By Jim Bray
Range Rover has a solution for buyers of big, luxury sports utes who don't want to pay through the nose at the gas pump to get their big and heavy luxury vehicles around: get a diesel!
It's too bad diesels have received so much bad publicity over the last year or so, because they really are remarkable power plants. Where else can you get gobs of oomph and still achieve great "gas" mileage other than electric cars, most of which still don't have the range and take too long to charge?
I remember Volkswagen's ads that you could drive from Calgary to Vancouver on a single tank in one of their diesels (I think it was a Jetta in those commercials) and a few years ago the company lent me a diesel Passat (current generation) for a week-long trip from Vancouver to Seattle and back. That trip put about 1100 kilometres on the Passat, yet cost me less than $100 to fill it at the end. As I said: remarkable.
I used to drive buses, too, many of which were diesels, and was always impressed by how easy it was to use the diesels' outrageous torque to send little old ladies rolling down the aisle when I pulled away from bus stops. Okay, I made that part up (it wasn't just little old ladies!), but the point is valid: diesels, all other things being equal, provide terrific performance and excellent mileage.
When Jaguar Land Rover Canada offered me the use of a new Range Rover HSE during part of my recent trip to Ontario and Indiana, I jumped at the chance, though with reservations. Range Rover, like its stablemate Jaguar, is a legendary British name - the higher end version of the famed Land Rover utility vehicle - and my reservations came because I was unaware at the time that the review sample would be a diesel: I was worried about the cost of the gasoline I'd have to put into the big and heavy vehicle because I figured I'd be driving the version with the lovely five litre supercharged V8.
But it was not to be! The V8 comes on the Supercharged Range Rover and my sample this time was a deliciously all black HSE diesel, and it was a fine choice; if I were shopping for a Range Rover, I'd probably choose this one because it cost me a LOT less to keep on the road than I expected. I didn't actually track my mileage religiously, but my out of pocket fuel purchases were substantially lower than I expected to pay. Range Rover claims just shy of a 25 per cent increase in mileage over the gas engine, and that's probably not too far off.
The diesel is a turbocharged three litre V6 unit and, as with most diesels I've seen, its specifications are misleading: 254 horsepower and 440 lb.-ft. of torque. This compares with 510/461 horses/torque for the V8. So while the diesel pales in power, it's almost equal in torque, and it's the torque figure that's the most important if you like being pushed back into your seat when you tromp on the "gas" pedal. And when I tromped on the "gas" pedal in the sample Range Rover diesel, once the turbo spooled up (which doesn't take long at all), it was as if the 4883 pound (unladen) vehicle was shot out of a cannon. My only complaint about the diesel is that it clatters a bit - a common diesel thing - and considering the luxury mien of the Ranger Rover I was surprised there wasn't more sound deadening. It was hardly onerous, though and I probably only noticed it because I was listening for it (my wife didn't notice it at all).
The HSE is the base Range Rover and starts at a "mere" $108,490. And naturally you get a lot for that - otherwise why would you bother? The sample also upped the options ante to include stuff like the Driver Tech package ($2,500), InControl Connect package ($700), Meridian Premium Surround audio system ($1,900), Convenience Package ($2,200), front and rear climate pack ($1,650), and a bunch more stuff, some of which seems superfluous or unnecessary (the $1,200 illuminated tread pads and $1,500 adaptive cruise control, for example). Add all the stuff up and the Range Rover's as-tested price rose to $131,515 - and you can spend a lot more (this is the entry level model!).
Needless to say, it's a wonderful vehicle whose performance is matched by its tools and toys. Heck, the sample even had a small beer, er, champagne fridge in the centre console between the front seats. It also featured a suspension that raises and lowers, both to facilitate loading/unloading and to give extra ground clearance for when you take advantage of the Range Rover's legendary off-road prowess (you could probably drive it up Mount Everest). The lowering came in really handy with my rather short-statured family, especially since the sample wore the optional 22 inch wheels; 21 inchers are standard.
