– Classic good looks
– Extremely luxurious interior
– Excellent offroad vehicle
– A little big on the outside
– Some controls hard to reach
– Petrol costs may be a concern
For the past few decades, the Range Rover has been considered the ultimate in luxury off-roading equipment. Only in its third generation since its debut in 1970, the latest version looks a lot like the trend-setting original classic, but with modern styling tweaks to make it attractive in today’s world. Initially developed by BMW, the 4×4 now comes under the Ford banner, and receives more powerful Jaguar-derived engines for 2006 in place of the inadequate BMW V8, along with an unnoticeable facelift and additional high-tech toys.
The new Range Rover certainly has a classy presence on the road. With new multi-element headlights, colourless LED tail-lights and slits on the front fenders, all put together in a boxy yet oddly striking profile, makes the Range look like nothing else on the road. Top-rated luxury 4WDs like the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Cadillac Escalade and the BMW X5 suddenly seem like clones of each other.
Climbing into the standard Range can be a bit of a chore, with no side steps or grab handles to use as leverage. The air-suspended vehicle can be lowered electronically for ease of entry, but not low enough. We can only imagine what out-of-shape businessmen and rich soccer moms must go through if they choose to forego the optional side steps. Once inside, you are greeted with supple leather, stitched to perfection, and real wood, carved with precision. You also notice the airiness of the massive cabin, with huge window areas, acres of legroom, and tons of open space overhead. Seating is only limited to five people, but the lucky few travel in first-class accommodations. The seats are set high within the cabin, and everything is electrically controlled, right down to the headrests. The good air-conditioning system cools everyone through huge vents front and back. Hidden cupholders pop out of all kinds of places. The view all around is excellent except through the central auto-dimming rear-view mirror, but a handy reverse parking camera and sensors all-round do help. Numerous front, side and even head airbags maximise passive protection. The covered luggage trunk is immense.
The onboard computer touchscreen is located at the top of the centre console, while regular knobs and buttons are there for the climate control, suspension and gearing settings. There are convenient short-cut buttons on either side of the screen to access the stereo, navigation and trip data, but the buttons on the right side of the screen are a long reach for the driver. There are a few buttons on the steering wheel, while some functions can be voice-controlled. Radio reception is great, but TV reception is shoddy, just like in every other TV-equipped car we tested. The multiple-speaker entertainment system also consists of a fussy glovebox-mounted CD changer, but the sound quality is superb. Options include a rear-seat DVD system with screens on the backs of the front headrests, a Bluetooth phone heard through the speakers, headlights that swivel in the direction of travel, and a portable wireless camera which can be stuck anywhere outside the vehicle while off-roading.
The latest Range Rover comes to two petrol engine choices, both of which are mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. One is the popular naturally-aspirated 4.4L V8, pumping out a respectable 306 hp, with 440 Nm of torque, most of which is available at low revs. While this engine gives the Range a bit more useful accelerative performance than the previous weaker BMW V8, the new top-of-the-range 4.2L supercharged V8 is the engine to pine for. Lifted directly off the Jaguar S-Type R supersedan, this 396 hp animal moves the heavy 4WD with more authority. The characteristic supercharger whine isn’t even present in this application, and the four-wheel-drive puts down the power instantaneously, without running out of breath at even highway speeds thanks to 560 Nm of torque. The gearbox does its job quietly most of the time, but sometimes causes a shudder when shifting under hard acceleration. Unfortunately, we recorded poor fuel economy with our supercharged Vogue, while the trip computer always showed us extremely optimistic numbers. If you really want to save on petrol bills, maybe you could coax the dealer to import an economical Euro-spec 6-cylinder diesel version for you.
We usually loathe the on-road handling characteristics of sport-utility vehicles, but our sport-tuned supercharged Vogue truly surprised us. Helped along by the fully independent electronic air suspension, computers actually keep the vehicle mostly level during flat out cornering. We were reaching speeds around curves similar to 10-year-old German sport sedans–impressive for a full-size 4WD. The tipsy feeling inherent in Toyota’s Land Cruiser is absent in Land Rover’s masterpiece. The four-wheel-drive system, stability control and low-profile tyres all contribute to the tight handling.
The highway ride is very car-like, with very slight choppiness due to the low profile tyres wrapping the huge fashion-statement alloy wheels, which are anywhere from 18 to 20 inches in size, depending on model. It is almost Mercedes-quiet at high speeds, stable with just a bit of wind noise creeping in after 140 kph. Around town, the light steering, large greenhouse windows and high seating position all contribute to easy manoeuvring in tight spots, although one must wonder if anyone really needs such a behemoth just to drive down to the mall. But then again, caricatures like the Hummer H2 ply the streets too.
The original was built on a solid foundation of off-road ability, and this one does not back down when faced with a mountain. With low range gearing available at the flick of a switch, this behemoth is a luxury dune buggy. The uncharacteristically thin tyres manage remarkably well in the desert, while not bending any rims on sharp rocks. With the Hill Descent Control also available at the flick of another switch, it slowly descends down dune slopes on its own without any brake input required from the driver. With a skidplate-protected undercarriage and an air suspension system that can increase ground clearance on-the-fly, this 4WD certainly is more Hummer than BMW on the rough stuff.
Well, the Range Rover indeed is a remarkable vehicle. The supercharged version is almost good enough to substitute your sports car, your luxury car, your 4WD wagon and your living room. In terms of faults, it is hard to find anything more than minor issues. The elite few who can afford it and its high running costs should definitely be interested.