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2014 Range Rover Re-Runs The Great Divide

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 10/30/2014 Angus MacKenzie

The Rocky Mountains, America's great stony spine, conjure landscapes that are wild and beautiful and seep into your soul. Travel through the Rockies and you get a sense of what America was like before the neon-lit wastelands of fast-food joints and gas stations, before the gritty downtowns that slump into endless suburban sprawl, before the big-box stores marooned like islands in an ocean of asphalt. The Rockies are epic and immense and utterly unforgettable.

In 1989 a convoy of Range Rovers travelled 1,128 miles through the Colorado Rockies across the roof of America, from Wyoming to New Mexico. The route followed the Great Divide, the topographic line that determines whether America's rivers ultimately empty into the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans, using trails scratched through the mineral-rich mountains 150 years ago to service remote gold and silver mines located at these lung-bursting altitudes.

The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 1© Provided by MotorTrend The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 1 The original Great Divide Expedition was conceived to show Range Rover's off-roading chops to the media. A quarter century later, the 2014 Great Divide Expedition has been designed to provide an unforgettable experience for Range Rover owners who'd never dream of subjecting their shiny new SUVs to trails that required low range, high ground clearance, and steady nerves. I've joined the final two days of the Expedition, days we'll spend mostly traveling above 10,000 feet under brilliant blue skies.

The world has changed a lot in the past 25 years, and so have Range Rovers. The 1989 Great Divide Expedition cars were essentially evolutions of the original 1970 Range Rover. They had four doors, fuel-injected engines, and alloy wheels, but the basic vehicle architecture had changed little in 20 years. That's not to damn the Range Rover with faint praise, however: In 1989 there was nothing in the world that offered the same combination of off-road comfort and capability. Its weakness? Niggling unreliability, a residual effect of the chaos that had brought the British automotive industry to its knees in the late 1970s.

The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 1© Provided by MotorTrend The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 1 That first-gen Range Rover stayed in production until 1996. Today's L405 series Range Rover, introduced at the 2012 Paris auto show, is the fourth-generation model: The pace of Range Rover development has accelerated significantly in recent years. The L405 Range Rover is the most luxurious and sophisticated off-roader in the business. It has an all-aluminum unibody, supercharged engines, and adjustable air suspension. Electronic control systems allow significant variations in engine and transmission mapping, suspension ride height, traction control, and braking to deliver outstanding off-road capability, even in the hands of inexperienced drivers. Reliability issues? Consigned to the same dumpster as the Triumph Stag and the Sterling 800. I've run an L405 Range Rover as a long-term test car for more than a year with zero problems, and you won't find Internet forums aflame with disgruntled owners complaining about faults, either.

We wheel out of the picturesque township of Ouray, Colorado, in bone-stock 2014 Range Rover Supercharged models, en route for the old mining town of Silverton via trails that will crest no fewer than four 12,000-foot-plus passes. Taking a Range Rover off-road is still a unique experience. The 2014 is much faster, quieter, and more composed on road than the 1989 model and boasts a truly luxurious, lavishly equipped interior. Yet it is even more comfortably capable off-road. There are probably only a handful of Jeeps and one or two Toyotas able to go places that would make this British luxury SUV break a sweat.

The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 1© Provided by MotorTrend The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 1 None of the trails we'll run over the next two days involve any technically extreme off-roading; they get steep and tight in places, recent rain means there's water in the creek crossings, and there are a couple of rocky outcrops that test the suspension's articulation. We spend most of the time noodling along in low range, the selection of which automatically raises the ride height 2.95 inches above the Range Rover's regular road-hugging stance. We also leave Land Rover's clever and widely copied Terrain Response system, which allows the driver to select the vehicle setup for a variety of surfaces from grass/gravel/snow to mud and ruts to sand to rocks, in Automatic mode. Bob Burns, Land Rover's genial events manager and a participant in the 1989 Great Divide Expedition, says the second-generation system in the L405 Range Rover is now smart enough to figure out for itself the optimal settings for steering, throttle, and traction control most of the time.

