With state-of-the-smart 4WD and 400 horses underhood, what's not to like? And get over the 20s already.
Last year, Land Rover unveiled the LR3 (Discovery 3, in Euro-speak), a midsize luxury 4x4 SUV that marked the company's first all-new offering as a member of the Ford stable. Based on a two-piece hydroformed chassis code-named T5, the LR3 boasted such new developments as four-wheel independent air suspension and a dial-actuated "Terrain Response" four-wheel-drive system, that allows the driver to literally tune the vehicle's performance parameters to best suit the terrain at hand.
This year, Land Rover returns with two more entries. One vehicle, already safely ensconced in the pantheon of 4x4 legend, sports enhanced levels of performance and refinement; while the other, brand new for '06 and based on the T5 chassis, takes the Land Rover brand in a radically new direction-the rarified high-performance sport/touring segment previously thought the province of SUVs from Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche.
The senior statesman of the Land Rover stable, the Range Rover has been the ride of choice for Hollywood notables, Saudi princes, and the English gentry for over three decades. The original "luxury-utility" vehicle, it has always placed a premium on go-anywhere, off-pavement ability-sometimes at the expense of on-road ride and handling. Later incarnations of the Range Rover have largely addressed this concern, and the newest Rover-extensively refreshened for the 2006 model year-is far and away the most streetable yet.
Introduced last year on the LR3, the Range Rover's Jaguar-sourced 4.2L all-alloy V-8-punched out to displace 4.4 liters-is the base HSE-trim powerplant, capable of delivering a peak 305 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. In most 4x4 applications, this would be power aplenty, but Range Rovers are heavy vehicles, approaching three tons in full-tilt trim, so Rover engineers, in partnership with Eaton, have equipped the '06 Rover with a supercharged version of the 4.4-a 4.2L which employs a fixed-rate camshaft in lieu of the variable valve timing used by the naturally aspirated version to optimize torque output across the rpm band. (Ironically, the motor reverts back to stock displacement with the addition of the supercharger, due to the 2mm-thick cylinder liners that are added to reinforce the block. Why? Read on.)
The belt-driven (off the crankshaft) Eaton supercharger utilizes twin impellers, to compress incoming air via a serpentine "Cobra Duct" intake, and twin intercoolers to cool it down to best optimize charging of the increased airmass being forced into the cylinders via higher-capacity injectors. The result of this forced induction is a significant power boost-now a rated 400 hp at 5,750 rpm, and 420 lb-ft of torque at 3,500.
The benefits of the supercharger over, say, a turbo? Primarily, the supercharger is always "on"-that is to say, there's no dreaded "turbo lag" or spool-up time needed for the supercharger to deliver instant power under throttle. Letting our test unit's standard six-speed ZF automatic transmission do its thing with the V-8, our own seat-of-the-pants testing suggested zero-to-60 times in the mid-sevens-not too shabby for a 5,800-pound vehicle with not the sleekest aerodynamics. The only telltale sign of the 'charger's presence is a smooth whine directly off idle, and a lusty-but-not-overbearing exhaust note.
As in years past, the Range Rover uses a full-time transfer case with a 2.93:1 low-range; overall crawl ratio is very good for OE issue-45.57:1 with the stock engine, 43.25:1 with the supercharger. (Eaton-equipped units get taller ring-and-pinions-you lose some crawlability but gain a stronger gearset.) An electronic locking center differential works automatically to manage torque transfer front to rear, and an optional electronic rear locking diff splits power to the rear wheels when tractive needs demand.
The Range Rover rides on four-wheel independent suspension utilizing double wishbones and driver-adjustable air springs at each corner. At maximum suspension height, the Rover's ground clearance improves from a stock 8.9 to 10.8 inches. Braking has been upgraded for 2006 in the form of massive 14-inch Brembo units, which come standard with the supercharged Rover. On HSE models, 55-series Continental Crosstrack radials on 19-inch wheels are standard; SC Rovers get 255/50R20 Continental 4x4 Crosstracks rollin' on 20s.
The Rover's interior and exterior have both been refreshened for 2006. A user-intuitive touch-screen stereo/NAV system, rearview camera, onboard tire-pressure monitoring system, extra jacks for MP3s, and optional in-car Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone are all new creature comforts, and the front side glass has been laminated to reduce NVH levels. Outside, the Rover sports adaptive headlights, a new bumper and grille, and massive side air vents-the blower, after all, likes Big Air.
On pavement, simply put, the newest Range Rover is far and away the best riding, best handling, best performing incarnation of this storied marque to date. As mentioned, the supercharged 4.2 eliminates previously sluggish acceleration characteristics; the vehicle tracks remarkably straight; electronic upshifts are virtually imperceptible; and the independent suspension, 50-series tires, and variable-ratio ZF power steering make it a joy to drive on mountain twisties, with only slight hints of understeer at high speeds.
Off the tarmac, on mountain trails comprised of loose dirt, rocks, and shale, we opted to drive an HSE Rover to see what the vehicle could do at stock power levels. We weren't disappointed-there was still enough power on tap to crest steep hills, and that 40-plus crawl ratio and ample engine compression let us ease down rutted downslopes with nary a tap of the brakes. (Weary of the cacophony of traction-controlled brake groan, we turned off the Hill Descent Control to see what the vehicle could do on its own. Quite splendidly, thank you.) The Rover's locking diffs and electronic traction control (when we wanted it) lived up to billing also, keeping us moving on uneven stretches of loose dirt when one tire or another momentarily lost a grip. As with many newer, electronically controlled SUVs-the LR3 and Volkswagen Touareg being prime examples-suspension articulation is not the key to forward movement on the trail: Traction and gearing are, and as long as one tire is in contact with the trail, the Range Rover will likely keep ambling down the green lane, wherever it'll fit.
Vehicle: 2006 Range Rover HSE/SC
Base price: $74,950/$89,950
Engine: Aluminum 90-degree AJ V-8
Displacement (liters): 4.4/4.2
Bore x stroke (in.): 3.47 x 3.56/3.39 x 3.56
Aspiration: Twin-impeller Eaton supercharger
Valvetrain: DOHC/; 4 valves/cyl.
Max hp @ rpm: 305 @ 5,750/400 @ 5,750
Max torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 325 @ 4,000/420 @ 3,500
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Transfer case: Full-time two-speed
Low range ratio (:1): 2.93
Axle ratio (:1): 3.73/3.54
Crawl ratio (:1): 45.57/43.25
Suspension: Four-wheel independent; double wishbones, adjustable air springs
Differentials: Locking center; locking rear
Steering: ZF Servotronic rack and pinion
Brakes, f/r: HSE: 13.5-in./13.9-in. Bosch four-channel,
SC: 14.2-in. Brembo/13.9-in. Bosch four-channel
Wheels/Tyres: HSE: 19x8 alloy/255/55R19, SC: 20x8.5 alloy/255/50R20
Wheelbase (in.): 113.3
Length (in.): 195.7
Width (in.): 86.3
Max height (in.): 75.0
Base curb weight (lb.): 5,474-5,849
Max ground clearance (in.): 10.8
Max approach/departure angles (deg.): 34/27
Max breakover angle (deg.): 30
Max towing capacity (lb.): 7,716
Interior cargo capacity (cu. ft.): 74.9
Fuel capacity (gal.): 23.3
EPA mileage estimates, combined (mpg): 8.5/17.5
Seating capacity, persons: 5