2016 Range Rover Autobiography Review: Still the World’s Best

wheel-to-wheel copy

Source: James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

When I took delivery of the 2016 Range Rover LWB Autobiography outside of my Brooklyn apartment, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” was playing on its satellite radio. “Great,” I thought. “I’m in charge of keeping the nicest Range Rover $148,601 can buy safe in New York City, and this is how it starts?” After all, it’s only the world’s most desirable luxury SUV, the true top dog until Bentley gets around to shipping the first Bentaygas to customers. Queen Elizabeth drives one, for Chrissakes. And now, for the next week, I do too.

With all that in mind, suddenly all 17 feet of its long wheelbase stretched to the horizon. Every inch of its gorgeous aluminum bodywork became a liability. For the next week, every bike messenger, pigeon, bus, old lady with a roller cart, and Uber driver would be my adversary. What could possibly go wrong? Everything.

Luckily, nothing did. Range Rover may have built its reputation fording rivers and crossing the Savannah, but it took to the big city like a fish to water. In fact, it made my life in New York more New Yorkish than it had ever been before — at least in an unrealistic Woody Allen movie kind of way. For a week I had a garage and an attendant who knew my name. Impossibly clogged traffic would part at the sight of my massive silver machine, even in midtown Manhattan. My girlfriend and I could finally “sneak out to the Island” for a weekend. We could put groceries in the trunk of a car and actually drive them to our home, instead of lugging them back on a subway at rush hour. You know, fantasy stuff that only happens in movies.

And after a week with the Range Rover in everything from gridlock to rural byways, I can say that the company’s flagship effortlessly handles the dirty work in a way you’d never realize from behind the wheel, and delivers a serious slice of the good life.

Source: James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior

I’ll take subtlety over ostentation any day, and the Autobiography does subtlety better than any other giant SUV on the market. I have to admit, I’d always preferred the traditional, upright look of the third-generation Range Rover to the current one, but time with the Autobiography has made me a convert. There are scores of late-model Range Rovers all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, and scrutinizing the older SUVs from behind the wheel of the new one made me appreciate its understated rakishness in a way I never had before.

The angle of its front fascia windshield suggests speed and athleticism in a way that’s almost menacing in a vehicle this big. Its slab sides are broken up by a simple high belt line up high and a sweep of aluminum trim down low, and its “gills” on the leading edge of the door are a subtle nod to the previous model. Wearing a coat of Indus Silver over its aluminum bodywork (with the optional blacked out roof), the paint looked both elegant and sea-deep, and put paint jobs on competitors like Mercedes-Benz and Audi to shame. The current Escalade — as ubiquitous an SUV as you’ll find in midtown Manhattan — couldn’t hold a candle to this thing.

The headlights and tail lamps are big and purposeful-looking, and while their “tails” that stream onto the side of the truck were one of my biggest qualms with its design, they integrate nicely into the belt line, and negate the need for extra side markers. Up close, they even have a complex, jewel-like quality to them.

I wasn’t sure if the Range Rover would attract attention, be it for the right reasons in nicer neighborhoods, or the wrong reasons in the not-so-nice ones. Luckily (and somewhat maddeningly), New York City is awash in full-size SUVs, either put to use as town cars or just because one of my 8.4 million neighbors decided they absolutely needed a Toyota Sequoia to move twice a week for the street sweeper. As a result, the Range Rover barely got a second look in the city. For me, that was great. If you want to be seen for the kind of money you’d need to drop on an Autobiography, however, you might want to look somewhere else.

Source: James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ Subtle yet muscular exterior fits in just fine with the Buckingham Palace set.

+ There are enough interesting little details in the headlights, grille, and trim to really fall in love with this thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ages better than its predecessor.

+ Possibly the nicest paintwork this side of $200,000.

– If you want an ultra-luxury vehicle to be seen in, you should probably look somewhere else.

– Its understated, low profile is right up my alley, but I think I may have been mistaken for a livery driver more than once in Manhattan.

– Its finish is so nice, you’re probably going to keep it away from the trail — and in the last row of the parking lot — at least for a while.

Source: Land Rover

Source: Land Rover

Interior

The interior was cavernous. Huge. Abandoned shopping mall big. As a result, my puny camera was no match for the enormity of it, no matter how I angled the seats or contorted myself around them, so I’ll have to use Jaguar-Land Rover’s stock photos. Our test car was tastefully done up in rich black leather, with Macassar wood trim, climate-controlled seats, a refrigerator in the center console, and a panoramic sunroof with Alston (like Alcantara) headliner overhead. In the city, it was bank-vault silent. On the open road, it was simply a delight.

