Good design, whether in the world of watches or automobiles is paramount. I will give anything a fair shake if it appears to have been crafted with careful consideration, even if it is something that doesn’t directly appeal to my sensibilities. Take the current line of products from Land Rover, for example. I prefer classic sports cars to the latest sport utility vehicles, but with that being said, there’s something inarguably intriguing about them, especially their top tier vehicle line, the Range Rover. As part of the relationship with Swiss watchmaker Zenith, the Zenith El Primero Range Rover watch was released alongside it, and while I’ll also be discussing that throughout, this article is going to focus more on the SUV.
I’ve spent a good amount of time doing highly technical off-roading in both Land Rovers and Range Rovers, but prior to a recent trip to New York, I’d never driven one on asphalt for an extended period of time. I wanted to know if the high regard in which pop culture holds them is warranted, not to mention their hefty price tag. So I set about finding a way to get some seat time in the most recent iteration of the iconic vehicle.
It was a perfectly dreary fall evening when I landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Rain steadily falling from the sky, wind gently blowing it sideways, and the outside air temperature hovering just above insulated jacket territory. Curbside pickup was packed with people grumbling about the weather, but not me – no, I was delighted. Having just flown in from perpetually sunny California, I couldn’t have been happier with the dour climate, especially since there was a 2017 Range Rover HSE Td6 waiting for me nearby. Of all the new Range Rovers, the Td6 is the most interesting because we’ve only just been given the turbo diesel as an option here in the United States, whereas it has been available around the rest of the world for years. Had my loaner been equipped with the supercharged gas guzzling V6, I’m sure my experience would have been quite different and, I suspect, far less interesting.
I’d made the journey east to attend a friend’s wedding in Montauk, and while planning the trip, it occurred to me that there are few vehicles better suited for attending a fall wedding in Long Island than a Range Rover. As it turned out, the timing of my trip was rather fortuitous as it aligned with the launch of the first product of a long-term collaborative relationship between Zenith and Range Rover, a special edition El Primero chronograph appropriately dubbed the Zenith El Primero Range Rover.
Like the Range Rover, the Zenith El Primero is regarded as an icon by enthusiasts, and wouldn’t you know it, both originated in 1969. Here we are, 47 years later, and they’ve come together to produce a watch that attempts to represent key elements of both brands – technical proficiency, distinct design, and durability. Just as the Range Rover is known for its off-road prowess, the El Primero is known for its storied chronograph movement. Here, the in-house caliber 400B which operates at a very accurate 36,000vph and has a 50-hour power reserve. The 42mm case is made of ceramised aluminum, a nod to the aluminum architecture of the current Range Rover, and is finished in a highly scratch-resistant ceramic coating in order to bring durability on par with a product bearing the Range Rover name.
In keeping with current Range Rover styling, the appearance of this watch is subdued, though one glance and you see it is clearly still a luxury item. The all black case and brushed slate grey dial are paired with either a very deep navy or ivory strap made of perforated calfskin and black rubber.
I could see how wearing this watch while driving a Range Rover is a bit like wearing the t-shirt of the band you’re seeing in concert, but the branding is minimal, with a small Range Rover signature found on the face, and on the movement’s oscillating weight visible through the exhibition caseback. On the other hand, wear this watch when you’re not driving a Range Rover, and it’s just a slick-looking limited-edition timepiece that will likely catch the eye of any savvy watch nerd. In that way, it is the perfect companion for the turbo diesel Range Rover I spent the weekend in, as it too is one of those products that only those in the know will fully appreciate.
With thoughts of whether or not I’d wear this special edition watch swirling in my head, I clicked unlock on the perfectly weighted oblong key fob to locate my rolling fortress in the packed airport parking lot. The signature LED headlamp accents came on, allowing me to easily locate “my” Range Rover and inviting me to come in out of the elements. I chucked my gear in the cavernous cargo area, hit the power fold button on the split rear tailgate, a favorite feature of mine, and was promptly out of the chilly rain. If that sounds like a Range Rover commercial, that’s because I felt like I was starring in one.
Even the color combo seemed to match the weather, Scotia Grey exterior, Cirrus/Ebony interior. I wouldn’t fully appreciate the depth and beauty of the paint until the following day when it was light out, but even in darkness I could tell there was something special about it because of the way it reflected ambient light.
Much of that specialness is due to the silhouette that retains many of the iconic design elements one associates with a Range Rover, and how seamlessly the modern styling has been incorporated. The previous generation of Range Rovers look cheap and ill-conceived compared to the upscale and fluid appearance of the 4th generation model. It is without a doubt the best-looking SUV on the market, but as I’ll explain, it’s not all style – there is an equal amount of substance to be found as well.
I was psyched that the Cirrus Oxford leather covered not only the seats, but the inner door panels, center armrest, and dash. From the moment I plunked my tired bones down in the captain’s chair, I felt like I was being treated to a special experience. That’s no exaggeration either, between the digital gauge cluster, wide uncluttered dash, and angle adjustable armrest, you really do feel like a captain. Perhaps an unnecessary bit of ego-stroking for the average Range Rover owner, but a welcome boost for yours truly. That feeling is reinforced once you start driving too, because at 196.9 inches long and 87.4 inches wide, the HSE is a land yacht.
Connecting my phone to the updated and seriously improved InControl infotainment system took only one try and was a quick affair. Unlike much of the competition, Range Rover’s center stack is a study of minimalist design, devoid of unnecessary buttons and redundancies. You still get a physical knob for turning up the volume, which I did repeatedly, because the 380 watt Meridian system is simply excellent. No need to drop an additional $1,850 on the 825 watt system, unless you just want bragging rights, which in this class of vehicle, may very well be the case. Trust me on this, the lower wattage system is plenty, and offers an all encompassing listening experience regardless of genre. Inclusion of such a high-quality audio system at no extra charge is one of the many touches that remind you why a Range Rover is the benchmark for a luxury SUV.
The warmth of the Meridian audio system was a source of comfort at the outset of my journey to Montauk, as Friday evening traffic out of the city was exacerbated by steady rainfall. With the seat heat on the lowest setting, and ambient interior lighting set to a soft orange, I was warmed to the core, and felt completely at ease piloting this modernist living room on wheels down the crowded highway. That’s no small feat as my daily driver is a two door coupe, but that’s what you get when an opulent large luxury SUV utilizes aluminium and keeps the curb weight to just 4,839lbs.
Eventually, the sea of brake lights gave way to fields of darkness, illuminated solely by the Xenon headlights of my mobile fortress of solitude. Although the rain-sensing windshield wipers were finally able to remain idle, a fierce wind had risen out of the east, and I remained vigilant as ever, eyes scanning the two lane road for debris.