Land Rover sold its premium model, the Range Rover, overseas for 17 years before bringing it to the United States in early 1987. When it arrived, it debuted to a moderately confused audience: Who needs a $36,450 British sport utility vehicle?
Answer: No one, really. But gradually, the Range Rover began winning over the California crowd, and when California says a vehicle is cool, who are we to argue?
There's an argument to be made that the Range Rover's quotient of cool peaked with the 1991 Robert Altman film The Player, in which Tim Robbins played a chilly film executive who drove a Range Rover with a fax machine in the dashboard.
So let's give credit where it's due: Range Rover started this whole SUV-as-a-status-symbol movement that spawned the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, GMC Denali, Infiniti QX56, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Lexus LS 470 and the upcoming Chrysler Aspen. They have made life quite difficult for the Range Rover, which must continually improve to stay on top.
For the 2006 model year, Range Rover did improve, though the mild exterior restyling still seems familiar. Both Range Rover models -- and we're talking about the real Range Rover, not the smaller Range Rover Sport that's based on the LR3 platform -- come with new engines: The HSE has a 4.4-liter V-8 with 305 horsepower, and the ultimate model, the Range Rover Supercharged, has a 400-horsepower, 4.2-liter supercharged V-8. Both engines are derived from Jaguar products but seem right at home in an SUV.
You would think 305 horsepower is plenty, and normally you would be correct. But a Range Rover HSE can, depending on equipment, weigh in at more than 5,700 pounds, and the Supercharged model is heavier still, tipping the scales at about 600 pounds more than a four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Suburban. So 400 horsepower, while a lot, doesn't make the Range Rover Supercharged a drag racer.
That said, the engine and the attentive, smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission are the best yet in a Rover. Fuel mileage is better with the new engine: A 2005 Range Rover with the BMW-supplied 4.4-liter, 282-horsepower V-8 was rated at 12 miles per gallon city, 16 mpg highway. The 2006 Rover Supercharged, with an additional 118 horsepower, is rated at 13 mpg city, 18 highway. But still, it's pretty unlikely that a Rover salesman will go out of his way to point that out. Should you log on to Land Rover's consumer Web site, good luck trying to find mileage ratings for the Range Rovers.
There have been other beneath-the-skin changes to the 2006 Range Rover, including a new all-wheel-drive system, but as there was really nothing wrong with the old system, it's hard to pinpoint advances. The Rover's suspension also has been modified, and long gone is the slightly tipsy sensation while cornering sharply. Steering and brake feel has been improved. The Supercharged comes with 20-inch tires and wheels, while the HSE has standard 19-inchers.
The most consistently confounding aspect of all past and present Range Rovers is how stunningly capable they are off-road, confounding because the vast majority will never go off-road. It's difficult to blame the owner of a Rover Supercharged, base price $90,035, for not wanting to risk scratches, or dents, or perhaps even dirt, but having spent hours off-roading in Rovers, I can guarantee that there are few vehicles that can match them.
Inside, as you would expect, it's all wood and leather and luxury. The list of standard equipment is exhaustive, including a navigation system; a 710-watt, 14-speaker sound system; eight air bags; a rearview camera; air suspension; and a sophisticated stability-control system. The interior is roomy up front, and fine in the rear for two passengers, a bit crowded with three. This is strictly a five-passenger vehicle; no third-row seat is offered.
On the road, the Rover Super- charged's ride is quite good. When cornering, you are well-aware of the nearly 3-ton total weight, but the vehicle is sure-footed. Towing capacity is 7,716 pounds, an odd number only because in England, that's 3,500 kilograms.
If you look at that list of the Range Rover's competition, there isn't a bad vehicle in the mix, and all but the Porsche Cayenne's turbocharged model cost less than the Supercharged, some far less. But Range Rover, the pioneer, continues to lead.
So who needs a $93,250 British sport utility vehicle? The answer is the same as it was in 1987: No one. But the Range Rover knows its target market, and the Supercharged is a bull's-eye.
Base price: $90,035.
Price as tested: $93,250.
EPA rating: 13 mpg city, 18 mpg highway.
Details: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive luxury SUV with a 4.2-liter, 400-horsepower turbocharged V-8 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
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|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||August 26, 2005|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||May 5, 2005|
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