Luxury from Spago's to the Rubicon Trail.
by Phil Berg
Base Price $59,000
As Tested $67,925
The Range Rover is equally comfortable heading to a five-star restaurant or traversing otherwise impassable terrain. Few, if any, vehicles can match its combination of rock-climbing ability, refined British luxury and on-road performance. This luxurious sport-utility provides all the technology needed to navigate some of the world's most extreme terrain, yet still manages to be more luxurious and comfortable than many high-end touring sedans. Seeing a Range Rover tackle a boulder field is required to fully appreciate its ability to traverse rough terrain. Not many vehicles can match it.
Two models are available: 4.0 SE ($59,000); 4.6 HSE ($67,300). Both models come fully loaded. The primary differences between the two are the engines and wheel and tire sizes.
Range Rover 4.0 SE is fitted with a 4.0-liter V8 rated at 188 horsepower. The same engine found in the Land Rover Discovery Series II, it generates 250 pounds of torque. Range Rover 4.6 HSE comes with a more powerful 4.6-liter V8 rated at 222 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque. The 4.0 SE comes with 16-inch wheels, while 4.6 HSE is fitted with 18-inch wheels.
All Range Rovers come with permanent four-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic transmission. Four-channel ABS is used to provide traction control to each wheel.
Just one factory option is available, an integrated navigation system called J.A.M.E.S. for $2995.
Distinguished by its upscale, yet rugged appearance, there's no confusing the Range Rover with other sport-utilities. It looks purposeful, yet says class in understated British fashion. The Lexus LX 470 can't match the Range Rover in terms of style and class.
Interior and exterior trim has been revised for 2000. Body-color bumpers, lower front spoiler and wing mirrors give it an even cleaner look. New electrochromic outside mirrors automatically dim to reduce headlight glare and new round-effect headlamps and fog lamps tie Range Rover's appearance in with the Land Rover Discovery Series II. New alloy wheels enhance the appearance of 4.0 SE models.
Range Rover's quiet and comforting cabin is adorned with sumptuous leather and burled walnut trim. The high seating position and low waistline means outward visibility is excellent. You can see closer in front of the vehicle than you would in a Lexus LX470, an important feature when traversing a narrow path alongside a bottomless gorge.
The seats are comfortable and the leather trim feels nice. Range Rovers come with a 300-watt entertainment system with 12 speakers, weather bands and steering wheel controls. Passengers in the back seats get gracious legroom. For 2000, redesigned cupholders improved functionality and revised instrument graphics offer a fresh appearance.
The split tailgate makes it easy to load cargo. The tailgate is made of aluminum, so it is very light and easy to close, but was designed to handle weight when loading. This year, the tailgate button is chrome.
Dual front airbags are standard, along with side airbags built into the front seats. Front shoulder belts get pre-tensioners, devices that cinch the belts tight during a frontal crash.
We drove a Range Rover 4.6 HSE. The 4.6-liter engine starts instantly, and sings when you rev it to its 5500-rpm redline. The engine is tuned for low-rpm torque for off-road driving. Last year, Land Rover revised its engine with a new engine management system from BMW's 7 Series flagship sedans. (BMW owns the Rover Group.) This boosted power and improved efficiency. The intake systems were revised and a twin-tailpipe exhaust was added. Acceleration from 0-60 mph improved more than 10 percent. For 2000, Range Rover's engines meet California's Low Emissions Vehicle standards. Though more expensive, the 4.6-liter engine is the better choice; the 4.0-liter engine does not offer adequate power for the Range Rover.
The steering is light and feels over-assisted, a trait that's always been part of Range Rover, and the steering feels slow to respond. However, there's a reason for that: When you're driving off-road and on greasy, slippery surfaces, the fewer jerky, quick motions you make, the less chance you'll lose traction. So the steering is deliberately slow. This also makes it easier to make minute steering corrections when climbing up a boulder field.
The throttle pedal has a long distance to travel before you're into big power, too. So, a tap on the gas doesn't mean spinning wheels. This means you can finesse the Range Rover over obstacles easier than other sport-utilities. This wide range of control calls for extra motion to maneuver the Range Rover. You need to turn the steering wheel more, mash the throttle down farther.
The Range Rover provides the driver with lots of feedback. On fast dirt roads, it will drift with its tail swinging wide, more so than any other luxury sport-utility. It doesn't drift far enough to swap ends, but it is behavior you have to grow accustomed to and ultimately gives the skilled driver more control.
Air springs raise and lower the body, making it easy getting in and out. Two high-riding settings are used for ground clearance off road, while two low settings are used for pavement cruising. Ride height is adjusted automatically according to driving conditions; the electronically controlled air suspension provides 5.2 inches of height adjustment over five settings. Around town, the Range Rover moves along at standard ride height. Above 50 mph, the body lowers one inch for better stability in cross winds. Stop and put the transmission into park, and the front springs let loose excess air pressure to lower the body 2.6 inches for easy access. This makes a real difference if you or any passengers have physical or height challenges. Head off road and shift into low range, and it raises the ride height for more ground clearance. It will raise it higher still if it detects you're high-centered on an obstruction. The ride-height can also be changed manually via a console switch. The air springs tend to isolate the body from high-frequency bumps and vibrations.
Off-road, the anti-lock brakes are remarkable. Braking is the last thing you should do when you're sliding down a steep, muddy hill on the fringes of control. But all human instincts tell you to brake. Range Rover's anti-lock braking system senses conditions of instability and compensates, keeping you from making braking mistakes. When you stomp on the brake pedal on a muddy hill, you feel as if the brakes are not doing their job. It's just an illusion: You can trust the Range Rover in these situations, since it applies the correct amount of braking.
Range Rover's ZF electronically controlled automatic transmission uses sensors to monitor engine rpm, vehicle speed and throttle position to select appropriate gears. Range Rover's unique H-gate shifter combines the main gearbox and transfer gearbox into one mechanism, providing convenient shifting between high and low ranges.
Land Rover's permanent four-wheel-drive system makes use of any available traction, even if only one wheel has the tiniest amount of grip. Range Rovers use three differentials, a viscous coupling unit and traction control. The viscous center differential lock allows only a limited amount of speed differential between the front and rear output shafts, then tightens to a state of near differential lock. This provides excellent traction in slippery conditions. The electronic traction control works with the ABS to automatically slow a spinning wheel by applying braking force.
The latest Range Rover is smooth on the highway, and offers a unique driving experience, one that's far removed from any of the other 35 sport-utilities on the market. It is quiet and luxurious. It tells you it's a truck in every task it does, yet you feel comfortable and pampered like you would feel in the top level of luxury cars.
In terms of comfort and off-road capability, only the Lexus LX470 can compete with the Range Rover. The Lexus is left behind in the style department, however. And it doesn't have quite the cache of the Range Rover. If you want the best in off-road capability combined with maximum snob appeal, then head to the nearest Land Rover Centre and pick up a Range Rover. While there, you can pick up a pair of khakis, a couple of shirts and a few pairs of socks.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.