My girlfriend and I took two relatively long day trips in the Autobiography on top of a lot of heavy city driving, and at the end of each day, neither of us felt tired, fatigued, or even really wanted to get out of the thing. The individual climate control was a godsend, and at full blast on cold mornings it was almost silent. The 18-way power seats made for one of the most comfortable drives I’ve taken in some time, and it was nearly impossible to reach out and touch anything that wasn’t wood, leather, or aluminum. From behind the wheel, the interior really couldn’t get any better — until I found the back seats, that is.

The only reason you’d really need the long wheelbase Autobiography is if you’re having someone drive you, and my test car really hammered the point home. The two executive rear seats wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Gulfstream jet; not only were they heated and cooled with individual climate control settings just like the thrones up front, they also reclined and had a massage function. What’s more, the rear cupholders had both a heating and cooling function. From then on, the driver’s seat just didn’t seem as high and mighty anymore.

Source: Land Rover

Source: Land Rover

Interior pros and cons

+ Simply put, one of the finest interiors in the world.

+ Attention to detail could be even higher inside than out. The wood grain is beautiful, every button, switch, and knob feels substantial, and I even love the gawky, angular steering wheel design; it reminds me of the early ’80s-era Range Rover. Plus, wood and chrome storage cabinets in the doors are the perfect place to store your wallet, phone, and keys.

+ HVAC system is the most responsive and unobtrusive ones I’ve ever used.

– Why aren’t massaging front seats and climate-controlled cup holders standard up front in the Autobiography? Can’t the driver have a little fun too?

– Other than the cover over the fridge, console storage bins are canyon deep. Good luck fishing anything out of there while you’re driving.

– You look great getting out of it, but the same can’t be said for getting in. I’m 6-foot-2, and I still had to hoist myself up into the seats. After a few years of doing that, bye bye beautiful leather seat bolsters.

Source: James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain

Our Range Rover came with the 5.0-liter supercharged V8 with 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s also a 550-horsepower version available, but after a week with this thing — and as much as I hate to say it — I don’t see why you’d need the more powerful motor. At 510 horsepower, the 7,000 pound beast rockets from zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds, with a roar that’s just loud enough to be heard through the quiet interior.

The power comes on like a Saturn V rocket; it doesn’t snap your neck like a performance car would. Instead, you’re pushed back into your seat with an equal amount of urgency and force that makes mashing your foot to the floor feel like an occasion. This is the kind of machine where it makes you want to shout “Out of my way, I’m a motorist!” And I should know, because I did. Several times.

But there were a few drawbacks in the powertrain department. On my third day of city-only driving, I went through the trip computer and found that I had been getting 9.2 miles per gallon, far lower than the 14-mile-per-gallon estimate cited by the EPA. On the highway though, I was routinely seeing returns in the low 20s, so my week-end average of 17 miles per gallon was actually better than Uncle Sam’s estimates. Still, this is one thirsty puppy.

The second issue is the Stop/Start function. It’s the same system that Jaguar uses, but frankly I think it works better in the Jags, where it somehow comes across as smoother. In the Range Rover, you’ll never get sick of hearing and feeling that big beautiful V8 rumble to life — unless it happens twice at every stop light.

Source: Range Rover

Source: Range Rover

Powertrain pros and cons

+ Handles the twistiest corners and the deepest potholes with incredible ease.

+ Behaves like a gentleman in the city, goes like hell on the back roads.

+ You will never, ever, get sick of hearing that supercharged V8 rumbling to life …

– … Unless you hit every stoplight in Brooklyn and have the Stop/Start function on. It’s fine out of the city, but in true stop-start traffic it’s an annoyance. We’re glad Jaguar-Land Rover makes the off switch so accessible.

– Not that it matters to prospective Range Rover owners, but this thing chugs fuel like a college freshman at rush week.

– Not much difference between normal and sport modes. Plus it stays so civilized and smooth, paddle shifting really doesn’t raise your pulse too much. At the end of the day, it’s better to let the Range Rover row its own. 

