The following is a real-life online debate that took place over the course of a few hours. Have a read, and feel free to take sides. There's a poll at the end so you can make your voice heard.
Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski: Strange as it may sound, Jeremy Clarkson and I have a few things in common, most obvious of which is that we share a given name. But we also both love cars so much that we decided to turn our automotive passion into a career — with varying degrees of success, of course — and we both have come to realize over time that there's no point in trying to topple the Land Rover Range Rover as the world's best luxury off-road utility vehicle.
Thing is, this universal truth isn't quite as universally shared as I think it should be. In fact, my esteemed colleague Alex Kierstein believes that Mercedes-Benz makes the most desirable four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles. He's clearly wrong, but I feel obligated to let him explain his choice, though it won't go without a rebuttal.
Senior Editor Alex Kierstein: That's correct, and so am I in this regard. I'm sorry, Jeremy, but it's an irrefutable fact that Mercedes-Benz is doing the best interiors in the business now. And the interior is where you're going to spend most of your time, at least when the thing's running. The Range Rover's interior simply isn't as special, and frankly it'll be in the shop enough that you won't enjoy it.
Now, stepping into pretty much any contemporary Mercedes sedan interior is a "wow" moment. They seem special — posh, exclusive, luxurious. The SUVs, all older vehicles coming due for total redesigns at some point in the future, are lagging a bit, but it's still a premium and upscale experience. Especially since performance is almost academic at this point. Anything in this class is going to be powerful, almost absurdly so. So why not go for the one that makes you feel like royalty, rather than your mechanic?
JK: I just want to point out that it was you who brought reliability into this discussion. According to the latest Vehicle Dependability Study, which rates vehicles once they've reached three years old — making it way more indicative of actual vehicular trouble than other JD Power studies — Land Rover is exactly average for reliability. But, according to studies by Consumer Reports and others, Mercedes owners have the second-most-expensive repair bills on average, behind only BMW. Land Rover, again, was exactly average among all makes.
More anecdotally, I've found that Range Rover issues tend to come and go. Check Engine lights, air suspension warnings and the like appear and disappear at random. Sure, a window may refuse to roll down for a short period, but it invariably starts working again in short order. It's so British it hurts. Mercedes, however ... if something breaks, it's broke but good. Call a tow truck, don't drive it, or else. Expect a big repair bill.
As far as interior luxury, you're right. Mercedes-Benz is on a roll, easily leading the pack when it comes to design and functionality. But let's not pretend that Land Rover is terrible. I'm enjoying a lovely sense of solidity in the Range Rover Supercharged model I've been driving this past week, the leather quality is second to none, the digital gauge cluster is clear and concise, and there's a ton of room inside. Again, it's very British, and proper.
AK: I'll partially concede your point on reliability ... Land Rover's got a checkered but improving reputation, but German repair bills (even if they crop up less frequently) can't be ignored. But I don't think you're saying the British match the Mercedes' level of semi-affordable opulence. You say "very British, very proper" and "a lovely sense of solidity" — I read that as understated, almost to a fault. I don't think that plays in this day and age. It used to be a clean, well-executed design was enough, but nowadays I think you need to be special, eye-catching. You need to grab a consumer right by the scruff of the neck, shake 'em a bit, and say, "See? It's so special!" Land Rovers are almost austere — nice materials but with large swaths of blocky surfaces, like the world's nicest Cozy Coupe.
Now, if you'd picked out the Velar, which is about to go on sale, I'd say it'd be a real contest. The materials — textures and coverings — are fascinating. And it looks handsome, too, taking some of the very appealing Evoque's styling language and stretching it over a more reasonably-sized box. Whatever jellybean shape a mid-sized Mercedes crossover comes in, it's not nearly as distinctive. But ... the full-sized Range Rover seems like a much-updated refugee from the 1990s SUV boom to me, and it's not in Mercedes' league ... or the Velar's.
JK: OK, let's move on. It's funny that we have yet to even touch on off-road capability, isn't it? Here's the thing: The Land Rover Range Rover has a sophisticated suspension setup that lifts and lowers as needed, high-tech computer controlled four-wheel-drive modes, and locking differentials designed to get you unstuck should all else fail. I'd wager that the Rover is better in the rocks and muck than the Benz.
AK: Show me a Range Rover conquering rocks and muck more intimidating than a J Crew parking lot, and I'll show you a living, breathing wooly mammoth.
JK: Point conceded. I do still think the Range Rover is better off-road, but you're right. There aren't any owners out there willing to test either far enough to know which is better.
Now it's time for you to weigh in. Let us know what you think. Range Rover? Mercedes-Benz? Or something else?