Welcome to the 2009 Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography, a charming tale of a life spent as the undeniable king of the SUVs. However, it is a life following in the tire tracks of esteemed royal forebears. Back in the days when you could count the number of SUVs on your fingers, dealers would take customers down a flight of stairs in Grandpa Range Rover just to demonstrate its unmatched capability. This was also a time when the Range Rover's cabin was a world apart from the rugged, hose-out interiors of Jeeps and Land Cruisers. Now that SUVs have become more numerous than paparazzi at a royal wedding, maintaining that throne has become a much tougher task. Yet even after six years of this third generation, it's hard to think of a more lavish and vigorously capable SUV than the 2009 Range Rover Supercharged.
It all starts with good genes. The Mini Cooper isn't the only British automotive icon BMW has renovated with resounding success. Land Rover was under BMW's ownership and engineering guidance when the current, third-generation Range Rover was in development. This German heritage can be felt through the sophistication of its ride and the well-sorted steering, and even the layout of its controls. Plus, the Range Rover's styling strikes a perfect Mini-like balance between retro and modern design cues.
While much of its engineering sophistication can be traced back to BMW, the Range Rover's brashness is courtesy of the time Land Rover spent under good ol' American Ford. The supercharged V8, in particular, was added under Ford's watch. More recently, Land Rover has been sold again, this time to Indian carmaker Tata. Yet it's the vehicle's old-world charm that will likely please owners the most -- the Range Rover's luxuriant cabin will set it apart for most buyers who will restrict their driving expeditions to malls and Starbucks. And besides being the name of this charming tome, Autobiography also refers to the $10,000 package that adds Bentley levels of leather to almost every cabin surface, along with four-zone climate control and a rear-seat entertainment system.
Does buying a 2009 Range Rover make rational sense? Not really, especially when there are SUVs that provide similar or better on-road performance for much less money. Not when a vast majority of buyers will never take it off road. And consequently, not when the same amount of money will buy you a very well-equipped Mercedes-Benz S550. Luxury cars are seldom rational, and an urban-dwelling off-roader definitely isn't, so if you're looking for the pinnacle of such automotive irrationality, there is nothing that satisfies quite like the storied Range Rover.
As its name would suggest, the 2009 Range Rover Supercharged features a supercharged 4.2-liter V8 that pumps out 400 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. With the six-speed automatic transmission lever switched into manual mode, the Range Rover gets up from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds -- hardly record-shattering, but that time is pretty impressive given that the engine is tasked with lugging around 5,880 pounds of premium British luxury off-roader. In the real world, this translates into an SUV that's quick to jump off the line, although you may find the supercharger conspiring with the slow-to-downshift automatic to produce a lackadaisical freeway pass. Fuel economy is quite appalling at 12 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined. In two highway-heavy weeks, we averaged 17.4 mpg. However, most of this will become moot for 2010 when a new pair of 5.0-liter V8s are introduced (the Supercharged edition surges up to 510 hp, while the base model will be rated at 375 hp).
The brakes are fantastic, bringing the Range Rover to a stop from 60 mph in 115 feet with no fade or forward dive. Of course, nobody expects a Range Rover to handle like a luxury sedan or even a Porsche Cayenne. It is certainly easier to drive around town than the rolling bank vault otherwise known as the Mercedes G-Class, but the Range Rover is still tall and prone to excessive body roll. The slow-ratio, nice-and-easy steering can be described with faint praise as "precise for an off-roading vehicle."
But as an off-roading vehicle, the Range Rover manages to provide that go-anywhere nature expected from a vehicle wearing the Land Rover badge, while not seeming brutish and punishing everywhere else. Its air suspension has a high setting for crawling over rough terrain and a low setting to provide easier access for passengers and reduce the chance of parking garage roof scrapes. The Terrain Response System allows the driver to select among five different settings for powertrain, suspension, the differentials and stability/traction systems. Each is designed for predetermined conditions -- general, snow, mud, sand and rock crawl. In our testing, we found that making changes to the Range Rover's Terrain Response System affected the way it performed and reacted in low-traction situations, though the system is more about tailoring the Range to particular conditions than greatly extending its capability.
For such a blocky, non-aerodynamic vehicle, the Range Rover is remarkably quiet, with little wind and road noise seeping into the cabin. When cruising down the freeway, this makes the Range Rover feel more like a large luxury sedan than an SUV. The same can be said for the sophisticated air suspension — it sops up bumps while still allowing the driver to feel connected to the road.
Climbing aboard the tall Range Rover can be a tricky proposition for those of smaller stature, but lowering the suspension before turning off the car should give them a fighting chance. Once aboard, five passengers will find soft, wonderfully supportive seats and plenty of room.
With its tall greenhouse and blocky dimensions, visibility out of the Range Rover is superb. If you like that "commanding view of the road," it doesn't get much better than this. On the downside, the rear parking camera is mounted too high and distorts parking distances.
The Range Rover's touchscreen stereo and navigation interface is unfortunately rather quaint. The topographical lines and a bread-crumb feature that traces your path when off-roading were once novel, but today, the graphics look ancient and the touchscreen controls are out of date. Add in the fact that it was designed by the notoriously ergonomically incorrect British and you have a control setup that's quite head-scratching. (An all-new system debuts in the 2010 Range Rover.)
There's plenty of room for a child seat, and cargo space is impressive (74 cubic feet maximum), with a large hold that features a solid cargo cover, polished tie-down points and a retractable pet net. The split tailgate not only allows for fun Sundays at the stadium, but also facilitates easy loading of loose items without having them spill out. However, there are certainly roomier SUVs available for much less money, including the Mercedes GL-Class, the Escalade and Land Rover's own LR3 and its 2010 replacement, the LR4.
Design/Fit and Finish
Unlike other automotive homages to the past, the 2009 Land Rover Range Rover still looks fresh and handsome six years after being introduced. The same goes for the interior. The matte finish walnut wood trim resembles actual structural elements of the interior, straddling the sides of the center stack and bridged by the leather-covered panel containing the air vents. This creates a more natural, integrated appearance than most wood trim exhibits. The copious amounts of leather trim inside our Autobiography-equipped car also look swell...and feel swell and smell swell. The dense carpet lining the interior and trunk is also of a quality that would shame many luxury homes. The entire cabin is certainly in the same realm as the similarly priced BMW 7 Series.
Who should consider this vehicle
Someone looking for S-Class luxury and prestige in an SUV. If you have a country estate with fertile hunting grounds, it probably makes the most sense. One should be aware of its questionable reliability reputation, however.