Source: Land Rover

Source: Land Rover

Tech and safety

Believe it or not, the long wheelbase Autobiography is one hell of a city car despite its size and drinking problem. With blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, plus 360-degree park distance control, there isn’t an inch of the SUV you aren’t aware of, and Range Rover has found a way to communicate all this information to the driver in a refreshingly unobtrusive way. Cameras on the outer front corners show up on the infotainment screen, which made pulling out of a garage or merging into city traffic a breeze. The heads-up display shows your speed, the posted speed limit of the area, and driving directions (if you have the Sat Nav on), making New York’s schizophrenic speed limits that much easier to navigate. And while I didn’t use the self-parallel parking function, the rear view camera, reverse-traffic warning, and side-view mirrors that changed their angle as you reversed made parking in a cramped spot no sweat.

Other goodies included voice control, Wi-Fi, which made Googling road trip destinations in small towns a breeze, and the 10.2-inch rear screens for the back seats (which, unfortunately, I didn’t get as much time to play with as I would’ve liked) with their matching sets of wireless headphones. I also feel like I should include the Range Rover’s 4×4 system here too, since it’s long been one of the best the world has to offer, and its dial-in settings on the center console are a breeze to operate. But since I’m not a lunatic, I didn’t even think about taking Range Rover’s own Range Rover off-roading — subjecting it to New York City for a week was crazy enough.

For years, Jaguar-Land Rover’s achilles heel has been its long-term liability, and the company has made great strides to turn this around lately, notably by offering comprehensive warranties. It all seemed to bode well for our Range Rover, as I absolutely loved the stereo system (the 3-D Sound setting was incredible), the Sat Nav system was fast and intuitive, and the aforementioned monitoring systems made driving the big SUV in heavy traffic easy. Then came the Saturday trip to Long Island, where the system crashed after my girlfriend made a quick leap from navigation to climate control to media on the touchscreen. It rebooted after about two minutes, and while it kept our directions saved, it was more than a little worrying. It happened three more times over the course of the week, twice without anyone touching it.

Source: Land Rover

Source: Land Rover

Tech and safety pros and cons

+ The army of sensors and cameras, plus the smart mirrors make this beast a breeze to drive, even in New York City’s worst traffic.

+ The 1700-watt Meridian sound system is incredible, and the 3-D Sound setting is the closest you’re going to get to concert sound while driving down the highway.

+ JLR’s Sat Nav is one of the cleanest, most intuitive, and easiest infotainment systems I’ve used, and I never knew I could like a heads-up display so much either.

– But its unexplained crashes are worrying, even with JLR’s comprehensive new warranty.

– No really, those Sat Nav crashes were very worrisome on a vehicle with less than 1,000 miles on the clock. We really hope the company’s latest measures can exorcise its reliability demons once and for all.

– The Range Rover can raise its ride hight from 8 up to 11 inches for off-roading, and can ford nearly 3 feet of water. We wouldn’t want it any other way, but you’d be crazy to do either in a long wheelbase Autobiography.

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James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

With its conservative looks belying its sporting pretensions, the big Range Rover is young Muhammad Ali in a suit. It’s charismatic and charming until you stomp the gas and put the gloves on, then all it wants to do is float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. And while the big SUV went unnoticed in the city, its reputation did get me some negative attention outside of the city.

The first time, a twenty-something and his girlfriend in a BMW E46 M3 tried to race me at a stoplight in tony little Amagansett, Long Island. But fearing the wrath of bored eastern L.I. cops in winter (plus the fact that it’s not my car), I let him tear away — and nearly rear-end a Mercedes ML-Class at the next light. Besides, the big SUV is the rolling British incarnation of the Roosevelt Corollary; it isn’t about going out and crushing most other cars, it’s having the supreme satisfaction that you could.

The next day, a driver in an Audi SQ5 wanted to overtake me on the twisty Teconic Parkway upstate. Surprisingly, the Range Rover took to the corners much better than the smaller Audi, and he fell back without me even breaking the speed limit. But by then, I had already become convinced that there wasn’t much this SUV couldn’t do well.

Source: James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

A week ago I was thrilled to test the king of the Range Rovers, but also terrified at the prospect of taking care of it in one of the most hectic cities in the world. Luckily, it was an absolute joy to drive in any situation, and by the end of the week, I was sad to see it go.

Sometimes it’s hard to review something like a Range Rover. You already know it’s going to be good, so really the hard part is finding fault in it. Unfortunately, that gremlin in the infotainment system is genuinely worrisome, but other than that, it’s simply one of the best things with four wheels on the planet, and it shows inside and out. The Autobiography may be out of almost everybody’s price range — including mine — but every now and again it’s good to spend time with the best, just to see how close the competitors come, and where they’ll be in maybe five years. And with the Autobiography, the competition isn’t even close. Your move, Bentley.

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