Driving the HSE diesel is a wonderful experience for the most part, though if you want it to feel sporty you'd probably be better served with the Range Rover Sport. The HSE feels a tad top heavy in fast cornering, though it never threatened to tip over, and to me the Sport mode should have been the default mode because otherwise the vehicle feels softer than I like. Range Rover undoubtedly knows its customers, though, and they probably know I'm not one of them…
There are lots of amenities aboard this hedonistic hauler. We were thrilled with the front seats, which were comfortable and luxurious for a long day's drive (and which also offer a massage feature for when the buttocks start nodding off). The rear seat was very roomy and comfortable, though my wife - who has some issues with sitting for long periods - preferred the front for longer drives. There are plenty of storage bins in the cabin, too, and the front seats also have arm rests on the inside edges that you can swing up and out of the way if you so choose. I so chose because I find such things restricting and the centre console was big and close enough that I could have used that easily if I needed to rest my right arm - which I didn't.
There's an abundance of driving settings designed to help you navigate everything from snow and sand to plunging meteorites (okay I made that last part up) but since I stuck to highways in the late spring, I just left it in automatic mode, which should handle all such situations by itself anyway. It seems like a formidably capable vehicle!
I've never been a fan of head's up displays, though I'm beginning to make peace with them. The Range Rover's came in really handy because it gave me a big, digital speedometer that was a lot easier to see at a glance than the little one on the instrument panel. The central LCD screen, which handles audio/climate/seat and navigation system duties, was a tad slow to react (I think it may be an older interface than the one I had the week before in the Jaguar XF S) but it worked fine once it deigned to acknowledge my presence. It reminded me of my kids…
The Range Rover also offers sophisticated parking assist features. There is not only an abundance of sensors, which is common these days, it also purports to park the vehicle for you, either parallel or angle parking. I've tried parallel parking features before and they can be pretty nifty, but I'd never tried the angle parking feature before, so I leapt at the chance and activated it a couple of times. The interface is easy to fathom, but the system proved problematic.
First of all, it backs the vehicle into the spot rather than driving in, which surprised me (since I hadn't bothered reading the manual). It also surprised the "driver" behind me in the Wal-Mart parking lot when the big Range Rover started backing toward him/her/it, judging from the panicked horn honk it elicited. That made me stop, which kicked out the parking system, and I drove forward and parked it myself - driving forward instead of backing into the slot.
I tried it again later, when there was no traffic around, and it tried to back me into a shopping cart corral that was too narrow for such a purpose (let alone full of shopping carts!). The Range Rover noticed this issue, fortunately, and its other sensors fired up and hollered for my attention. So I stopped and pulled out, and gave up on the system. I think if you need such things you should take the bus anyway.
I think that might have annoyed the Range Rover's cybernetic brain, because from that point on nearly every time I stopped, at a red light or parking or whatever, a sensor on the driver's side would go off warning that something was about to crunch that expensive exterior. Even when there was nothing remotely close. The issue kept up for the rest of my time with the Range Rover and it drove me nuts!
Naturally, I reported it when I returned the vehicle and, as you'd expect, when they drove us to the airport in the Range Rover it didn't happen again. Now the Jaguar Land Rover people probably think I'm an idiot, assuming they didn't before.
Perhaps this is an homage to the darker days of British motor companies, which were plagued by electrical system gremlins. Seems like an odd homage, though!
Electrical kerfuffle aside, I loved my week in the Range Rover HSE diesel (who wouldn't?). It's a fine vehicle, and a very classy one. My Dad was tempted to wave like Queen Elizabeth at people we passed by, such is the high end nature of the beast.
Sure, this isn't a vehicle I'd aspire to own (I'm more of a car than an SUV guy), but I can see why others aspire to them. It really is a legendary ride and worthy of respect and lust.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
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