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If you like the 2013 Land Rover Range Rover

Plush power

Like no other vehicle, the Range Rover is synonymous with off-road luxury. (Jaguar/Land Rover)

Presidents arrive in armoured Cadillacs, bankers drive BMWs, captains of industry are shuttled around in Mercedes-Benzes and people with good credit scores lease Audis.

But when royals need to get somewhere, they use a Range Rover (or at least their security detail does). It’s good to be king.

New Range Rovers do not happen often, but one did for the 2013 model year – the fourth since the vehicle’s introduction 43 years ago. And it is not new in the vague, willful marketing-speak  of advertising agencies, but re-engineered at the fundamental level of its structure. It is built around an all-aluminium, unified body shell – a first for an SUV, Land Rover claims. And the switch away from steel has resulted in a 700-pound drop in weight compared to the outgoing model (though at 4,850lbs, even the lightest version is still a hefty beast).

To build the Range Rover’s new body, rivets and glue were used instead of welds at many points in the structure, reducing the amount of energy required in the vehicle’s assembly. For buyers who already love the way the Range Rover looks, what is most important is that the fourth generation still looks like a Range Rover. It is clean and boxy but rakish, and best of all, imperious in bearing.

Most Range Rovers spend their lives navigating the unforgiving terrain of St Tropez, Beverly Hills and Henley-on-Thames. That does not mean, however, that Land Rover has not produced one of the world’s most capable off-road machines.

The suspension is fully independent, the four-wheel-drive system can be adjusted for particular terrain types or – if left in automatic mode – will ascertain the terrain and optimise various systems to deal with it. All this technological overkill may imply complication, but the controls have been integrated into relatively straightforward display screens. Want to cross Scotland’s moors in winter? No sweat. Head for Abu Dhabi via sand dunes? Done. Escape the Hamptons after a hurricane? You stand your best chance in a Range Rover.

The redesigned SUV shares its 5-litre V8 engine with cars from its corporate brother Jaguar. In naturally aspirated form, the engine is good for 375 horsepower, and it is backed by an advanced 8-speed automatic transmission. Go for the high-end supercharged model and the engine’s output swells to a thumping 510hp.

Big, heavy SUVs with big, powerful V8 engines do not produce billboard-worthy fuel economy. The non-turbocharged model is EPA-rated at a lacklustre 14mpg in the city and 20mpg on the highway. Get the blown engine and those numbers drop to 13 and 19, respectively. Then again, customers who do not balk at the Rover’s $83,545-$130,995 price range are likely not concerned about fuel costs.

Then try…

The promise of adventure lies at the heart of the appeal of every SUV, and there are few vehicles better suited to adventuring than an old Toyota Land Cruiser. A well-seasoned Cruiser does not proclaim your regal breeding as much as it suggests that you are on assignment for National Geographic.

Of late, Land Cruisers have become unlikely totems of urban cool, spotted idling in front of artisanal cheese shops and starring in TV advertisements from major telecoms.

Land Cruisers have come in dozens of variations since the first were produced in 1951. Some, like the early BJ and FJ series, were barely more than copies of military Jeeps, but by 1980 the Land Cruiser had matured into the FJ60 series, with a fully enclosed steel body, a well-heated and weatherproof interior, and such radical luxuries as air conditioning and power steering. For many enthusiasts, the FJ60 hits the sweet spot between rugged build quality and the barest of creature comforts.

No, the FJ60 is nowhere near as luxurious as a 2013 Range Rover, but in the trade-off is an authentic, capable machine that, even if it already has a couple hundred thousand miles under its ladder frame and solid axles, is nearly indestructible.

Power comes from a 4.2-litre inline 6-cylinder engine so ingeniously simple it barely has any moving parts. The engine was only rated at 135hp when it was new, but even well-worn examples deliver excellent torque down low where it matters when crawling over rocks or picking one’s way through a desert. Some of these engines have been known to last thousands of miles even after the crankcase has been drained of oil; the 4-speed manual transmission behind it is just as tough.

Despite its relative lack of power, the old 6-cylinder slurps fuel like a dehydrated elephant at a watering hole. If a driver observes 15mpg on the highway, then the laws of thermodynamics have obviously been heavily revised; consult your clergyman.

The suspension is a perfect complement to the engine, with solid axles on leaf springs front and rear. Those axles could take hits from artillery shells and keep going, and the springs are surprisingly supple. The four-wheel drive system is a relatively primitive part-time setup with a two-speed transfer case.

For ease of use, later versions of the FJ60 are coveted. The last of the series – actually designated FJ62 – used a fuel-injected 4-litre 6-cylinder engine rated at 155hp and was available with an automatic transmission. Built from 1988 into 1990, the FJ62s are distinguished by their four square headlamps.

A new Range Rover will do most of the hard work for you. An old Land Cruiser, meanwhile, demands your attention and takes skill to get the most out of it. But it is that mechanical involvement, rough and raw as it often is, that electronics cannot duplicate. And the stalwart, upright forbearance of the Cruiser positively screams male essence.

Running but rough FJ60s can go for as little as $3,000, while quality FJ60s with reasonable mileage start around $8,000. Top-condition FJ62s can command prices beyond $15,000. Spend more initially on a Cruiser, and you are likely to save more down the off-road.

THE ALTERNATIVE: Authenticity, thy name is Land Cruiser. (Toyota Motor Sales)

THE ALTERNATIVE: Authenticity, thy name is Land Cruiser. (Toyota Motor Sales)

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