New Range Rover Sets New Standards And Maintains A Heritage
Any introduction of a new Land Rover product is special because new Land Rover products don't come along very often. There have been just five all-new products since 1948, and the revisions to those products bring the company's new-product-launch total to eight. This new Range Rover, only the third Range Rover since the upscale brand debuted in 1970, is one of those all-new products. It's incredibly important to the company, for it is intended to help the company move to a new level of competitiveness in the luxury market worldwide-and especially in the U.S.
Don't be fooled by the close resemblance of this new Range Rover to previous editions of the brand. It is indeed completely new, though its parentage is just a little confusing. It was conceived while Land Rover was owned by BMW. Hence the happy accident of its being equipped with the exceptional BMW DOHC 4.4L V-8-significantly customized for use in this chassis-and CommandShift five-speed automatic transmission-actually the BMW Steptronic unit. (See accompanying sidebar, The Drivetrain.) Land Rover now is an element of Ford Motor Company's glittering Premium Automotive Group, however, demonstrating, if nothing else, how fast the corporate landscape can change. So the new Range Rover was initialized and partially designed under one set of owners, and it's being brought to market by a completely different set of owners-even though the company's primary leadership has not changed.
There's been a great deal of talk recently about so-called crossover vehicles-those which offer a balance of car-like capabilities on the highway with at least some off-highway capability as part of the bargain. So it's interesting that Land Rover officialdom sees this as the ultimate crossover, a high-tech amalgam of the 4x4/SUV/minivan. With it, company officials said at the vehicle's recent introduction, they intend to seduce buyers who might otherwise set their sights on the fullsize luxury sedans from Mercedes-Benz and, yes, former parent BMW. They've designed and furnished Range Rovers with those buyers in mind. But they've also kept Land Rover's heritage firmly at the top of their consciousness-that of a tough, all-terrain 4x4. So the new Range Rover mixes a very high level of luxury and highway performance with considerable off-highway prowess in what company officials refer to as tough luxury. (See Hard Facts sidebar.)
Our brief introduction to the Range Rover indicates that they've been largely successful. Of interest to Four Wheeler readers is that this new Range Rover certainly is in the game when it comes to capability. (See The Chassis sidebar.)
You've got to be impressed with the Range Rover's behavior, both because of its independent suspension, and in spite of it. Our exposure to the Range Rover took place over an intensive two-day briefing, during which we drove it both on pavement and over moderately challenging forest and highland two-trackers. What we learned is that first of all, the Range Rover lives up to its promise of luxury and comfort. The seats have a decidedly British-car look and feel to them, are infinitely adjustable, and are very comfortable. The dash carries a clean, elegant look, and is fully equipped with all the relevant gauges. Visibility is excellent. Of special interest is the automatic adjustability of the air suspension, which lowers itself to its "access" setting when the vehicle comes to a stop, to ease ingress or egress. Once in motion it raises itself to "normal" mode, at highway speeds it lowers itself to "cruise" mode for a lower center of gravity and improved aerodynamics. Finally, for 'wheeling, the driver can select an off-highway mode that significantly raises the chassis for up to 11 inches of ground clearance.
Thanks to the values applied to the air springs and shocks, the Range Rover's ride, on-pavement and in the dirt, is solid and plush, with very little chassis roll, and very crisp, precise steering, thanks to its speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion system. Pavement performance is deceptively smooth and quiet, which means that that strong-pulling BMW engine soon has you traveling faster than you might have intended to travel. All in all, very comfortable and confidence-inspiring.
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But as good as the Range Rover feels on pavement, it feels even better in the dirt, thanks to its Dynamic Stability Control and Four-Wheel Electronic Traction Control (4ETC) systems, developed in conjunction with Bosch. These systems, paired with a Torsen torque-sensing center diff, means that wheelspin, at least in our brief introduction to the Range Rover, was nearly impossible to achieve. We drove through water and deep mud and found that the traction-control system is so tight that the only time we saw wheelspin was in a set of super-slick, slippery muddy ruts where none of the four wheels had traction. In that situation, the Range Rover's 4ETC system allowed us to apply throttle to achieve the tire speed necessary to pull through the messy stuff. The terrain we saw during this introduction allowed only moderate articulation, but at no time did we sense a wheel hanging in the air. So far, at least, it seems that the Range Rover does articulate in the manner we might wish it to.
All in all, it does indeed seem that this third Range Rover constitutes the third-time charm of excellence that its purveyors are seeking, especially when its very complete level of comfort and convenience equipment, which includes comprehensive audio, climate-control, and direction-finding systems, are figured into the equation. Whether it can live up to their expectations in terms of sales, however-Land Rover officials are looking to sell 7,500 units here in the first year of this Range Rover's production, up from the 5,500 units sold in 2001-remains to be seen. The current difficult economy, and the vehicle's $70,000 price, won't make it easy. But folks willing to consider a $70,000 vehicle may not care what the economy's doing. Those that don't, and those that choose the Range Rover, will get an amazing vehicle-one that's every bit as at-home off the highway as it is on the highway. That's the kind of paradigm other manufacturers seem to be moving away from. We applaud Land Rover for sticking to its heritage, for providing down-and-dirty capability in this very competent upmarket vehicle.