For Rock Crawling in Luxury, Range Rover's the King

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For Rock Crawling in Luxury, Range Rover's the King

Range Rover - It's the 4x4 all other SUV owners look up to with envy and lust. Fifty years ago, Land Rover pioneered the off-road vehicle concept and in the early '70s, it gambled on another ground-breaking product, Range Rover, the world's first luxury SUV. Last updated in '95, Range Rover is not the newest model around but it remains unquestionably the king of the hill.

Some would describe Range Rover's boxy silhouette as dated but in many books, it's a classic retaining an elegance that almost defies improvement. A big part of its appeal is the expansive greenhouse: There are acres of glass and despite the four pillars per side, visibility is excellent in all directions.

Inside, luxury and comfort reign with supple, saddle-stitched leather, walnut trim around the center stack and thick carpeting. The controls and gauges are logically laid out and the large, leather-wrapped steering wheel is a pleasant handful. The control stalks, however, take some getting used to. Also falling into this category are power window switches. Located on the up-slope of the center console, behind the parking brake, they are the textbook definition of counter-intuitive design. Hit what you think is the front window switch and the rear window activates. Even after three days of driving the car, I still couldn't get used to the illogical layout. Nitpicking aside, sitting behind the wheel of a Range Rover, you feel high in the saddle, like you're on top of the world.

The heated, 10-way power front seats have electrically adjustable lumbar supports and a pair of armrests which feature ingenious screw height adjusters for a perfect driving position. The dual-zone climate control system works fine while the Harmon Kardon stereo system with its sub-woofer can turn the Range Rover into a disco on wheels. The vehicle also comes with cruise control, a manually tilt-and-telescopic adjustable steering wheel, power sunroof plus front and side airbags.

Shod with Michelin 18-inch radials, the Range Rover treads fearlessly, delivering superlative ride quality both on and off the road. On the highway, it's a relaxed and impressively quiet cruiser. Off-road, what else can be said except that Range Rover serves as the industry benchmark for off-road performance. It rides on solid live axles, an unusual design by most standards, which have a wider articulation than your average 4x4 and endow Range Rover with its extraordinary rock crawling abilities. The throttle linkage is nice and long. While slightly annoying on the highway, the long travel proves valuable in touchy off-road situations requiring precise pedal control. The drive train is full-time four-wheel drive system with the ruggedness of a tank. A low gear selection range is available for off-road crawling.

What is also unique to Range Rover is the air spring system that can automatically adjust ride height appropriate to the circumstances. An on-board air compressor can raise and lower the vehicle body within a 135 millimeter range. Off-road, the body can be raised to maximize ground clearance. On the highway, it lowers by itself to improve stability and reduce drag. An on-board computer automatically maintains one of five profiles for the ideal ride height but it can be over-ridden by the driver, for example, when driving into a parking lot with a low overhead clearance.

In climbing from zero to 100 km/h, the Range Rover clocks in at around 9.5 seconds, not exactly a world-class sprinter but a respectable time nevertheless for a vehicle of this size. This is also the thirstiest machine I've ever driven. Just stomp on the accelerator pedal and you can almost watch the fuel gauge drop. For folks spending this amount of money on a car, fuel economy is the least of worries. There's a diesel engine option but don't hold your breath: This 2.5-liter turbocharged BMW engine is currently unavailable in Korea.

The Range Rover Autobiography is a bespoke edition that opens up a world of customized possibilities including one-off paint schemes that duplicate any color of your choice, from a paint chip off your first car to your wife's favorite dress. Before shopping, be forewarned that Land Rover is in the midst of reorganizing its Korean dealer network. New dealer appointments should be announced within the next few months.

Price of the Range Rover 4.6 HSE as tested: 99 million won ($82,500).

Next Week: Kia Carnival II

by Oles Gadacz

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