Review: 2010 Land Rover Range Rover HSE

An icon of both off road capability and luxury, Land Rover's Range Rover HSE might seem at odds with the green agenda. But that doesn't mean it's not impressive.

Imagine having one of the toughest, most capable vehicles in the world at your fingertips. Able to leap tall rock piles in a single bound. Gather the groceries and soccer-playing brood all in one fell swoop. Welcome to the 2010 Range Rover HSE.

A descendant of the venerable (yes, there's that word again) Land Rover, the Range Rover is overbuilt for nearly every situation. Even the interior feels as though you are sitting in an English (by way of Mumbai) sitting room, not just a mere interior.

The basic design of this third generation Rover might date back to late 2002 - designed when BMW owned Land Rover. Then Ford took the reigns for a brief experiment until Tata became Land Rover's latest owner. Don't forget that a smaller Range Rover Sport based more on the body-on-frame LR3 (now LR4) came shortly thereafter.

Does the big Range Rover still reign supreme?

What is it?
The 2010 Range Rover is a continuation of a line stretching back to 1970, when it was introduced as a refined vehicle for urbanites to use in the country. Refinement in 1970 meant that it was more weather tight than a Jeep CJ or a Land Rover Series; keep in mind that most buyers were interested in using Range Rovers on their farms, too.

Over the years the designs have stayed fairly true to the models we see on the road today. Driven by everyone from supermodels to the royal family, it is one of the most luxurious SUVs on the road today.

For 2010, the third generation model gained new fascias front and rear, numerous suspension and traction enhancements, a trick 12-inch TFT LCD instrument panel and, of course, a new engine co-developed with Jaguar. Both naturally aspirated (HSE) and supercharged models (simply known as Supercharged) are on offer.

What's it up against?
At the moment, the only vehicle that even comes close to the Range Rover in sheer capability is the Lexus LX 570 (a Toyota Land Cruiser in drag), although it offers a much more limited model range with just one powertrain.

If off roading isn't your thing - and it won't be for most first owners of Range Rovers and Lexus LX 570s - check out the Cadillac Escalade, Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and Audi Q7.

Any breakthroughs?
A new 12-inch thin film transistor (TFT) gauge display that is driver-programmable has taken the place of the mechanical gauges that once occupied that real estate.

A new 5.0-liter naturally aspirated powerplant improves power with no change in mileage ratings, which, shall we say, were, challenging to begin with. You don't buy a Range Rover because it sips premium.

Finally, new versions of Land Rover's Adaptive Dynamics and Terrain Response systems complete the 2010 Range Rover HSE.

Adaptive Cruise Control is also around, using scanning radar to maintain distance, speed and braking while cruising in highway traffic.

How does it look?
A quick glance at its history will show that through the years, the Range Rover line has progressed, rather than existed by making wholesale changes strictly for the sake of change itself. New treatments to the headlights, grille and bumper are the most noticeable updates for 2010 that you'll see on the outside.

Carryovers include the extremely short front overhang and raked rear treatment, which enables climbing and descent on sharply raked hills or roads. We have attended the Land Rover Driving School and driven Range Rovers over hills so steep that as you head up all you see is blue sky in front of you, but the rear bumper would be buried in dirt. Mild upgrades to the side flanks include Shark gills to add a touch of style to the sides of the Rover.

Standard models receive 19-inch alloy wheels, but most Range Rovers will be optioned up with 20-inchers. Regardless of wheel choice, don't look for much sidewall, much to the chagrin of off roaders. And with big brakes like these, don't expect to swap in smaller diameter wheels.

A diamond-patterned grille adorns the front end of the Rover, while slab-sides are carryovers for oh, let's say the past 40-years or so. The extra-tall greenhouse allows occupants to sit upright from a high vantage point on the highway. And in a nod to modernity, we find the rear finished off with clear Altezza-style LED taillamps. They actually work well here, surprisingly enough.

And on the inside?
The inside has received new touches as well, including an updated navigation system, and new wood options to personalize the sitting room comfort a Range Rover driver or passenger will find him or herself in.

