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Its 2020; are Range Rovers finally more reliable? Meh, not really.

Aaah... it's 2020 and we are entering a new decade! We're enjoying connected home, video doorbells, virtual reality, drone delivered excess and autonomous cars (ish).

So how's Land Rover doing and what's their last decade journey giving us? Well, first let's recall the short version of that journey. We all know Land Rover was originally manufactured, assembled and delivered from England. Land Rover earned iconic street cred traveling the world with off road utilization as African Safari's trucks and international military assault vehicles. They also earned a terrible reputation for reliability being both frequent to break down and expensive to fix. Jaguar was synonymous with the need for a loaner vehicle. But what many forget is that several years ago Land Rover was bought by Ford. Yes, Ford.

A look at the latest Ford Explorer quickly illustrates the kissing cousins that became Land Rover Ford. Clearly the front end design is a direct genetic link to the Range Rover Sport. Additionally many owners complained that some of the Land Rover buttons and switches appeared to become parts bin allocations from Ford. Other similarities and direct purposeful changes (some positive) started to show up in things like the infotainment system and other technology like lane change assist.

Ford Explorer vs Range Rover Sport  comparison: front view
Ford Explorer vs Range Rover Sport: Front End

But this love affair was short lived.

Ford sold Land Rover to Tata Motors in India. Maybe it was too rich for Ford or maybe they saw under the covers and flinched. Whatever the reason, it's Tata's now. One of the best things that can be said for Tata is that they didn't change the iconic looks of the Land Rover key line much. The Range Rover and Range Rover Sport look ostensibly close to the classic versions. The Velar is a squished version of the Range Rover sport, almost as if AntMan stepped on it. It's not bad though, besides underpowered and having terrible visibility.

Arguably where they went very wrong was the Discovery line. I'm at a loss for words in how to describe the steaming pile of sloth dung that the Discovery has become. The last "good" version of the Discovery ran from 2004 forward under various titles eventually becoming the LR3 and LR4. Those debatably were acceptable. They maintained the tall squared body style, panoramic windows and at least a nod to it's distant relative.

In 2017 Land Rover had some type of creative seizure coupled with dementia and created the newest iterations of the Discovery. I'll stop here and say: I know there are many people out there buying Discoveries. Maybe they wanted a family vehicle and didn't want to pay $85k for a real Land Rover. I get it. Those people still made bad choices. Resale, consumer complaints, professional reviews and pure sales volume supports my theory. The new discovery has a weirdly rounded rear end and maintains the iconic offset license plate. Butt [wait for it] it's in no mans land. It looks like a pair of knock off jeans with too much bling on only one rear pocket. Its noisy, plasticy feeling and the inside feels like, yes; a mid line Ford Escape. Now there's nothing wrong with that, except the price difference.

2017 Land Rover Discovery: rear driver side view off center license plate
2017 Land Rover Discovery: rear driver side

But this is just backstory. I'm really here to tell you about the 2019 Range Rover Sport TD6.

I rented 7+ Range Rovers while traveling this year and was able to spend substantial time in them at least for short sprints. The more I drove them, the more they grew on me. Eventually, we traded our beloved 2 year old Porsche Macan S for a loaded RR Sport TD6. Mainly we thought we wanted a little more space, a smoother ride and continued luxury like we enjoyed in the Porsche.

We weren't really looking for a diesel, but we found a beautiful Range Rover with everything we needed and it happened to be a TD6. We got a decent deal (definitely not great) and walked away with an $85k (msrp) RR in black, with a two tone interior.

THE GOOD: Let me start with the things we loved. Firstly; the diesel had somewhere over 400lbs of Torque but only 250+hp. That was actually just fine. The torque made it feel quick and sporty from a stop or when passing. The horsepower topped out and it wasn't going to win any 1/4 mile races, but it felt plenty fast for how we drove it. I really enjoyed it getting 31 miles per gallon. It constantly fascinated me that I was pushing a heavy, world class 4 wheel drive and getting 31mpg. Awesome.

The Range Rover Sport had to be one of the most comfortable sets of seats I've driven in. Although they feel a little stiff at first, they seem to hold you just right. They don't squeeze you like sport seats, yet they are supportive and cushioned in an excellent balance. The multitude of adjustments including the electronic headrest mean you can get them suited exactly as you want. Well done. This coupled with a luxury looking interior, a tight clean fit and an ultra quiet cabin makes it a pleasurable place to spend either a commute or a road trip.

Actual Interior: Range Rover Sport
Representative interior: Range Rover Sport

Feature wise, this thing has more than even most demanding techno geeks could dream of. Adaptive cruise control that's so smart you can almost drive autonomously? Yep. Cooling refrigerated center console to keep your semi adult beverage cold? Check. Customizable infotainment center that folds away when you turn off the car? Certainly. Customizable digital dash that's situationally dependent and crystal clear? Of course. The tactile sensitive buttons on the steering wheel also change depending on the function and work flawlessly, as long as you understand where to press and when to swipe. Pay attention!

Lastly, while we didn't go off roading in our brand new $80k+ SUV [hey I'm not Russian royalty], we did have a chance to test it in wet weather and ice. This RR had the auto terrain system, which means it is constantly measuring the vehicle's response to the road and adjusting. We never adjusted the settings beyond automatic and it rode through rain, sleet and light ice like it was on rails. It gave my wife absolute confidence and she really came to trust it's ability to handle adverse conditions.

THE NOT SO GOOD: While there are many things to love about the Land Rover Range Rover's [still a mouthful]; there are things that just aren't great, especially at the price range. As we went to take delivery; we were told there were problems with the front sensor and they needed some time to calibrate it, could we come back in a few days? Ok, so we just bought this expensive luxury car and it can't pass the delivery checklist? Alright, at least they caught it. Good on them.

