Having been completely redesigned for 2003, the 2006 models are more evolutionary than new. The 2006 Range Rover is quicker and more agile than last year's model, while retaining its Land Rover pedigree for traversing the backcountry, featuring the latest in off-road technology and luxury appointments.
Land Rover has moved beyond its brief ownership by BMW and is now firmly ensconced in Ford's family of premium vehicles, along with Aston Martin and Jaguar. BMW's heavy involvement in the design and engineering of the previous model is still evident and much appreciated for its legacy of exemplary road manners. No longer, however, does Land Rover use BMW engines. For reasons beyond cost savings, which company officials admit was a persuasive factor, the 2006 Range Rover is powered by V8 engines developed by Jaguar. The new engines are lighter, cleaner, more powerful, more efficient and overall more tractable than their BMW-sourced predecessors. One is naturally aspirated, the other supercharged. And they now drive the Range Rover's signature four-wheel-drive system through a new, six-speed automatic nicely adapted for driving all kinds of roads and terrain, from smooth interstates to rocky tracks to snowbound byways.
Exemplary service is also part of the Range Rover heritage. Surveys indicate customers are highly satisfied with their Land Rover retailers who pride themselves with taking care of their customers. Our anecdotal evidence backs that up. The Land Rover Centres go beyond those of the typical car dealership, acting as off-road outfitters. They carry accessories and apparel and organize outings. Land Rover's four-year/50,000 mile warranty includes roadside assistance (even where there's no road) and free scheduled maintenance.
Land Rover Range Rover HSE ($74,950); Supercharged ($89,950)
The 2006 Range Rover is almost an identical twin to the 2005, in appearance as well as measure. It's less than an inch longer overall and only slightly more than an inch wider and taller. Wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear tires) has shrunk by 0.1 inch, but track (distance between the right and left tires) is unchanged. Ground clearance ranges from a minimum of just under nine inches to just over 11 inches, depending on the height-adjustable suspension's setting. Despite the continued used of aluminum in many body panels, new safety equipment and other features have increased its weight about 100 pounds over the 2005s.
The front end is strong and horizontal, capped by Range Rover's trademark clamshell hood. High-tech lighting clusters housing bi-xenon headlamps (with power washers) wrap around the corners. The adaptive headlamps in the Luxury Interior Package turn several degrees in the same direction as the front tires during turns. Punctuating the bumper are two serious-looking round ports with deeply recessed foglamps and a long, horizontal slot feeding air to the engine. Taillights echo the futuristic look of the front and incorporate a bright-light rear foglamp.
Viewed from the side, the latest Range Rover features a high beltline and a flat expanse of sleek metal dramatically slashed by vertical louvers that extract hot air from the back of the engine bay to help cool the engine.
The Supercharged model is set apart by a silver-metallic, mesh-design grille and side vents and monochromatic exterior paint scheme with black-on-silver badging. Dual, chrome exhaust tips signaling the presence of the more powerful engine are set back beneath the rear bumper to maintain the same, ground-clearing departure angle as the HSE.
Underneath the skin is a steel monocoque structure with an integrated chassis that improves ride and handling and gives the Range Rover the ability to tow, haul and tote just about anything on or off road. Towing capacity with a braked trailer is more than 7700 pounds, for instance, unbraked, almost 1700 pounds, while top governed speed is 121 miles per hour in the HSE, 130 mph in the Supercharged.
The DVD-based navigation system is state of the art, with a 7-inch, touch-screen, dash-mounted VGA display. It is voice-activated, with a single disc mapping the entire continental United States. There is an off-road mode with elevation contours that can guide to a destination, and also track where you have been, to make it easy to return to your start point.
In addition to the usual trip computer functions such as fuel consumption, range, speed and the like, the Range Rover's instrument panel has an interface that shows what the wheels and suspension are doing and direction of travel. Drivers can see front wheel position when slogging through muddy ruts without getting out of the car.
The premium Harman/Kardon surround-sound system boasts 710 watts and 14 speakers. It can be controlled by voice command, steering wheel controls, or the touch screen. The telephone system integrates the owner's mobile phone with the car, allowing hands-free operation and voice commands, either by placing it in a cradle or using wireless Bluetooth technology.
