It's the Bel-Air buggy, the minivan of Malibu, the lorry of Laguna Beach.
For years, the Range Rover has existed in a rarefied space where high-end luxury and off-road performance converge, to the delight of a moneyed class that rarely gets it dirty.
Land Rover has long boasted that its full-size Range Rover sport utility vehicle has few peers. This is true. But that's less because of its strengths than a simple lack of competitors in the same size and price category.
Far from being complacent with this distinction, Land Rover released a completely redesigned Range Rover for 2013.
This fourth-generation model starts at $83,545 and puts an exclamation point on the vehicle's 43-year-long evolution. Similar to some of its buyers, it's been stretched, enhanced and put on a crash diet befitting a real housewife of anywhere.
Yet, despite continuing the Range Rover's evolution toward higher echelons of refinement and luxury, this new model still maintains the off-road chops on which Land Rover built its reputation.
The ethos of capability is more than marketing hooey. Range Rover's success — and identity — depends on what it can do when the pavement ends.
Don't expect this to change.
Addressing whether the company would ever scale back its vehicles' off-road capabilities, Simon Turner, the Range Rover's product manager, was unequivocal: "It's absolutely a non-starter," he said. "It's just a fundamental attribute of who we will always be."
This, despite the fact that even Turner acknowledged that only a tiny minority of buyers will tackle anything rougher than a pothole.
Experts outside the company agree. But such a position is not without its downsides.
"What they're doing is playing very strongly in a narrow niche," said Tom Libby, a senior forecasting analyst at auto research firm R.L. Polk & Co. "They're doing a great job of marketing to that group, but the niche they're in is pretty small."
Range Rover's sales figures back this up. The previous generation, from 2002 to 2012, averaged just 12,000 vehicles sold each year in the U.S., according to Edmunds.com.
What's more, interest in the full-size Range Rover dropped noticeably when Land Rover introduced the slightly smaller Range Rover Sport in 2005. With similar cache on and off the road — and for many thousands of dollars less — the Sport quickly became Land Rover's best seller.
Still, Land Rover, and Indian parent company Tata Motors Ltd., took seriously the task of revamping the crown jewel in its lineup.
It started by shedding an eye-popping 754 pounds from the previous Range Rover. This was done by building the entire unibody structure, as well as the chassis, out of aluminum.
By using essentially the same 510-horsepower supercharged V-8 as its heavier predecessor, acceleration on the new 5,137-pound Range Rover Supercharged we tested gets an appreciable boost. Land Rover says the 2013 model will do zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, 0.8 seconds quicker than before.
This means this particular Range Rover — which cost $114,930 as tested — is an absolute sleeper at stoplights and onramps, pushing you into the back of your seat with a silent, refined strength.
The addictive acceleration comes at a cost: The fuel economy on this new lighter generation is only marginally better than its piggish predecessor.
The model we tested was rated at 13 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. That's only a 1 mpg gain for each over the previous generation, which used essentially the same engine.