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[REVIEW] 2014 Range Rover Supercharged – Climb every mountain, ford every stream

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You know what they say about super heroes right? That you should never meet them because they may not live up to your expectation. That all those years of pent up excitement could be deflated in just an instant.

As a small boy, Land Rovers and Range Rovers were one of my very favourite vehicles. This continued well into my teens and, despite the trend towards swoopy looking SUVs, I still appreciated their chunky regal styling and British heritage.

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For the last 17 years, I’ve kept a Land Rover sales booklet that was clever disguised as a comprehensive “guide to SUVs” (of yester-year). Yes, I admit that it is in ridiculously pristine condition for its age, but for those who know me this will come as no surprise.

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How did I get it? When I was a teenager, I had requested some Range Rover brochures (via post, imagine that!) from Land Rover Canada and this was one of the items they sent to me.

But despite a short one day’s notice at giving the 2014 Range Rover Supercharged a go for a week, I decided to chance the risk of disappointment and graciously accept the keys.

Would my expectations be dashed as I got a chance to meet one of my childhood superheros? Keep reading to find out!

Heritage

Ah the Range Rover. It’s as British as English afternoon tea. It’s a vehicle adored by the jetset and those on the VIP list. Even Queen Elizabeth II drives one. It doesn’t get more British than that.

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When the first Land Rover vehicles appeared in 1948, off-road vehicles weren’t considered fashion statements. The term “lifestyle” or “crossover” had yet to be invented. These early Land Rovers – nicknamed “Landies” – were hard-working, tough vehicles capable of meeting almost every challenge.

They earned a reputation in remote villages around the world and eventually were sold in more than 120 countries except Antarctica (although Land Rover vehicles have journeyed there on expedition).

Land Rover’s Range Rover has often been regarded as the original luxury SUV and one of the finest luxury utility vehicles of all time. Designed by Charles Spencer King in the late 1960’s, Mr King brought his taste for speed (as a test driver/engineer of Rover) to the Range Rover.

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And so the Range Rover broke new ground when it was first unveiled. Equipped with a powerful V8 engine and a comfortable ride due to large tires and coil spring suspension – these were all firsts for a four-wheeler.

The vehicle was originally designed to leave London on Friday night for a 100 mph sprint to an country estate for a Saturday morning off-road pheasant hunt across the English countryside.

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Long story short, its design was so successful that a Range Rover was even featured in an early 1970s exhibition at the Louvre Museum as an example of exemplary industrial design.

Although the original Range Rover was a 1970’s child, the newest Range Rover definitely marries its retro looks with up to the minute engineering. Still a favourite with the country set, the Range Rover is now also the transport of diplomats, sheiks, footballers, and other celebrities.

The Exterior

Now in its fourth generation, codenamed the L405 and introduced for model year 2013, this latest Range Rover has been certainly continued to transform the fortunes of the Land Rover brand. Heck even in it’s 10th (and last) year of production, the outgoing model posted a record 21% increase in global sales.

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With its new state-of-the art new low-energy Solihull UK factory running 24/7 to keep up with demand, there is still a North American shortage of Range Rovers.

Customers are still happy to wait a few months for their “Landy” to arrive. It’s safe to say then, that the new design is a hit.

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Overseen by Chief Creative Officer and Design Director, Gerry McGovern, the all-new Range Rover has been re-engineered from the ground up. It has a clean and elegant shape derived from a fresh new interpretation of classic Range Rover design cues.

But it still has the side gills, the floating roof (with all black pillars), clamshell hood, split folding tailgate (now fully powered) and the squared-off chiseled front corners.

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It’s nice to see that despite ownership now resting with India’s Tata Motors, it’s still instantly recognizable as a Range Rover. However one that takes a significant step forward with a bold evolution of the model’s iconic design language.

Although traditionalists may find it tacky, I really liked the the new LED daytime running lights. Whether during the day or at night, it creates a very distinct light signature that is impossible to mistake.

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At just under 5m long, the new Range Rover has a very similar footprint to the outgoing model, but with a smoother and more streamline profile. In fact with a drag co-efficient of 0.34, this is also the most aerodynamic Range Rover ever.

Compared to the third generation model, the four generation’s roofline sits 20mm lower in access (entry) mode.

