Building an empire is tough. Strong political will, a potent standing army and thousands of battle-hardened veterans are needed to ensure victory. Equipment, called “kit” by the British, needs to be top-shelf, too. The new supercharged Land Rover, a true off-roader with a truck frame and sunroof, is known worldwide as the most rugged vehicle available for civilian use. It’s not pretty outside, and with a base price of $51,000 it certainly isn’t cheap. It will, however, conquer most any terrain on the planet.

Though a Land Rover is certain to meet most any need, make sure it will meet your individual requirements before you invest in one. Crawl under it with a tape measure and check the distance between the lowest point of the chassis and the ground. There’s no industry standard for measurement, so the only way to do this is by hand.

Make sure that somewhere there’s enough room for mounting a powerful winch. Even the best off-roaders occasionally get stuck. Note, too, that only a temporary spare is standard, good for about 50 easy road miles. You can raise the vehicle’s true ground clearance (not just the body) a little more than an inch with bigger tires, an important point. If everything checks out or can be modified, be sure you don’t purchase the vehicle merely for inclement-weather driving. There are plenty of such vehicles available, like the Jeep Cherokee or Subaru. Now you’re ready to shop.

Inside, the Land Rover is luxurious and has plenty of room on its twin leather front buckets. In back, there’s room for two on the folding rear bench. Under the rear hatch, the tailgate opens in two sections.

Looking around from the driver’s seat, you’ll soon discover today’s newest trend (or bane): electronic instrumentation. The screen is large and most vehicle functions are controlled there. The electronics are slow, however, which is puzzling, as this problem seems to afflict both the cheapest and most expensive cars.

Directly under the center console screen is the transmission control knob. The Land Rover employs full-time four-wheel drive, and if you select the proper option packages, you can order a “rock crawler” gear with various types of off-road capability, a locking rear differential, a full-size spare and much more. Just check the Heavy Duty Package on the order sheet, a $1,350 option. Combine this with a roll bar -- which you’ll undoubtedly be offered -- and you’re ready for the gravel pits. A brief trip to a local mud bog showed that the Land Rover can handle most any terrain, but be sure you have the proper emergency equipment.

What else is it about the Land Rover that makes auto writers drool? It’s not just the vehicle’s equipment or alleged capabilities, it’s the way the combination meshes. Whether you’re on the road or tiptoeing through mud that would make one’s mother ill this is a vehicle that operates smoothly and quietly.

The surface street ride (on asphalt the local government hasn’t repaired in decades) was smooth, quiet and stable. In “icky” mud or over boulders, “kickback” through the power steering and four-wheel antilock disc brakes is minimal. The suspension height (more or less), the stability and traction control, hill control, Torsen differential and just about anything else you can name will adjust automatically (though in a few cases you have a choice).

There are more airbags than one can count, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, a rearview camera, a burglar alarm and Homelink (comparable to General Motor’s OnStar Safety System). An AM/FM/HD/CD/satellite radio and 7,700 pounds of towing capacity are standard on this 5,445-pound vehicle.

Underhood, you’ll find a 3.0-liter supercharged “six” that churns out 340 HP. It replaces the former V-8, though with a 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds and plenty of low-end torque, you’ll never notice the difference. Braking from 60-0 was measured at 130 feet, a few feet longer than normal for the class. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic, which shifted flawlessly.

Fuel efficiency was measured by the EPA at 14 city and 19 highway. Expect 12-13 city and 16-17 highway in the real world, actually decent figures for a vehicle with so much capability. Note that the Range Rover has a manual “Eco” control switch. No mileage difference was noted.

As for the warranty, the Range Rover is guaranteed for four years or 50,000 miles. There are probably other warranties, but a literature search and being placed on hold by a dealer twice for 15 minutes led this reporter to leave his question on voice mail. The call was never returned. Caution: damage caused by off-roading probably won’t be fixed under warranty. Be aware, and be careful.

Overall, the Land Rover is extremely pleasant to drive and exudes enormous capability. It’s more than likely the most capable all-wheel drive/transfer case equipped vehicle available to the public. Use due diligence and you’ll be extremely satisfied.


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