Pedigree means everything at the top end of the sport-utility market, and no luxury SUV has more pedigree than the Land Rover Range Rover. The Land Rover name dates to 1948, when the Rover group began building bare-bones 4x4 vehicles of immense off-road capability. The Range Rover emerged from that tradition in 1970, billed as the first Land Rover civil enough to be driven by a person in a business suit. With its solid-axle front and rear suspension, pushrod V8 engine and four-speed manual transmission, this two-door SUV was quite rudimentary by today's standards. But it was immediately popular among wealthy U.K. consumers with a taste for the safari aesthetic. Sales didn't officially start in the U.S until 1987, though quite a few Range Rovers were imported through the gray market in the years preceding.
Now in its third generation, the Land Rover Range Rover still carries considerable prestige. From an off-road perspective, it's one of the most capable SUVs available at any price. From a luxury perspective, it's probably the most elegant and distinctive utility vehicle on the market, despite a few rough edges. High pricing keeps all but the very rich from buying a new Range Rover -- a fact that only adds to the appeal of this elite 4x4.
Current Land Rover Range Rover
The Range Rover is a five-passenger luxury SUV available in two trim levels. The HSE features a 305-horsepower 4.4-liter V8, while the Supercharged has a 4.2-liter V8 that is (surprise!) supercharged to produce 400 hp. A six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control is standard with both engines. A permanent four-wheel-drive system is standard on all Range Rovers, along with low-range gearing and nearly 11 inches of maximum ground clearance. The standard Terrain Response system allows the driver to customize powertrain, suspension and electronic stability and traction systems to best handle five predetermined off-road conditions.
Engineered in the late 1990s during the brief period when BMW owned Land Rover, the Range Rover is nevertheless aging quite well. It employs unibody construction (instead of body-on-frame architecture) and a fully independent suspension (instead of solid axles). These changes make all the difference when cruising on pavement, as the Range Rover now delivers the composed ride and secure handling expected of a true luxury SUV. Yet BMW engineers went about their work carefully so as not to compromise all-terrain ability.
Cabin design is a mix of traditional and modern in the Range Rover. The upright seating position, blocky dash and large steering wheel evoke the feeling of an old-school Land Rover, while supple leather seats (with contrasting piping), walnut inlays and a navigation system with both on- and off-road mapping assure you that this is indeed a contemporary luxury vehicle. The cabin, like the exterior, manages to be both retro and modern at the same time. However, its controls can be rather arcane in fine British tradition. A roomy rear seat makes it possible to carry a pair of adults or three children in back, but cargo room is only average due to a high load floor.
If you're looking for a premium SUV with unparalleled off-road abilities and a legendary pedigree, the Range Rover is an obvious choice. If you want to save some money and get a bit more on-road talent with that same legendary pedigree, the Range Rover Sport is a good compromise. However, any Land Rover has an albatross slung around its neck in the form of disappointing reliability. Buying one has been known to cause headaches (and breakdowns), which is certainly ironic given their status as go-to vehicles for adventures to Outer Mongolia. -Edmunds.com
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