Kindly they gave us a 3 year old Range Rover to drive while we waited. That made use feel a little better, but we really wanted to be in our new car. Finally we get our RR and drive off excitedly. Within in a day we start getting warnings that the sensor is failing and it's "not safe to drive". Back we go.

More sensor calibration. Get the car back a second time. Yea! This time I notice that as I shut the driver door the panel wobbles like my great grandmother's tricep. I point this out to the service tech. He chuckles, yeah the doors are "lighter weight now to help with gas mileage". Ok, but can you make it not look like it might shake loose in a hard wind? While the interior is quiet, the overall external build quality is weak. A lot of plastic, thin sheet metal and a poor alignment. But at least the sensors work now...right?

By the way; the "sensor" is basically the primary front facing sensor that controls the adaptive cruise control, pre collision braking, speed limit identification etc. it's pretty key from a safety standpoint.

A week later all the other infotainment and system issues started. We regularly started seeing warning systems in the dash, telling us various systems were not functioning and to drive safely. They went away or could be cleared and we never had any "issue" that created a real risk. As far as we know. It didn't leave us confident though in trusting any of the safety systems. Randomly the rear camera wouldn't work. It might not come on 4-5 times in a row, whether the car was restarted in between or not. Then it would work and maybe function properly for several days in a row. It was a fun surprise to see if it would work when you're backing up at Home Depot and looking for small children pushing mini shopping carts to practice future spending or not.

The main annoyances were with the infotainment system. When it worked; it sucked. It is so slow. Slow to change screens, slow to respond to touches and ridiculously layered. For example, to disable the auto start/stop (which I hate because it's a fake federal facist forced mechanism to make us think we'll get an extra 2 miles per gallon) you have to know which menu to bring up, where to find the button and then press it, 3 times. 3 times because you'll press it, see nothing, think you didn't press it, press it again (thereby now reactivating it) and then push it once more. I'm not kidding.

Each button is so slowly registered and intermittent, you are always playing wack a mole.

I said when it works it sucks. Often it doesn't work. Dozens of times we would push buttons, only to watch them physically light up, then immediately turn back off. Things like; the AC, the Fan. You know basic functions that have worked with mechanical buttons since 1950. Then it would randomly make it's own decisions. It would adjust the temperature, turn on the blower, turn off the blower, change the audio input all as if a poltergeist was sitting shotgun and screwing with us. It would also go black and not come back on until the car was ignition cycled. Now before, you start blaming me. I'm tech savvy, enough to build computer, do home electrical rewiring, resolver parts on my plasma TV, use VR and live on mobile devices. It wasn't me, it wasn't the auto climate setting nor was it the assigned driver memory.

We took it to the dealer 3 times. Short version; Upgraded the software, reset the system, reprogrammed everything. Couldn't "find anything wrong". We videotaped it doing each thing. Still the techs are scratching their heads. Door still flutters like a seagull with a broken wing. Last time I took it in, they didn't touch it for 7 days. They said, "sorry, we had a lot of vehicles in with major problems that took longer than we thought". Yikes. I wasn't happy about the delay even though I was in a free loaner car. Why? Because they punished me with a god forsaken, devils spawn Discovery.

Now you might be rolling your eyes, mumbling "first world problems". Yeah, I hear you. But when you pay for a very expensive luxury car, you want it to work, correctly and consistently. We were less than 3 months in and already had the vehicle in the shop 6 times. What would happen down the road? If they can't figure out how to maintain an infotainment and climate system, how likely is it the sophisticated all terrain system is going to last? How about the $10k to fix air suspension?

We were thinking about what to do, how to resolve this. Should we pursue a lemon law challenge? Keep trying to get the dealer to fix something they can't figure out and that only occurs randomly?

As we were debating this, we stopped by our local Porsche dealer. We do this sometimes to drool and because the team there is really friendly. The universe provided us an answer. It put a slightly used blacked out Porsche Cayenne GTS in our path. The GTS has an air suspension, tuned motor, sport exhaust, body kit and 21 inch wheels. It took almost no time for us to both agree that we were trading in the Range Rover.

2016 Porsche Cayenne GTS: Black Driver Side View
2016 Porsche Cayenne GTS: Black

Our local Porsche dealer is awesome. Completely professional and masters of customer experience. Quickly we had a good deal done and washed our hands of the Range Rover. Yep, with 6 months we took a depreciation hit and lost money, but the deal on the GTS was so good we felt the sting a lot less.

Porsche is truly unparalleled.

Don't start with the "owned by Volkswagen, an overpriced Audi" nonsense. If you believe that, you've never spent time in a Porsche. Our Cayenne has the right mix of buttons and digital. IE; you can change something important, instantly, without going through six layers of menus or hoping the digital transitive button registered your fat finger. Some people aren't fans of the "cockpit" button heavy Porsche interior. We love it. Porsche has moved to glass displays in the new vehicles, but they still have the "right" buttons within reach and there is still a tactile + audio confirmation. That being said; it still requires you to go into the digital menu far too frequently for my taste. The air vents are also weak and not well placed, but I'm digressing. These were primary drivers of us going with a pre 2019 model.

2016 Porsche Cayenne Center Console: Black
2016 Porsche Cayenne Center Console: Black
2019 Porsche Cayenne Center Console: Black
2019 Porsche Cayenne Center Console: Black

The build quality, solidness and performance is truly light years ahead of Tata's Land Rover. The doors feel like real steel. The handling is tight and responsive. It's smooth but also sports car tight. We definitely gave up some features, superior off road prowess, gas mileage and size in the Cayenne. But we gained performance, style, quality and reliability.

At least it's 2020 worthy.


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