The shiny 21-inch alloy wheels and low-profile street tires that come standard on the Range Rover Supercharged hardly seem the ideal setup for off-roading, but Burns says Land Rover wanted to make the point that the cars could be driven straight out of the showroom and into the mountains. Experienced off-roaders usually air down their tires a little to improve traction in the rough stuff; with the low-profile rubber Burns and his team have found it's best to increase pressures to keep the skinny sidewalls from being pinched between rim and rock. The strategy seems effective; our convoy suffered just one puncture, on a steep, rocky climb near the 12,750-foot summit of Hurricane Pass.

In addition to offering owners (who paid to take part) the opportunity to find out what Range Rovers can really do -- with the bonus, confessed one, of not worrying about damaging their own cars -- the Land Rover North America team used the Great Divide Expedition re-run to continue development of the new Range Rover, sending data collected from all the cars back to the L405 engineering team in England for analysis. Among the changes to come out of this trip will be a recalibration of the sensor in the air suspension that measures pressure rise over time to check that the system's air pump is working correctly and that there are no leaks. In the thin air above 11,000 feet, the pump can't build pressure as rapidly as the on-board computer thinks it should, and the sensor activates a warning light signaling a fault. A new high-altitude calibration for the sensor will be downloaded to Range Rovers around the world in a routine software update when they're next serviced.

The Red Mountain mining district just outside Ouray is testament to the fickle fortunes of Colorado's high country mines. Though gold and silver was found here in the 1870s, the difficulty of getting men and supplies in, and the precious metals out, prevented development. But in 1883, after entrepreneur Otto Mears finished the "Million Dollar Highway" out of Ouray and over Red Mountain Pass, the area exploded into life. (There are two stories as to how Mears' road got its name: 1) It cost that much to build, a staggering sum in the 1880s; and 2) Gold worth at least that much is buried in the earthworks used to construct it.)

By the late 1880s more than 10,000 people lived and worked in the Red Mountain district, despite the grim winter climate. Gambling and drinking were the main forms of entertainment, and brawls and shootings were commonplace. The boom times lasted barely 20 years, however. By the early 1920s most of the region was deserted. We cruise past the rickety remains of Animas Forks, once the site of the Gold Prince Mill, and a railway line that took the ore back down to nearby Silverton. Situated at 11,160 feet, Animas Forks once boasted the highest courthouse in the United States. Today the wind sighs through the few tumbledown wooden buildings that remain.

The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 2© Provided by MotorTrend The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 2 Our second day's run started in Silverton, once the epicenter of the district thanks to the link to the railway mainline that arrived in the town in 1882. Silverton was a heaving, brawling, booze-soaked town, full of bars and gambling dens and whorehouses. Today it's a popular tourist destination, especially during the winter. Fun fact: Red Bull built snowboarder Shaun White a half-pipe near the town. White used it to perfect the Double McTwist 1260 that won him a gold medial at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The plan was to go from Silverton over Black Bear Pass to Telluride. The 12,840-foot Black Bear Pass is one of the most celebrated in off-roading, thanks to the narrow switchbacks down the vertiginous wall at the eastern end of the narrow valley that crowds around the celebrated ski resort. But signs at the head of the trail advised that Black Bear was closed, so the Land Rover team switched to Plan B, a slightly longer run up and over the 13,114-foot Imogene Pass further to the east.

It didn't feel like second prize. The trail quickly left the tree line and began traversing giant shelves of shattered rock. Right near the summit of the pass, on one of the steepest sections of the trail, the view over the Range Rover's hood looked as if we were climbing into the brilliant blue sky itself. Soon we were at more than 13,000 feet, tires crunching over the bare rock, as the 510-hp supercharged V-8 under the hood gulped great lungsful of the thin air. We stopped for lunch at Imogene Pass and admired the rumpled quilt of greens and blues and reds and grays that stretched to the far horizon in every direction. The Rockies. Epic and immense. And utterly unforgettable. The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 2© Provided by MotorTrend The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 2

The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 1© Provided by MotorTrend The Great Divide 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Day 1

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