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

Our Opinion

We like
Off-road ability, on-road performance, presence
Room for improvement
Fuel economy, price, ease of entry/exit, ride

9 Jul 2003

IT might seem like sacrilege to say it, but probably one of the best things about the new Range Rover is that it owes its basic design to a BMW.

While it's true there was a time when the revered British off-roader walked all over its opposition in terms of off-road ability, it has never really scored high distinctions where reliability and quality are concerned.

As the rest of the market progressed, the former quality became less apparent, while the latter tended to persist as people struggled to shake off memories of early Range Rover horror stories.

The new Range Rover, now the third in a series first introduced in 1970 and replacing the relatively short-lived iteration introduced in 1994, carries over absolutely nothing from its predecessors apart from the badge. It owes much to the BMW's luxury X5 soft-roader.

Considering this soft-road heritage, how then has Range Rover managed to create a vehicle that is not only capable of tackling remote and rugged bush tracks, but also exceeds the abilities of the previous model?

Certainly there's very little conceptually that connects the current Range Rover to the original _ apart from the use of an alloy V8 engine, some aluminium panels and a long-travel suspension.

The new Range Rover, for a start, banishes a rugged, full chassis in favour of sedan-style unitary construction. And the suspension, while it still retains long-travel design, is now fully independent - something hardened off-roaders claim is not as effective in tough going as a good, solid live axle.

What it does carry over from the previous model, conceptually at least, is adjustable air suspension. This, as much as anything else, enables the new vehicle to cope with terrain that even the traditional Range Rover might have struggled with. Or so the company claims.

With suspension height set to its most elevated position, the new vehicle exceeds the previous model's ground clearance significantly - from 214mm to 281mm in the highest suspension setting.

And, because the front and rear differentials are now tucked high into the undersides, they are claimed to be more out of the way of sharp-edged rocks than the protruding diff cases of the old models.

Demonstrating that the company is serious about the Range Rover's capabilities, engineers have also given it a tractor-like 2.7:1 low range multiplication ratio - way below what anybody else in this area of the 4WD game offers - able to take the 2.5-tonne vehicle into pretty scary country.

The driveline for the Range Rover in many ways apes that of the BMW X5, from the 4.4-litre, 210kW V8 engine and the five-speed sequential automatic transmission to the numerous electronic aids intended to assist driver and passenger confidence on or off-road.

These include electronic stability control, hill descent control (it allows the Range Rover to be pointed down steep hills without need for driver intervention on the brake pedal) and the usual ABS braking system complete with brake assist (boosts applied brake pressure in an emergency), cornering brake control and electronic brake-force distribution. Pretty much the same as the X5.

Where it departs from the BMW is in the provision of the two-speed transfer case and air suspension.

Understandably, the Range Rover's 2440kg is more than a comparable X5 BMW, but not massively so (the 4.4-litre version is quoted at 2225kg). Undoubtedly, the use of aluminium for the doors (frames and skins), bonnet and front mudguards helps, but 2.4 tonnes remains a fair bit of weight to haul around.

It's about the equivalent of a Nissan Patrol and a bit less than the heaviest Toyota LandCruisers.

This tends to blunt to performance, but the Rangie is not too tardy with a claimed zero to 100km/h of 9.2 seconds compared with the BMW's 8.2 seconds. Enough to make the business of pulling decent loads, such as a boat or horse trailer, relatively easy.

It quite likes to slurp fuel though, with the test vehicle never averaging better than 16 litres/100km on test and matching Land Rover's claimed average of 16.2 litres/100km.

But the V8 is quiet, and the five-seed sequential gearbox manages its power delivery quite effectively with smooth yet brisk shifts.

We didn't get the chance to take the Rangie far off road, but a test run on the short but challenging track circumnavigating the company's dealership in Port Melbourne was a fair indicator of its abilities.

Land Rover claims a hill climb capability of no less than 45 degrees, with a cross-slope capability of 35 degrees and although the inner-city circuit demonstrated much of this it wasn't able to simulate the deep, boggy rutted tracks you'll find in the real bush.

It did show the extent of the Range Rover's wheel travel, which is also up on the previous model, with 270mm at the front and 330mm at the rear, as well as the effects of the torque-sensing Torsen centre differential and the electronic traction control that can actually brake a free-spinning wheel completely so that power is directed only to the wheel with grip.

The new model's bigger body (in every direction) makes for a spacious, comfortable experience with lots of headroom and legroom front and rear. Of course, in this upmarket off-roader there's little thought of kids and therefore no third-row seat.

Because it's possible to use the air suspension in a way that causes the Range Rover to glide to a stop on its lowest height setting, getting in and out is not too difficult although never as convenient as a sedan.

The ride is generally compliant, although a slight bump harshness that recalls the old live-axle model remains. The Range Rover also endeavours to maintain an even stance when pushed, but still heels over more than an X5.

Understeer is never far away if the driver insists on pressing the case on a tight, fast corner. Take the speeds a bit higher and the stability control system will kick in to cancel out under or oversteer, but the driver is always kept aware of the mass that is being thrown around.

At HSE level the Range Rover is well fitted out with six airbags (dual front and front side, full-length headbags) leather seats (power assisted with memory at the front), power steering wheel adjustment, climate control, auto rearview mirror, trip computer and an 11-speaker sound system with CD changer.

The controls are presented in a fairly easily understood way, with centre console levers allowing selection of the hill descent control and high or low range (the latter can be executed on the move) and - straight from the Saab concepts bin - a centrally located ignition key that is a lot less fiddly and easier to use than a conventional on-steering-column arrangement.

The Range Rover's load area, without any encroachment by a third-row seat, is generous, and accessed via the traditional split rear tailgate.

The new Range Rover may not be as dedicated an off-roader as the original, but the reality is that it's equally as efficient in the bush when pressed, yet is even more comfortable and car-like on the road.

Range Rover purists may not agree with the all-independent suspension, but Land Rover's claims about its effectiveness seem well enough founded and there's no doubt it works much better on the open road.

In the absence of the forthcoming Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, it is difficult, at this stage, to think of a high-dollar 4WD with a better spread of capabilities.

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