Ready for red clay by day and red carpet by night, the Range Rover HSE seems to have a split personality. But that's not a bad thing (unless you hate making trips to the car wash). It's an SUV with a V-8 powerful enough to chip time off your commute, along with civilized accoutrements such as a 710-watt, 14-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, a voice-activated navigational system, heated and cooled leather seats, and a cherry-trimmed interior. A dense forest--with many creeks, rocks, and sloppy patches of mud--seemed a fitting spot to sample the Range Rover's wild side. So I enrolled in the Land Rover Experience, an off-roading school located on the Biltmore Estate (that's it on the left) in Asheville, North Carolina.
The latest iteration of the Range Rover, which is produced by Ford's (NYSE:F) Land Rover division, comes with the Terrain Response system, which was previously available only on Land Rovers. With my instructor riding shotgun, I tried my best not to tick off the local wildlife as I explored the system's settings, which with a turn of the dial adjust the suspension and throttle to better handle sand, grass, and rocks. The macho machine also has a mud and ruts setting to unearth itself from deep muck, even in the rain. Despite the Range Rover's sticker price, dragging one through the North Carolina mud felt perfectly appropriate.
2007 Range Rover HSE
$77,250; $82,750 as tested
305-hp 4.4-liter V-8 engine; 7,716-pound towing capacity; 14/19 mpg
The twin glove boxes are handy, as are the ski bag that folds into a back cushion and the rear-view camera. And optional air-conditioned front seats helped keep me cool through a dark and spooky white-pine-lined "tunnel of trees."
Land Rover preaches ecofriendly off-roading and has even instituted a program to offset carbon emissions from its U.K. factory. So why isn't its V-8 diesel engine--with a combined average of 25.1 mpg--available in America?
"The Range Rover HSE has a fresh, contemporary presence," says Gary Vasilash, editor in chief of Automotive Design & Production. "In The Queen, Helen Mirren is shown in a Land Rover, but the Range Rover HSE might be fit for one of Charles's kids."