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The interior

To help you get into the sumptuous interior , a revised Access mode in the Air suspension system kneels the Range Rover low enough that running boards are really quite unnecessary.

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The luxurious new interior has a modern character incorporating distinctive Range Rover design cues. I’ve always liked the previous generation’s interior with its mix of high quality leather, real wood trim, and bright metal trim, so this new interior is simply an improvement.

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Designers set out to create an interior environment with a fresh and very contemporary treatment. The cabin retains the characteristic strong, architectural forms emphasised by clean and elegant surfaces fitted with the finest leathers and veneers. Satin or gloss metal trim around the air vents gives it the finishing touch.

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Building on the signature Range Rover interior architecture, the centrepiece of the cabin is the bold intersection between the strong horizontal elements of the instrument panel and the vertical lines of the centre stack.

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There is actual rear legroom now (up by almost 12cm), important for the chauffeur driven Chinese market where Land Rover hopes to sell lots of Range Rovers. There is even a remote switch for the rear passenger to move the front passenger seat forward! The rear seat climate control panel has been updated and is now even worthy of being inside a Bentley.

There isn’t an ounce of visible penny pinching anywhere in this cabin.

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The steering wheel is also probably one of the nicest ones I’ve seen in the industry. With its combination of heated leather/wood and beautiful aluminum turrets that house the controls on either side of the airbag, it’s just something that you know you can spend hours or indeed years using.

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For me though, the biggest visible change compared to the outgoing model is how much simpler it all is. Land Rover has really tried to clean up all of the knobs and dials that were on the previous version by integrating many of the functions into the 8” touchscreen headunit.

There are now only a few redundant hard button controls for the audio and climate control systems. In fact, the total switch count has been cut by half.

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Standard on all Range Rovers is also the Surround Camera System which uses five cameras situated around the vehicle to create an almost 360 degree view on the touchscreen.

There are two cameras located on the front bumper, one under each rearview mirror, and the backup camera.

The idea is that the screen views help to ensure that drivers don’t miss objects below their line of sight and also give vital views at blind intersections.

While the system works well enough in daylight conditions, it is let down by cameras that aren’t the best in image quality at night, and a headunit with not enough graphical processing capability.

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With one or two camera views displayed, the on-screen video quality is smooth and good enough. But add in the surround view display (where all 5 camera feeds are displayed) and the video feed looks more like watching video on the internet from 10 years ago over a dial-up connection.

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It is surprisingly pixelated, choppy, and the touchscreen becomes a bit laggy.  A small disappointment considering that my 2014 Nissan Pathfinder press vehicle, which cost less than half the Range Rover’s sticker price, had better camera picture quality and an easier-to-use interface.

But all is not bad with the system because its Towing Assist mode is absolutely fantastic. Not only does it help the driver to line-up the tow ball to the trailer’s hitch receiver with 100% accuracy each time, but it also equips the driver with lines to show the angle of the trailer when reversing.

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More impressive is the 12.3” LCD unit that replaces the traditional gauge cluster for the driver. This virtual instrument panel uses the same technology found in high-quality computer laptops and can be both personalized and adapted to suit various driving conditions or driver preferences.

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During night time driving, the instrument panel’s “torchlight” setting can highlights only the essential information on the speedometer and odometer.

When driving offroad, key dynamic information can be displayed in the middle of the screen to complementing the main touchscreen display. Rather than it being a distraction, I found that it delivered very valuable ‘at a glance’ vehicle status information.

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The interior is packed with a full suite of premium features to provide both front and rear seat passengers with the same peerless luxury experience.

Their well-being is assured by the latest interior technologies for comfort, convenience and seamless connectivity. The new and improved features include:

  • Convenience – premium features including keyless entry, soft door close with power latching, power upper liftgate and lower tailgate, front cooler compartment
  • High-end audio – exclusive Meridian surround sound music systems with audiophile-quality sound
  • Climate control – all-new best-in-class climate control systems, including the powerful new premium four-zone system
  • Luxurious seating – upgraded seating with luxurious new features such as multi-mode massage for the front heated/ventilated seats
  • Interior illumination – the latest LED illumination for subtle and sophisticated ambient lighting, including the ability to change the colour scheme to suit the driver’s mood

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To help customers to create their perfect bespoke vehicle, the unique luxury ambience of the new Range Rover can be extensively tailored with an indulgent palette of colours, finishes and special details, from the immaculately-trimmed colour-themed interiors of the exclusive Autobiography series.

