A gilded powerhouse for another age


The 13MY Range Rover Sport Supercharged with Red Brembo brake callipers. (Land Rover)
Warren Brown
Columnist July 20, 2013

It is a beautiful machine. That much is certain — ivory-colored leather covering the seats, instrument and door panels; elegantly contrasting piano-black lacquer inserts; and an ebony headliner that perfectly complements the ebony carpet.

The use of brightwork, pewter-colored aluminum pieces, is judicious — just enough to keep everything at subdued sparkle.

Warren Brown is a columnist who writes about autos for The Washington Post. View Archive

It is a bespoke piece, the 2013 version of the Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged sport-utility vehicle driven for this column. Someone, apparently a person of means, ordered it this way right down to the two small video screens mounted behind the headrests of the front seats and the steering wheel finished with piano-black-lacquered wood and fine-grain leather.

The whole ensemble defines luxury — the glorious extravagance and excess of it. It also assaults common notions of common sense.

All this finery, for example, comes with an aluminum-alloy 5-liter supercharged, gasoline V-8 engine linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission. That transmission also can be shifted manually, via paddle shifters, left and right, mounted behind the steering wheels.

The paddle shifters are fun to use — indeed, they actually are genuinely useful — on mountain roads with sharp twists and turns that demand maximum attention to managing the humongous poundage (6,945 pounds gross vehicle weight) of the Range Rover Supercharged. Otherwise, the paddle shifters are useless for anything meaningful.

But the real attack on common sense comes with what I call “performance overload.” That occurs when a machine’s engineering seems completely at odds with its fine arts presentation.

The Range Rover Supercharged is one of the most capable sport-utility vehicles on the planet. It comes with almost every conceivable tool needed for successful off-roading — permanent four-wheel drive, power-assisted four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, cornering brake control, hill-descent control, roll-stability control, gradient-release control and what Land Rover engineers call an “active speed limiter.”

Translation: The Range Rover Supercharged can climb up or down practically anything, over anything. It can traverse streams, muck through mud, crawl over fallen branches and rocks. The Range Rover Supercharged, in short, is a true Land Rover.

But who in his or her right mind, regardless of the size of his or her bank account, would dare subject this vehicle to that kind of abuse? As equipped for this column, the model I drove carried a price tag of $112,825.

The Land Rover people suggested that I “put it through its paces.” I suggested that they take a hike.

There was no way that I was going to subject this motorized bauble to the kind of damage that attends even a modest off-road jaunt. So, I drove it where most Land Rover products are driven in the United States — local roads and highways, suburbs and shopping centers.

The problem is, in those milieus, the Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged makes no sense at all. It gets 13 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the highway using required premium gasoline. It barely offers more cargo space than the commendable Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland — 71.7 cubic feet for the Range Rover Supercharged compared with 68.7 cubic feet for the Grand Cherokee Overland.

At an estimated saving of $68,000, however, I’d happily take the marginally smaller space offered by the Grand Cherokee Overland.

It all makes me wonder: Is automotive luxury, as represented by the 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged, sustainable?

Land Rover executives, apparently, are asking themselves the same question. They are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the exploration and development of alternative propulsion technologies, including a small yet powerful gasoline V-6 engine and several electrically powered Land Rover models produced by Britain’s Green Automotive Co.

The Green Automotive/Land Rover venture is a pilot project to demonstrate the efficacy of lithium-polymer battery technology in large vehicles.

But the success of that project will not necessarily lead to a bevy of posh, all-electric Land Rover Range Rover vehicles, said Green Automotive Director Ian Hobday, who was in Washington recently trying to persuade U.S. lawmakers to take a serious look at his company’s technology.

“We’re talking about mass-transit buses, commercial and construction vehicles that leave from and return to the same depot every day,” Hobday said in an interview. What about all-electric Land Rover Range Rovers?

“It’s possible,” Hobday said. “We’re developing the technology.” The future for big sport-utility vehicles with consumptive fossil-fuel engines “seems limited,” Hobday said.

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