The moon carves a notch through the stark landscape, pointing the way up a twisted trail towards the snow-covered summit that we intend to conquer before the afternoon is out. Driving almost anything else it might seem a fool’s errand, but never doubt someone sitting behind the wheel of a Range Rover—the new 2013 Range Rover, to be more precise, the fourth generation of the classic British sport-utility vehicle.
True, we’ve spent the morning traveling in style, navigating the highways of southern Utah in one of the most elegantly refined vehicles you could ask for. The Range Rover’s cabin is lavished in leathers and woods and outfitted with all the accoutrements you might long for in a far less capable vehicle. On paved roads, the ride is smooth, plush and quiet. But as we reach the base of the trail and switch the Terrain Response Control, this lamb transforms into a mountain lion, ready to assault landscape you’d shy away from on foot.
The flagship of the Land Rover line, the 2013 SUV has undergone some dramatic changes. The design team shaved anywhere from 700 to 926 pounds off the weight of the various Ranger Rover models. Along with the all-new aluminum body, they’ve added a variety of new features like a power lift gate and an audiophile sound system rivaling the best you might assemble at home. But the project meant “we had a huge responsibility to protect the DNA of this icon,” explains design chief Gerry McGovern. Much of the emphasis was on further improving off-road capabilities by refining features like the Terrain Response system.
With the simple turn of the dial, we reset a variety of vehicle functions, shifting into low gear, raising the air suspension to gain several extra inches of ground clearance and altering the throttle response so we can confidently creep our way across a rock-and-boulder-strewn field. As we slowly climb towards the tree line, we turn the dial once again, this time adapting the vehicle settings to give us optimum grip in deep snow and muddy ruts. It takes a bit of work and some careful planning, but we clear each obstacle and are soon looking down upon the valley floor from which we’d set out just a few hours earlier.
First introduced in 1970, the original Rover transformed the way we thought about off-roading. An early model was so distinctive it was placed on display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris as an “exemplary work of industrial design.” Each generation has grown more sophisticated and rewarding. If the latest Range Rover has something of a dual personality, that’s nothing to despair. It’s ready to take you down the most rugged trails during the day and go off to the opera by night. It may be a classic, but the latest version of the Range Rover is definitely no museum piece.