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.
$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."