An affordable Range Rover?
That might be stretching things a bit, but a new model coming next summer from Ford Motor Co.'s Land Rover division - called the Range Rover Sport - will be less-expensive that the current $70,000-plus Range Rover line, with a price positioned somewhere between the $45,000 midsize Land Rover LR3 and the Range Rover, the company says.
Of course, Range Rovers haven't always been that expensive anyway. In the early '90s, Range Rover prices began in the low $40,000s, but the company added a lower-priceed "entry level" model called the Range Rover County, which listed for about $38,000. Today, that's the price you'd pay for a high end model of the Ford Explorer or Jeep Grand Cherokee, but forget about getting a true luxury SUV for that kind of money. Although prices haven't been announced for the new Range Rover Sport, the concept apparently is similar to that of the Range Rover County - dress the big boy down a little and lower the price a bit to bring more consumers into the fold. It's still probably going to begin in the mid- to upper-$50,000s, but that's better than the low $70s even if it's not quite in the "affordable" class.
What it does is give customers a chance to step up to a Range Rover from a Discovery or LR3 (an all-new vehicle that essentially replaced the Discovery this year) without having to pay nearly twice the price.
This gives us yet another choice from the company that brought us the Land Rover, the quintessential, civilized backwoods exploration vehicle, designed by the British to allow them to get around their vast empire with plenty of creature comforts.
Land Rover showed the vehicle for the first time at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this month. The vehicle will not go on sale until this coming summer, however.
It's being billed as a "true performance vehicle," thanks primarily to what's lurking under the hood: a BMW-built, supercharged, 4.2-liter V-8 engine rated at 390 horsepower, or a normally aspirated version of the same engine, with specifications not yet released.
The automaker says the Range Rover Sport has "been optimized for fast, comfortable long-distance driving." Of course, that's what the Range Rover is all about as well. Land Rover continues to do well with its entry-level vehicle, the compact Freelander, which starts under $30,000 and is well within reach of many consumers who aren't willing or able to pay the big bucks for a luxury SUV.
There is a bit of a gap with the discontinuance of the midsize Discovery, however. That one began at about $35,000 - $10,000 less than the vehicle that replaced it. Whether Land Rover will find a way to fill that gap, say with a dressed-down version of the LR3, remains to be seen.
As for the Range Rover Sport, the company says that it will have "excellent on-road dynamics" from a new "Dynamic Response" suspension system and performance-tuned chassis.
"This innovative system, making its debut on Range Rover Sport, senses cornering forces and acts to optimize body control and handling," the company says. "It also decouples off-road to allow greater wheel articulation during tough all-terrain driving." "Range Rover Sport takes us into the growing performance SUV market, but is different from all rivals," said Matthew Taylor, Land Rover's managing director. "We see it as a less-frenetic, more-refined alternative to existing performance SUVs.
"It is ideal for fast, comfortable, long-distance driving and practical enough for everyday use. Yet it is also exceptional off-road, offering better all-terrain ability than any competitor. Like all Land Rover products, it offers the broadest range of capability in its class."
It will come with the same five door body style that graces the current Range Rover, but with what promises to be a more-aerodynamic and -muscular exterior design, the company insists.
"It is the best 'driver's vehicle' that Land Rover has ever made," Taylor said. "There is the traditional Land Rover command driving position, yet the cockpit is more cocooning than the SUV norm."
The Range Rover Sport, like its more-upscale sibling, comes from a BMW design and will feature an engine from BMW.
Land Rover's short life as a subsidiary of BMW ended four-and-a-half years ago when the German luxury automaker sold the British SUV brand to Ford Motor Co.
But there was one huge benefit to both Land Rover and BMW that came from the four-year association between the two companies: the joint development of a new luxury sport utility platform that is now being used by Land Rover and soon by BMW for their newest and best luxury go-anywhere vehicles.
Land Rover was the first to market with its version, the all-new, 2003 Range Rover, and BMW will roll out its version, called the X7, sometime next year.
A refreshened model of the brand's flagship Range Rover model also was unveiled at the Detroit show, and I'll tell you more about it later.
yet. Don't expect many changes, though; this will be just a mid-cycle retuning. The current Range Rover rolled out for 2003 replaced a model that had been on sale in the United States in basically the same form since Land Rover opened its U.S. distribution network in 1987. There had been many upgrades to the vehicle, but the body styling and chassis remained essentially the same, as did the engines.
This newest generation has nothing in common with the old ones other than the name and the feel that, even with its BMW heritage, it still is a Range Rover.
Where the old Range Rover came with an aluminum body mounted on a steel ladder-frame chassis, the new one has a one-piece monocoque body with integrated frame, and some exterior body panels are steel. The doors, fenders and hood are made of aluminum, however.
As usual, the Range Rover comes with permanent four-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer case that provides low-range gearing for serious off-roading, and Land Rover's patented Hill Descent Control system. New is shift-on-the-fly capability for the transfer case. These features will carry over to the new Sport.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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