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Car reviews - Land Rover - Range Rover - HSE 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Looks, luxury, off-road ability, sumptuous interior, civilised on-road manners, great driving position, classy reputation, originality
Room for improvement
Thirst, price, reliability questions, still a cumbersome machine in the city

11 Jul 2001

LAND Rover replaced the revolutionary four-wheel drive Range Rover with the evolutionary MK2 model in April, 1995.

Bigger in every direction, the Range Rover continues to stake its claim deep inside the luxury heartland - with prices to match.

It not only competes with swish sedans, coupes, convertibles and other jumped-up four-wheel drives, the Range Rover also vies with holiday houses and boats for the fickle affections of the wealthy.

But the BMW-owned but British-built off-road icon is under fire. It faces formidable competition from the aspiring Lexus LX470 and the well-specified and sharply priced Mercedes-Benz M-class.

All have eroded the British car's domination as the best four- wheel drive in the world, as has inconsistent quality and reliability. Furthermore the promising BMW X5, ironically with DNA that is to spawn the next all-new Range Rover, will add even more pressure.

Typically, in recent years, both the Range Rover and Discovery have fared poorly in the US JD Power reliability surveys, further hurting sales.

Rover hit back in early 1999 with a raft of changes designed to make the old warhorse more appealing in the face of such intense competition and issues.

They are the biggest changes since the MK2's launch.

The sumptuous interior has been fitted with soft-feel surfaces, chrome interior door handles, colour-keyed switches and controls, additional leather trim and an upgraded audio system.

The cabin's ambience has been altered with the inclusion of what Rover calls "Walnut" hues to replace the old model's "Saddle" tones. Walnut imbues a slightly darker and warmer feel to the interior.

Front seat-mounted thorax side airbags are new and complement the standard dual front airbags by providing protection in a side or offset frontal impact.

Seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters are included on all models. They reduce forward movement of the occupants and the amount of injury-causing tension in the seatbelt.

Land Rover claims the revised Range Rover not only surpasses all 4WD safety standards, but also meets the far more stringent passenger car legislation.

On the mechanical front, the rather ancient (late 1950s, ex- GM/Buick design) cast-alloy 4.0-litre and 4.6-litre V8 engines - now known as "Thor" - benefit from a new Bosch Motronic engine management system.

It features an all-new intake manifold to give more power and torque with significantly lower emissions. But there are no fuel economy benefits.

Land Rover claims low-speed driveability and acceleration times are measurably improved. Special attention has been paid to high altitude and hot climate performance while noise, vibration and harshness levels are reduced.

Other mechanical upgrades include a more efficient, low back- pressure exhaust system, a cross-bolted cylinder block for increased engine strength and a stiffened cast alloy structural sump to reduce noise transmission.

Electronics - courtesy of BMW - also play a part in safety- related issues. The latest Range Rover includes standard fitting of the new four-wheel electronic traction control (ETC) to complement the standard anti-lock braking system (ABS). ETC improves grip without driver intervention.

Two new exterior colours are also available - Highland Green and Blenheim Silver.

The model range has been reduced to three. The base S and intermediate SE have the 4.0-litre V8 while the 4.6-litre version powers the opulent HSE. The top-line, limited edition Autobiography has been written off the new price listings.

Despite enjoying its fifth birthday in 1999, the attractive shape has weathered time well.

Perhaps this is because the MK2, although a clean-sheet design, picked up many of the design cues of the iconic first-generation that still makes it somewhat timeless.

The upright, slim-pillared glasshouse, the protrusions at the leading edge of the bonnet and the two-piece, drop-down tailgate are all undeniably Range Rover.

The suspension quality has also kept pace with newer rivals thanks to the ladder-frame chassis and electronically controlled air suspension introduced together in the MK2. The Range Rover remains a leader off-road as a result.

Interiors continue to be well-equipped places to inhabit, even in the base 4.0-litre S. Climate control air-conditioning, dual airbags, cruise control, alloy wheels and a trip computer are all present. The top versions lack nothing.

The class-leading cabin remains a Range Rover strength, especially compared to the rather spartan and down-market feel of the Mercedes or the slightly Vegas look of the Lexus LX470.

There is plenty of room for people and their luggage. Big seats with high backrests for big bottoms give the appealing Olde England Club lounge feeling, as well as the luxury of excellent visibility.

The almost Germanic quality of the good-looking dashboard marries harmoniously with the traditional interior ambience. The controls are simple and logical to use.

The adoption of an "H" pattern auto shift control simplifies the business of making the transition from high to low range.

Speaking of which, the Range Rover remains a dynamically well- compromised on/off road vehicle. The electronic traction control on higher-spec models works well in keeping the big Rover from roving away.

The reasonably absorbent ride on sealed roads is backed up by surprisingly little body roll and responsive handling. Off-road, the suspension's long-travel characteristics makes the Range Rover pretty much unassailable still, regardless of what the newer breed can throw.

Thirst for fuel remains a weak point. The 4.0-litre engine still needs to work hard in that two-tonne-plus body while the lively 4.6-litre continues to gulp vast amounts of our natural resources at an oil-baron pleasing rate.

Despite strong competition from all sides, the latest round of improvements make the Range Rover a competitive proposition once more. As a luxury icon, it remains the original rock and class- climbing legend.

- Automotive NetWorks 24/05/1999

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