2013 Range Rover

GOLDSBORO, N.C. — No matter how adept a sport utility vehicle is at climbing rocks, fording streams or tackling wild terrain, most of its life will be spent on hard pavement accomplishing the chores of life. For that reason the all-new 2013 Land Rover Range Rover is one honey of a luxury SUV.

After seven days with a $96,000 version of Land Rover's flagship, we concluded it's as accomplished as an S-Class Mercedes or a 7-Series BMW at pampering its occupants with cutting-edge features including scrumptious leather from Scotland, a comfortable ride thanks to new aluminum air suspension system, stretch-out room for rear-seat passengers (nearly five inches more than the last generation), and performance and driving dynamics from two V-8 engines mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

One of our usual riders commented after spending 45 minutes in the shotgun seat, "I'm not convinced this (sport utility) has got the usual Land Rover off-road chops. It's too impressive in just normal driving. It drives like a luxury car, not an off-road truck."

But the Range Rover, at least over the past couple of decades, has pampered its occupants with a level of luxury found in very few sport utility vehicles while providing a first-class off-road experience. This new fourth-generation Range Rover — only the fourth complete redesign in 43 years — has taken the upscale suburban driving experience to a new level. It becomes obvious after just a few miles behind the wheel.

So our rider's observation was a good one — can traditional Range Rover buyers expect the kind of ultra luxury highway experience found in a Jaguar XJ without losing the traditional off-road prowess the Range Rover has become known for over nearly a half century?

While we only experienced the 2013 Range Rover over 250 delightful miles of on-road driving, one of our MotorwayAmerica contributors drove some extremely rugged territory in Utah under the supervision of Land Rover off-road experts and reports that it has lost none of its extreme off-road capability, and, in fact, might be the best Land Rover ever at negotiating the toughest places in the world.

"How a vehicle can overcome the challenging terrain that is almost child's play for Range Rover and still deliver dizzying levels of ride comfort must involve magic, voodoo or some other form of black arts," he wrote.

Land Rover has eliminated about 700 pounds from last year's model, achieved mostly through the liberal use of aluminum in the unibody skeleton and other areas. The cabin, though, is larger, incorporating nearly five inches of additional rear-seat legroom.

The suspension is all-new and the full-time four-wheel-drive system is the next-generation Terrain Response 2 that still has manual settings for "general," "grass/gravel/snow," "mud/ruts," "sand" and "rock crawl." The big advancement is that there is also an automatic setting the lets the Range Rover's computer pick the appropriate setting based on ever-changing conditions.

The 2013 Range Rover has a strong resemblance to the outgoing model with only evolutionary changes. The clamshell hood design and "floating" roof of the past generation remain. The windshield is more steeply raked and the traditional sharp edges have taken on a more rounded, softer look.

There are two engine choices and they will be familiar to current Range Rover owners. Both are responsive and surprisingly efficient. A 375-horsepower 5-liter V8, and a 510-horsepower 5-liter supercharged V8 are each bolted to an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Land Rover claims the naturally aspirated V8 takes the Range Rover from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds; while the supercharged engine accomplishes that sprint in 5.1 seconds.

And gas mileage? Mileage is probably not a concern for most owners. The V8 is rated at 14 city, 20 highway and 16 mpg overall and the supercharged engine is rated at 13/19/15. Both use premium gas.

The 2013 Range Rover is available in four trims — the base model, the HSE (predicted to be the volume model), the Supercharged and the Autobiography. A base model starts at $83,545, the HSE at $88,545, the Supercharged at $99,995, and the loaded-with-everything Autobiography at $130,995.

Our test vehicle was the HSE model with numerous options including the premium audio package, climate comfort package, and vision assist package bringing the bottom line to $96,195.

— Jim Meachen