Aside from my complaints about the Surround view cameras and the underpowered headunit, my only other quibbles are that while the Piano Black wood trim look gorgeous, dust and scratches show up easily. I would suggest a patterned wood trim instead.

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Also, the hard cargo cover shelf was very finicky to fold-out after it has been stowed away. I spent several minutes in the cold and dark trying to assemble it properly from its fully retracted position (courtesy of the previous journalist).

As a special note, I’m delighted to see that the split folding lift/tailgate is now power operated. It has got to be the fastest mechanism in the industry too. A far cry for the slow beeping hydraulic rams from other vehicles I’ve tested.

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One of my good friends, an existing Range Rover Supercharged owner, also noted that the lower tailgate portion is now thoughtfully sculpted inwards so that owners can lean in and reach further into the cargo area.

So how does it ride and drive?

There’s nothing like the driving experience of the Range Rover. These cars hit new heights when the third generation was launched back in 2002.

Now you can see them on every corner of every corner in the world. Even people who own Bentleys, Rolls Royces, or Ferraris will likely have a Range Rover as a daily driver.

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Although the Range Rover is big, it doesn’t take you long to get used to it to dial into the luxury ride. The Command Driving Position, which provides drivers with a supreme sense of confidence and control whatever the road conditions, is an essential part of the Range Rover DNA.

Like its predecessors, the new Range Rover places the driver in an elevated, upright seating position which offers class-leading all-round visibility. The sense of control offered by the elevated driving position is enhanced by the vehicle’s outboard seating location with clear visibility to the side, and outstanding forward visibility over the characteristic sunken profile of the clamshell hood.

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Unlike previous generations of the Range Rover, the L405 is built on an all-aluminum unibody structure, a first for an SUV. This has resulted in a claimed 700 pounds of weight reduction!

Did I feel the weight difference compared to the previous Range Rover Supercharged? Absolutely! While this is still a 5250lbs SUV, it is shockingly nimble with its new rigid lightweight chassis and Land Rover’s latest active air suspension setup with dynamic anti-roll bars.

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While there is no stiffer user-selectable sport mode for the air suspension, I was able to drive the vehicle at a much quicker pace and with much higher confidence than I expected on my usual test loop (with lots of elevation changes and narrow twisty roads with mixed surfaces).

All of this is thanks to a clever new system called two-channel Dynamic Response. It uses electrohydraulic anti-roll bars to counteract bodyroll through the twisty bits and can work on both the front and rear axles independently.

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In short, the system’s control module constantly monitors inputs from a pair of accelerometers – mounted at roof and chassis level respectively – plus steering angle and vehicle speed.

When cornering forces are detected, electronically actuated pressure control valves apply a hydraulically generated rotational torque to the anti-roll bars to oppose the lateral cornering force.

With cornering forces of up to 0.4g, the Dynamic Response system will almost entirely neutralise body roll. Go past this set point and the system will allow some controlled progressive lean to occur to warn you to ease off. This is still a tall vehicle after all.

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By altering the stiffness front to rear, Dynamic Response can also improve comfort on uneven road surfaces by reducing ‘head toss’ induced by undulating pavement and pitch movements.

With 510hp and 461 ft-lbs of torque, the supercharged 5.0L V8 motor basically screams “You want power, I’ll give you enough power to feel as if you have a bee sting right on your bum cheeks”.

Combined with its diet, this Range Rover Supercharged hustles as if the Queen herself had gathered up her skirt and was saying “Alright, we’re late, let’s make a dash for it”. Of course this is fictitious as the Queen, being famously punctual, is never late. Your Majesty, if you’re reading this, I apologize for making such a crass joke at your expense.

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But it’s not the power or the intelligence of the 8 speed ZF transmission that makes it impressive when you put your foot down. It’s the surprise of the power and the quickness of the shifts. When you drive a Lamborghini or a Porsche, you expect it to accelerate quickly, to hustle down the road.

But when you bury your right foot into the Range Rover’s throttle pedal, you’re simply not ready for the savagery. The overwhelming wave of torque that pushes you into your seat will shock you into a fit of giggles.

