set to Pete Townsend. The one sour note we experienced was the longer-than-normal delay when switching between satellite radio stations, a complaint we seem to have with all Land Rover and Jaguar vehicles that share the same infotainment architecture.
With last year's upgrades, Land Rover elected to ditch the instrument panel's analog gauges in favor of a new 12.3-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen. These digital gauges are incredibly easy to read during the day or night and also feature a menu to adjust a variety of vehicle settings. While digital gauges go all the way back to the '80s, today's versions are more like small computer screens running sophisticated software than the Timex-inspired iterations of yesteryear. As such, we asked Land Rover what would happen if the Range Rover's TFT malfunctioned and were told one of two outcomes were possible. The vehicle would still be drivable if just the screen went out, but if there were a major malfunction with the entire instrument pack, which feeds information to the vehicle's security system, then it may not start.
The Range Rover SC's interior and tech are top notch, but one thing we need to take issue with is the key fob. It's roughly the size and weight of a bar of Lava soap. That wouldn't be that bad if the key could stay in your pocket, but the Range Rover doesn't sense the key when you approach, so it must be taken out to unlock the doors. This sounds like we're whining about a very minor problem, and we are, but if a $20,000 Nissan Altima knows when we're standing next to it, a $103,000 luxury SUV should be able to do the same.
The key issue disappears quickly, however, once the supercharged 5.0-liter V8 is lit and you're underway. A brand-new six-speed automatic transmission sends all 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque to the rubber sitting at each corner, with peak torque available from 2,500 rpm through 5,550 rpm. This Rover pulls like it's drinking diesel, and even sounds a bit like it at idle. When we could pry our ears away from the sound system, we even heard the faint whine of the supercharger. The run to 60 miles per hour from a standstill takes place in a hair under six seconds – surprisingly exciting for a stylish brick that weighs a key-fob under 5,900 pounds.
While the engine works its magic, the Range Rover Supercharged's air suspension also has a multitude of tricks up its sleeve that range from basic to brilliant. On the standard side of the ledger, it can raise or lower the 'ute from its normal driving height of 9.1 inches. Access height drops the car a few inches to help folks get in and out, while Off-road Mode increases ground clearance by two inches to 11.1. On the brilliant end of the spectrum is Terrain Response. If you're using a Range Rover the way the blokes from Gaydon intended, then you'll encounter road conditions other than flat and smooth. Terrain Response is ready to help out with settings for Rock Crawl, Mud and Ruts, Sand, Grass/Gravel/Snow and the standard roadgoing setting. It sounds gimmicky, but works wonderfully. The system controls the vehicle's braking, throttle response and engine speed to make sure the Range Rover goes exactly where you intend.
Since many owners rarely stray off the beaten path, Land Rover has honed its SUV to be just as competent on the road. Remember the guy shaped like a house who threw discus back in high school? Now imagine him in a foot race with Usain Bolt. That's what it feels like driving the Range Rover Supercharged. When your shoe meets the gas and the pedal hits the carpet, your back meets the seat and your brain takes a shot of dopamine. It's an intoxicating process that you'll want to repeat over and over. This, of course, came back to bite us at the gas pump, where we recorded an average fuel economy of just 10 miles per gallon. The 2011 Range Rover Supercharged is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 12 mpg in the city and 19 on the highway, both of which we're sure is possible when less fun is being had behind the wheel.
That all-new six-speed automatic does a sublime job of channeling power to the wheels, particularly in Sport mode, where the gear changes happen quickly, but don't snap necks against headrests. When the speed needs to be reeled in, gargantuan 15-inch front rotors with six-piston calipers and 14.4-inch discs at the back will have you straining against physics... and your seat belt.
All told, this latest incarnation of the Range Rover Supercharged has evolved nicely without losing sight of where it comes from. But does a $103,000 SUV make sense? When compared to something like the Jaguar XKR, a good argument can certainly be made. Most buyers, however, are going to cross shop the Range Rover Supercharged with vehicles like the BMW X5 M, Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG. All feature similar price tags around the $100,000 mark, big V8s with over 500 horsepower and driving experiences that confound expectations. Yes, the Range Rover is the heaviest in this group and also the slowest. But it also offers the most interior cargo room, is by no means tardy, and comes packing an English manor full of enviable off-road lineage and character as standard-fit.
If those qualities matter more to you than owning the quickest premium sport-ute, then this $103,000 SUV still makes a degree of sense. However, when it comes to talking about triple-digit SUVs, 'sense' probably never enters into the minds of would-be customers. But when one can afford to view life from a Range Rover's regal perch, they can also afford not to care – and that may be the greatest luxury of all.
Photos copyright ©2010 Jeff Glucker / AOL