Dornoch, Scotland-- Scotland may be cold in January, but at least it's a wet cold. You can't do proper off-roading without that extra bit of pouring rain turning the rivers to raging beasts and the forest ruts to bottomless hobbit holes. Scotland must be seven-tenths water. It fills the firths to overflowing, comes cascading out of craggy outcroppings in torrents, runs straight down every road surface on this northernmost tip of the United Kingdom, and has you whipping your windshield wipers into a frenzy.
Just bloody beautiful. Pass the Glenmorangie--eighteen-year, preferably. It goes well with the haggis from Dingwall.
The national coat of Scotland is the waxed Barbour. The vehicle of choice is the 2003 Range Rover. At least, that's what it is today, because Scotland is where we are, and we are guests of Land Rover. In these gruesome conditions, we'd have it no other way. Gruesome is really the wrong word, based on our fierce love of gritty, off-road adventure. We like to plunge into raging rivers, pushing a bow wave as high as the car's hood onto the far shore. We live for the terror of sliding straight down muddy embankments and into pools of water of unknown depth in the dark. We thrill to the challenge of climbing--wheel by articulated wheel--through ditches and fissures and crevasses and ravines.
We especially like to do so in Range Rovers, because there is very little chance that we'll actually get any of those elements on us. Range Rovers always have been unstoppable beasts of upper-crust burden since the first was introduced by Land Rover in 1970. (This would be not counting the failure of the first-generation air suspension, that is.) Since then, there's been only one redesign, and it was in the spirit of the first--a fresh turn on the original theme of fusty country elegance. The queen in a babushka. When Bob Dover left Aston Martin to run Land Rover, his extremely chic wife, Tracey, was overheard muttering into her champagne: "Goodbye, Manolos; hello, wellies."
As it turns out, the skyscraper Italian stilettos got to stay, and the green rubber boots remained in the closet. This third Range Rover throws off its babushka, thanks to the brief interlude Land Rover spent under the BMW umbrella, where a key champion was Wolfgang Reitzle, then BMW's head of product development. Reitzle finished the job when he left BMW and joined Ford in 1999 and led Ford's purchase of Land Rover the following year.
There's no mistaking it for anything but a Range Rover, with that clamshell hood, split tailgate, and upright, grille-heavy front end. But the overall shape is sleeker (not to mention wider, longer, and taller), and the xenon headlamp clusters are positively New Age, as are the functional front-fender vents. Land Rover chief designer Geoff Upex led the British team, beating out two BMW studios to win the redesign job.