But yet the Range Rover is quiet, comfortable, beautifully air conditioned and heated.

Let me be clear thought. Despite having over 500hp, the Range Rover doesn’t encourage you to be sporty or aggressive. It’s just so…nice!

The benefit of the new aluminium chassis is also in fuel economy gains. Land Rover claims an improvement of 9% despite being quicker to accelerate than ever before.

Off-road Capability

It has been widely reported that fewer than 10% of SUV owners take their vehicles off-road. But according to Land Rover, approximately 25% of their customers use their vehicles for off-road adventures.

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Since there is only one Range Rover Supercharged press car out west here though, I was eager to return the vehicle undamaged for my fellow journalists.

Therefore my most ambitious impression of being Sir Edmund Hillary (the New Zealand explorer and mountaineer) was thus limited to a private estate where I could get above the tree line to see this view. Fantastic isn’t it?

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As such, I took Land Rover’s claims of the Range Rover’s improved off-road prowess as being truthful.

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I was impressed that the aforementioned Dynamic Response system even automatically detects off-road conditions reduces the level of roll compensation at speeds below 40 km/hr in order to provide greater axle articulation and tire contact with the terrain.

The system is also able to detect a side slope of greater than 11 degrees and locks the antiroll bars for increased stability.

As on previous Range Rovers, the four-corner air suspension is able optimize the vehicle’s versatility off-road by offering variable ride height (with more than 12 inches of ground clearance). The air springs are cross-linked for maximum axle articulation.

With a permanent 4WD system (with a 50/50 torque split front/rear) and a two speed transfer box with low range gearing, the Range Rover is also available with an active rear locking differential.

Controlling all of these advanced 4WD and suspension systems is the latest generation of Land Rover’s multi-award winning Terrain Response 2 system.

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This system is now able to automatically detect the type of terrain the vehicle is traversing and seamlessly optimise traction and performance abilities for the prevailing conditions. It uses a number of inputs, including ambient temperature, engine torque, transmission gear, suspension travel and even altitude to determine over what type of surface it is traveling. Very smart.

But the driver is still able to manually choose from a set of distinct operating modes including General Driving, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Rock Crawl with a twist of the rotary switch. Pushing down the top of the rotary control selects the Auto mode.

In a nutshell, depending on the mode, Terrain Response 2 calculates the optimum settings necessary for uninterrupted travel across whatever terrain you are on. It does this by instructing the various systems of the car – including the transfer case, transmission, torque delivery, ABS and traction control settings – to alter their parameters accordingly.

If you’re in the wrong mode, the system is even smart enough to suggest if another mode is more appropriate.

Engineers have also applied the same sort of intelligence to the air intake system, and repositioned it to the top of the front fenders. Known as the Queen Mary intakes due to their resemblance to the famous British oceanliner, this clever bit of engineering has increased the wading depth of the Range Rover to an unmatched 900 mm (about 3 feet of water).

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All of this off-roadability confirms that the 2014 Range Rover is still a true Land Rover, not just a flashy luxury SUV.

Wrap-up

Is all the hype around this latest generation Range Rover worthy of the accolade “the very best of British”? Does it put the “great” back in “Great Britain”? I think so.

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The 2014 Range Rover Supercharged looks great and drives even better. It is contemporary, fresh, and clearly highly desirable. At an as tested price of over $125,000 it’s all those little bits of character and heritage that have to make a car look handsome and feel beautiful. If you’re in the market for a luxury SUV, you really have to sample the glamour and capability for yourself.

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And although the Range Rover is now the ultimate four-wheeled status symbol to a generation of rappers, professional athletes, celebrities, and striving suburbanites, it has lost none of its Land Rover DNA.

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Despite a few quibbles, I have to say that the Range Rover still remains one of my favourite vehicles of all time. This is high praise but I can honestly say that despite its flaws, I hold it in the same high level of regard as the Jaguar F-type S that I reviewed a couple of months ago.

What other vehicle can you think of that can take you to the far corners of the earth while in the safety, comfort, and class of a Rolls Royce?

So in closing I’m happy to report that I did meet my superhero and indeed got to hang out with “him” for a week, I definitely got to thoroughly learn his strengths and weakness true and through.

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However while parting is such sweet sorrow, I have to say that I was far from disappointed.

Some good stories do have a happy ending after all!

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Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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