Ride and Drive: 2011 Range Rover and LR4 tackle the San Juan Mountains

The 2011 Land Rover offers a comfortable ride and precision handing; even in the most unexpected of places such as 10,000 feet up in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

The 2011 Range Rovers tackle tough terrain in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Gunnar Conrad/Land Rover

We recently got a chance to go on the most amazing off-road adventure in the 2011 Range Rover and the 2011 LR4. Both vehicles have had minor tuning to their engines to make them more efficient, and a bit of a face lift on the body. But where judgment really stands is how well the Range Rover and LR4 do in the great outdoors.

Beauty and the Beast

On the first day of our wild adventure, we went from Telluride over Imogene pass in the San Juan Mountain Range--to an elevation of 13,000ft.

The 6,000-lb Range Rover is a beast, but climbs up the rocky trailways like a mountain goat. With a 5.0-liter, 510hp supercharged V8, we weren't concerned with setting 0-60 mph records; although the Range Rover can do 0-60 in 5.9 seconds.

The Colorado mountainside provided the best place for us to try out the Range Rover's new features: Gradient Acceleration Control and Hill Start Assist. Hill Start Assist keeps the initial driver-generated brake pressure long enough for your foot to move from brake to accelerator without the car rolling backward on the rocky trails.

Gradient Acceleration Control slows the throttle to a preset speed--depending on gear--it's both useful and a little strange to get used to.

The driver-selected control we used the most uphill was Grass/Gravel/Snow. This feature definitely kept the tires from losing traction on loose terrain. Other driver-selected controls include Mud/Ruts, Sand, and the ever-helpful Rock Crawl.

Inside the cabin, there is plenty of room for passengers to spread out. The back seats are equipped with an entertainment package, but we didn't use it. There's also an optional Harman Kardon 1,200-watt, 19-speaker audio system. The vehicle comes with Sirius Satellite Radio.

Range Rover's cabin is luxurious, spacious, but not too cluttered with distractions. Suzanne Ashe/CNET

After a bit of coaching from the driving instructor, it's time to make our way up to the peak--13,114 ft.

The historic trail from Telluride to Ouray is rocky, steep, and has some amazing views. We tried to imagine negotiating the pass in a horse-drawn wagon, but the image quickly fades when we heard Range Rover's supercharged engine conquer the narrow path.

On the downhill slope, Range Rover's Hill Descent Control keeps the throttle at a preset speed, allowing the driver time to brake and accelerate without the vehicle sliding.

The five-passenger Range Rover has plenty of headroom and legroom. It is loaded with seven air bags and other safety features such as an automatic rear-view camera.

The key drawbacks are Range Rover's price: about $100,000 and the high operating costs. Range Rover gets about 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway--ouch.

Black Bear Pass

The 2011 LR4 has a very different feel than Range Rover. It is sportier, has three sunroofs, though only one opens, and it seats up to seven.

The 2011 LR4 has several standard features that were previously offered as options on the 2010 model such as rear-view camera and Bluetooth phone connectivity. The LR4 costs significantly less than Range Rover at $48,500. LR4 is pretty quick too, it accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds.

Land Rover offers plenty of luxury features and doesn't slack on performance--375hp and 375 ft. of torque. Gunnar Conrad/Land Rover

After another briefing from the drive instructor on the six universal hand signals for stop (including "'stop' also means 'stop'"). The caravan headed toward Black Bear Pass--peaking at an elevation of 12,800 ft.

The LR4 handles a bit differently than the Range Rover; it's stiffer and a little more responsive even though it doesn't have the same supercharged V8.

As with Range Rover, the LR4 has Hill Start Assist and Gradient Acceleration Control. It also has extras like "tow assist," but we didn't get to try that out.

The LR4 has an off-road ground clearance of a little over 9 inches and a wading depth of about 27 inches, although the drive instructors didn't let us splash in the puddles much.

What the LR4 does have is an amazing turn radius and the ability to stay on shelf roads on the tightest switchbacks.

On the way back to Telluride, we had the assistance of a drive instructor outside the vehicle. There are also five cameras mounted on the vehicle also, available for off-road maneuvering if no one wants to stand on the path.

The LR4 handled like a champ, and even though it is a lot less expensive than Range Rover, it still has high operating costs. The LR4 has an estimated 12 mpg city and 17 mpg highway.

 

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