There's no better indication of how far Land Rover has come in the past several years than the new long-wheelbase version of the 2014 Range Rover. Launched at the 2013 L.A. Auto Show, the top-of-the-line Land Rover was pitched as an alternative to ultra-luxury sedans like the new Bentley Flying Spur and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Unlike those vehicles, however, the big Range Rover is a vehicle for those who prefer to be driven. That should make it as popular with Chinese and Middle Eastern plutocrats as it will be with the Hollywood glitterati.
Land Rover last launched a long-wheelbase Range Rover back in 1992 (it was known as the County LWB) but the new vehicle's origins owe more to the Autobiography Ultimate Edition of 2011. Back then it was all about Land Rover testing the market for a $150K Range Rover and it proved a huge success. Indeed, it was so successful that this newcomer is testing the market for a $200K SUV.
This Is How It's Different
Land Rover has extended the wheelbase of the Range Rover by 7.8 inches, almost all of which is given over to rear legroom, which is up by 7.3 inches. You only need to look at the disproportionate length of the rear doors to notice the difference, but there's also an "L" badge on the back for those who don't notice the gargantuan new doors.
From the inside, the rear quarters are now positively palatial, with genuine space to lounge even if you were at the front of the queue when God handed out height. You can have a standard bench seat or individual "Executive" chairs that adjust electrically in 18 different ways while massaging, heating or cooling your derriere.
The Executive seatbacks also recline by 17 degrees for a chilled-out posture. That's 11 degrees more than in the standard Range Rover. All long-wheelbase vehicles will be also equipped with standard powered door blinds and a panoramic sunroof.
Over 500 Horsepower — Standard
As befits its status, the 2014 Range Rover long-wheelbase model will only be available with Land Rover's 5.0-liter supercharged V8, because if you're going for excess, you might as well go for great excess. It's an engine that's fast becoming a staple of the Jaguar Land Rover lineup — it's even used in the Jag F-Type sports car — and for good reason.
Here it develops 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque, which is enough grunt to push the massive SUV from zero to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. To drive it is to be reminded of Rolls-Royce's old adage about "adequate" performance. Flex a toe and it powers forward with a nonchalant shrug, but it never feels overly jumpy or twitchy.
Many customers will never actually drive this Range Rover, so we took the occasion to ride in the back ourselves. You sit high, of course, and waft along in near silence, the combination of a long wheelbase and sophisticated air suspension turns the most pitted road surface into a newly crafted raceway. Impressively, it succeeds in combining a cushioned ride with strong body control, which helps to maintain a happy equilibrium inside the cabin. Even if the chauffeur is pushing on a little, your champagne is safe.
Should an owner care to take a turn at the wheel, the Range Rover will indulge with an impressive array of talents. Its sheer bulk means it must be handled with a modicum of care, but it can be hustled along with confidence, even on twisty roads for which you might think it is ill-suited. You can't quite overcome the laws of physics and it would be wrong to say it has the finesse of a sedan, but for a giant SUV, it's tremendous.
If Power and Plush Seats Aren't Enough, There's More
Land Rover has woken up to the growth market for personalization. At the higher reaches of the market, off-the-peg solutions are now unacceptable. To capture this market (and the generous margins it provides), Land Rover has set up an "Engineered to Order" (ETO) division to offer bespoke solutions. If you want a Rover with pink rims and a picture of Kim Kardashian on the head restraints, ETO will happily oblige — for a price.
The first product of its labor is the Autobiography Black special edition. It's only available in long-wheelbase trim and only a hundred will be offered in the U.S. for the 2014 model year. The Black is about as far as it's possible to get from the original concept of the Range Rover as a farmer's friend. The front grille, tailgate and faux side vents come dressed in black enamel and chrome, while the seven-spoke, 21-inch rims have a high-gloss finish.
Inside, the rear center console features electrically deployable tables and a chiller compartment for a bottle of bubbly. You can even choose one of 10 colors for the mood lighting to fine-tune your ambience. In standard form, the Autobiography Black will retail for $185,000, although the first 25 to reach the U.S. will come dressed in Valloire White paint and cost a mighty $199,500.
There's no denying that such a hefty sum brings a high level of opulence and an impressive list of gadgets. It's a fine place in which to make a multimillion-dollar decision or entertain a friend, although we'd argue that the quality of the trim still isn't quite a match for the backseat of a Bentley.
Why It Exists
Land Rover's executives admit that the willingness of consumers to part with vast sums for an SUV has surprised even them. It's a market they're determined to exploit, however, and this variation on the top-tier Range Rover is just the first example.
Bentley and others are known to be readying their own super-luxury SUVs, but for now at least, the 2014 Land Rover Range Rover long-wheelbase has no direct rival. Its blend of cabin space, power, features and pure exclusivity gives it a solid head start. And in parts of the world where the roads are poor and it's preferable to be driven than to drive, the Range Rover's versatility should prove a huge success.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.