Land Rover's top model - the full-size, luxury Range Rover - comes to market with some major changes for 2006, improving on the line that had already received a complete makeover just three years ago.
The biggest news is the addition of a supercharged version - billed as the "most powerful Range Rover ever."
But even the normally aspirated HSE model, which we tested for this report, received a good share of upgrades.
Another big change for 2006 is that the Range Rover's engines are now derived from Jaguar. These new engines replace the V-8 that Land Rover had been buying from German luxury automaker BMW, the former owner of Land Rover. Ford Motor Co. bought the British Land Rover luxury brand in mid-2000, ending the company's short life as a subsidiary of BMW, which had purchased it just four years earlier.
Today's Range Rover owes much of its development to BMW, however. BMW co-developed the vehicle with Land Rover so that the platform could be used for a new line of BMW sport utility vehicles as well.
Ford took over and finished development of the Range Rover side of the equation, rolling out the new generation in 2002 as a 2003 model.
Development was so far along when Ford took over that Land Rover had to buy the 283-horsepower 4.4-liter V-8 engine from BMW. It then took Ford three years to develop its own engines and redesign the Range Rover to accommodate them.
In the 2006 model, the base engine is a normally aspirated aluminum 4.4-liter V-8 rated at 305 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque. That's what comes with the Range Rover HSE model, our test vehicle, which carries a base sticker price of $75,035 plus $715 freight.
For a starting price of about $90,000, the high-performance Range Rover model is offered. It comes with a Jaguar-based supercharged 4.2-liter aluminum V-8, rated at 400 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque.
In both models, the engines are connected to a new six-speed automatic transmission with Command Shift manual shift option. Land Rover says top speed of the normally aspirated model is 125 mph, and the vehicle accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds. For the supercharged model, zero to 60 is achieved in 7.1 seconds, and top speed is 130 mph.
Land Rover officials said the switch to Jaguar engines was a natural progression of Land Rover's association with Ford. Jaguar, the British sports car company, has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford since 1994. Ford also owns another British luxury brand, Aston Martin. Together with Sweden's Volvo, the four brands make up Ford's Premier Automotive Group, based in Irvine, Calif.
Despite having already changed the Range Rover completely just three years earlier - including an entirely new chassis and body structure - Ford made substantial changes for 2006, which the company said were designed to build upon the already successful new generation. The company has been selling about 14,000 of the new Range Rovers in the United States since the 2003 model year.
Besides the engines, new features for 2006 include more sound damping elements for a quieter ride; a redesigned grille, front bumper, headlights and taillights for the HSE; and a separate mesh grille design for the supercharged model; revised bodyside air vents; and 19-inch wheels.
The supercharged model also comes with new premium leather interior trim, Brembo front brakes, adaptive headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels, unique air vents and black-on-silver "Supercharged" badging.
For both models, steering has been enhanced, and the air suspension system has been improved, the company said.
The vehicle's overall look remains unchanged, however. The formula that has made the Range Rover a successful flagship for the Land Rover brand since its introduction in 1970 is that it essentially is four vehicles in one, Geoff Upex, Land Rover's design director, said during a media introduction of the new models last year.
"It has the luxury of a saloon, the acceleration of a performance car, the stylish body of an estate, and the ruggedness and versatility of a Land Rover," he said. (In Britain, a saloon is a large sedan, and an estate is what Americans call a station wagon.)
Range Rover is the flagship of the Land Rover brand, and with its high price tags, the demographics are impressive. The typical buyer is a professional or executive male, college graduate, with an annual household income of about $375,000.
Land Rover brought the Range Rover to the United States beginning in 1987, and it has undergone many upgrades over the years. But the basic body and chassis were unchanged until the new BMW-engineered model arrived.
The current generation has nothing in common with the old one other than the name and the feel that, even with its BMW heritage, it still is a Range Rover. The old Range Rover came with an aluminum body mounted on a steel ladder-frame chassis, but 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 still made of aluminum, however.
BMW and Land Rover, with Ford's help as well, spent more than $1 billion to develop the new generation initially, then Ford invested millions more for the new engines and other changes for 2006.
The 2003 model, even with a complete makeover, still was instantly recognizable as a Range Rover, The company felt that the vehicle's overall look was so well-established and accepted that no radical redesign was necessary - something I would agree with. There really is nothing on the market that comes close to the Range Rover's stately appearance, and tampering with that probably would have been a mistake.
Another of the Range Rover's major attributes was carried over as well, but with some key improvements - the vehicle's amazing off-road capabilities. Unlike some of its competitors, including the closest one, the Lexus LX 470, the Range Rover is as able on the trail as it is on the highway. This is in keeping with Land Rover's history as a vehicle designed to allow the British to explore their once-vast empire in style and comfort. Standard are fulltime 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 in 2003 was shift-on-the-fly capability for the transfer case.
High-tech features include a GPS satellite navigation system, electronic air suspension, four-wheel traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution, and a trip computer/driver information system.
Inside, the HSE exudes the essence of luxury, with leather seat surfaces, wood trim and an instrument panel with center console that looks more like that of a jet aircraft than a car. Bucket seats are installed up front, and the rear has a bench seat for up to three people, with lots of knee room. No third seat is offered, leaving ample cargo space behind the second row.
Other standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, power-everything, all-terrain dynamic stability control, eight air bags, front and rear parking distance warning systems and rearview camera system, heated windshield, front and rear fog lamps, cruise control, Harman/Kardon digital surround-sound audio system with six-disc CD changer and 14 speakers, tire-pressure monitoring system and tilt/telescoping steering column.
Options included on our test vehicle were a "luxury package" ($5,000), which added contoured front seats with 16-way power adjust, upgraded leather on the seats and door pulls, heated steering wheel and seats (front and rear), auto-dimming outside mirrors, and adaptive headlights; Sirius satellite radio ($400); and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with dual screens in the back of the front-seat headrests ($2,500).
With freight and options, our test vehicle's sticker topped out at $83,650.
EPA fuel economy ratings are 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway.
At a Glance - 2006 Land Rover Range Rover
The package: Full-size, four-door, five-passenger, V-8 powered, fulltime four-wheel-drive luxury sport utility.
Highlights: All new three years ago and significantly upgraded for 2006, this was the first complete revision of the Range Rover since its U.S. introduction in 1987. It is based on a platform developed by former Land Rover owner BMW. For 2006, the BMW engines have been replaced by engines from Jaguar.
Negatives: Quite pricey, even without options; potential minor reliability issues.
Engines: 4.2-liter V-8 (Supercharged model); 4.4-liter normally aspirated V-8 (HSE model).
Power/torque: 305HP/325 foot-pounds, normally aspirated (4.4-liter); 400HP/420 foot-pounds, supercharged (4.2-liter).
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Length: 195.7 inches.
Curb weight: 5,474-5,637 pounds.
Cargo volume: 35 cubic feet.
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; email@example.com.