In a phrase, if you have been in a new Jaguar XF or XJ, you have already seen many of the controls found in the new Range Rover. With climate and audio controls that are operated through the nearly 7.5-inch navigation screen, it's as though you are home again, which incidentally is the default selection you make if you find yourself over your head with choices on how to configure the various systems. Overall, touchscreen technology, according to Land Rover, has allowed the reduction of buttons surrounding the navi-screen to be reduced by nearly a third.

Regardless, you'll want to review the owner's manual. Set aside a few hours to get through the first chapter alone.

New leather trim throughout the interior helps to set it apart from previous models. A satin, chrome plated finish covers most of the interior brightwork, and sets it off nicely. The TFT display area between the rev counter (as Brits call the tachometer) and the speedometer can be configured to display everything from system warning, outside temperature, and so on to audio and telephone information, to positioning of the wheels when using the Adaptive Dynamics and Terrain Response controls.

By the numbers, the Range Rover sports nearly identical cargo capacity as the Subaru Outback. Namely, 35.1 cubic feet with the seats up, and 74.2 cubic feet with seats folded. Go figure.

But does it go?
The Range Rover features new engines that move up in rank from the 4.2-liter powerplants they replaced. Now displacing 5.0-liters, it makes 375 horsepower and 375 lb-ft. of torque, which we found hits full stride at 3,500 rpm. It's a direct injection mill which it shares with sister company Jaguar. As the two brands have differing needs, they are not identical in execution. For example, the Range Rover engine features a deeper oil sump to compensate for steep angles that it might find itself in when off-road, that a typical Jaguar may not. Belt drives, the alternator, power steering pump and a/c compressor, are just a few of the parts that are waterproofed for use on the Rover, as they have been known to go for a swim every now and again.

The 5-liter is mated to a ZF six-speed automatic transmission with CommandShift (Normal, Sport and Manual shift modes). It is coupled to a locking torque converter, and Permanent four-wheel drive. Other controls include a two-speed electronic transfer gearbox that is shiftable on the fly and a variable locking center differential (a locking rear differential is also available).

The EPA numbers are 12 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway, which is about par for the course on a vehicle weighing 5,697 lbs.

Adaptive Dynamics System controls the suspension dampers on the Range Rover and monitors road conditions at up to 500 times a second regardless of what type of terrain or pavement the Range Rover is on at any given moment. The system works in conjunction with MacPherson struts and double lower control arms in front and a double wishbone package in the rear. We found it extremely adaptable and capable on our jaunts around town and in the brief time we were off-road it gave a feeling of confidence regardless of terrain and angle of attack. It is constantly moving, and made for a startling feeling when we pulled into the driveway and actually felt the vehicle rising compared to the car parked next to it. At the end of the day, it is still a vehicle with a high center of gravity, and even though the suspension firms up nicely, it is not one you would try to cut apexes with.

This writer didn't stretch this particular HSE's legs quite like our recent experience down Black Bear Pass in Telluride, Colorado, although that's not to say he wasn't tempted.

Our favorite feature of the RrrrrRover is the Hill Descent Control that literally allows the vehicle to creep down a hill using a combination of gearing, engine braking, and electronics to ensure a safe downward motion after going over the top of a hill. It does the deed with a grinding sound but one that is harmless to the gearbox.

Why you would buy it:
Because the Hummer is just so gauche.

Why you wouldn't:
It wouldn't look right parked next to your Toyota Prius.

Leftlane's bottom line:
The Range Rover HSE with its normally aspirated engine is one of the most capable vehicles for on -or- off road use. At the upper stratosphere of the price range, it is a cost-is-no-object vehicle that can run up or down hills, through the Rubicon, and feel just as home picking up the rug rats from soccer practice. And since cost is no object, we doubt there will much objection to the number of fill-ups the Ranger needs.

Incidentally, Land Rover recently introduced a high-torque diesel engine in the European-specification Range Rover that meets the latest "over there" emissions standards. That engine isn't headed here, but it's possible that the next generation variant of that mill - which averages 25 mpg combined - could make the journey overseas. Suddenly, a Range Rover becomes downright sensible.

2010 Range Rover HSE base price, $78,425. As tested, $90,325.
Audio upgrade, $1,350; Luxury interior package, $4,950; Rear seat recline package, $1,250; Rear seat entertainment, $2,500; Four-zone climate control, $1,000; Destination, $800.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.