Review: 2012 Range Rover HSE

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This here is a $90,000 vehicle that was introduced a decade ago. It was designed by BMW in the 1990s. Its parent company, Land Rover, was then sold to Ford. Eight years later Ford sold it to Tata, where is merged again with Jaguar. Over that time the vehicle was powered by at least half dozen different engines and received updates both substantial and minor. This would typically be a recipe for disaster, yet this here Range Rover is enjoying some its best sales. More so, after spending a weekend with this HSE LUX version of the big-boy Range Rover I must admit that I really want one of my own, consequences be damned.

It is, to me, impossible to put in writing why I love this vehicle so much. It’s a big square box on wheels, it’s expensive, it’s inefficient, and in the days of record high gasoline prices and animated animosity toward the people who can afford one, it makes no sense at all. Add to that the fact that no one will actually use it off-pavement and the fact that SUVs with similar abilities can be had for half the price, Jeep Grand Cherokee being one, why would anyone buy this?

 

Allow me to present this via the following similies: Casio and Omega, Sony and Bose, Dell workstation and Apple Mac Pro. For all intensive purposes all intents and purposes all of these can do the job equally well, but one makes its user feel special. The product itself does not even need to be better and it’s never cheaper, it just needs to make the user feel special. Like no other vehicle I recently drove, including a Ferrari and a Bentley, the Range Rover does just that perfectly.

What exactly is that? Outside it cannot be mistaken for anything else. Since its introduction the L322 Range Rover has adopted and modernized the looks of the Range Rover Classic almost perfectly. The proportions, styling details and functionality are all there. Like older BMWs, this vehicle seems to have been designed by engineers and only in recent years have “designers” been allowed to add somewhat questionable jewelry to an otherwise burly body.

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Step up and plant your butt into the driver’s seat. Right away you’re overwhelmed by something that is missing from most modern cars, daylight. The feel of it is akin to a modern high-rise building but in this automotive application it gives the most commanding view of the road. The view beyond the long flat hood ahead allows you to see over most cars. On the highway you feel like you’re above the rest, even trucks seem smaller. The seat itself, heated and ventilated, is more similar to a modern executive office chair rather than anything seen in cars. Yes, it is super comfortable and it an odd way forces proper posture upon you.

The dash layout itself also strays away from most modern cars despite being recently updated. Knobs and large buttons dominate, all logically laid out and easy to use. Why is this concept so difficult to comprehend by other manufacturers, I do not know. Things are not as rosy when it comes to the touch-screen infotainment system but while slow and seemly capable of displaying only one thing at a time (what, you want a radio station AND a map?). It is, however, a lot more intuitive than anything latest-and-greatest from Ford and most functions can be easily performed via the steering wheel controls. In the end, the nav system got me where I needed to go while I performed such challenging tasks as changing the satellite radio channel from 100 to 101, WHILE driving!

Rear seat passengers will complain about the step-in height, even with the suspension lowered 1.6” in access mode, and about the rear doors being slightly narrow. Once inside they’ll be comfortable but not as comfortable as they could be as rear legroom is not as good as others in this segment. They’ll just have to get over it as longer doors and more legroom would sacrifice the exterior proportions and/or cargo space of the Rover. Speaking of suspension, there is also an off-road mode which raises the vehicle another 2” for increased ground clearance and break-over angles. It’s really impressive; I showed it off to at least a dozen people.

One thing to remember about the Range Rover, that while it’s realistically unlikely that it will perform most of the tasks it was designed for, has been designed as a proper truck/off-road utility vehicle. The specs do not lie: 1290# payload, 7700# tow, 550# tongue weight, 220# roof rack, 11.1” ground clearance, 27.6” max water fording. With that in mind I must compliment the heavy, 5700#, Rover for its handling (on/off-ramps), stopping (got cut-off and almost rear-ended a dbag), and power even in this basic 375hp/375tq/6-speed setup. I really don’t see the need for anyone to get the supercharged version.

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If you’re still reading this you have noticed that I have obviously fallen blindly in love with this Range Rover and I am completely oblivious of its darkside – reliability. We have all heard nightmare stories about the suspension, electronics, etc. The thing is, my uncle is on his third Range Rover and he has never has a major issue. Yes, little annoyances but it never left him stranded and the dealership has treated him very well. He did however purchase each of the Rovers brand new. That is the secret to most European cars; buying new or, better yet, leasing is the way to go.

The Range Rover is far from anyone would consider a perfect vehicle. However, these imperfections are what give the big Rover something that is missing from so many new cars, a character. In the end the Range Rover makes its driver feel special and it is that feeling which tops any rational justification for buying anything else. This week, at the New York International Auto Show a new Range Rover, or a concept thereof, will be unveiled. While I hope that the new version will be better in every way than this vehicle, I also hope that it does not change much.

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