The optional entertainment system includes a wireless remote and pair of headphones. Auxiliary input jacks in the base of the back end of the front center console allow two rear-seat passengers their individual choice of diversion, whether it's watching different videos or listening to separate CDs, while the front seat occupants enjoy their audio selection from the stereo.
Head- and legroom are unchanged from the '05. Seats are big and comfortable, firm and supportive, with adequate side bolstering and lumbar support. New for '06 are articulated front seatbacks with the upper half power-adjustable independent of the lower half. Headrests are comfortable. Rear seats are also very comfortable and supportive with lots of room. The large, front-seat head restraints block much of the forward vision for passengers in the outboard rear seats, however, which might be of concern to people inclined to motion sickness. Four cupholders are adjustable and accommodate many different sizes of bottles and cans.
Carrying a lot of gear is no problem. The Range Rover's tailgate is divided horizontally with a shorter-than-traditional bottom half to ease loading and unloading. That bench-like lower half was designed to support the weight of two adults, making this a perfect vehicle for tailgate parties, or for pulling on a set of waders, or for a quick picnic lunch, or any of those other times you might want a tailgate, often good, memorable times. The '06's cargo area is roomier than the '05's by almost 13 cubic feet. The rear seats are split 60/40 for versatility when moving cargo and people. Luggage hooks on the floor of the cargo area are designed to keep items secure. The full-size spare tire is stored in a well under the cargo floor.
The Range Rover's superb balance of ride and handling is the result of a highly refined and interconnected air suspension that allows softer spring rates for enhanced on-road comfort and an adjustable ride height over a range of some two inches. This system allows both serious off-roading and the courteous lowering of the ride height to make it easier for passengers to get in and out, a nice feature for shorter, older passengers and for social outings around town. An Access setting can be pre-selected so the body lowers to the desired height as the Range Rover rolls to a stop, avoiding having passengers wait while it kneels.
The new Jaguar 4.4-liter V8 in the HSE is more powerful, less thirsty and quicker than the BMW engine it replaces. Horsepower has been increased by 23 to 305 horsepower at 5750 rpm. Torque remains at 325 pound-feet but it now peaks at 4100 rpm. It accelerates the HSE from 0 to 60 mph in just over 9 seconds, almost a full second quicker than last year's model. The HSE's top speed is electronically limited to 124 mph. The Jaguar engine is cleaner and gets better fuel efficiency with an EPA-estimated 14/18 mpg City/Highway.
The supercharged 4.2-liter V8, also from Jaguar, bumps the power still higher, at 400 horsepower some 35 percent above last year's V8, with torque up more than 25 percent, to 420 pound-feet. Even so, fuel economy improves to 13/18 mpg over the '05's 12/16, as does the 0 to 60 mph time, dropping almost to 7 seconds, with top speed governed at 130 mph. Oddly enough, the seat-of-the-pants gauge didn't register as much of a difference between the two engines as the numbers suggest. Maybe it's the Range Rover's heft, but when we drove off in the Supercharged after our time in the HSE, there just wasn't the neck-snapping surge off the line that we expected. Then again, maybe stately is more the Range Rover way.
Both V8s are mated to a the latest-generation, ZF six-speed automatic transmission featuring CommandShift, one of the more flexible manual override systems in the luxury market. In the Range Rover, CommandShift can operate in both the high and low ranges of the transfer case for use on or off road. It will upshift when in manual mode but not until engine redline, and in deference to off-roaders' occasional need for low, borderline-lugging engine speed, it delays downshifting until just before the engine's stall point. When in automatic Sport mode, the transmission employs slightly higher shift points and downshifts more readily. Even while just in Drive, we felt it drop down a gear halfway through corners looking for a sweeter spot in the engine's power curve.
Speaking of tracking through corners, the air suspension in the Supercharged model is somewhat tauter and more firmly calibrated than in the HSE, including a switch to solid stabilizer bars over the HSE's hollow, pipe-like bars. The Supercharged is no sports car, but it's sporty enough to invite comparisons to its Mercedes-Benz and BMW counterparts.
Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are backed by Emergency Brake Assist, which applies full braking force in a panic stop even if the driver mistakenly relaxes brake pedal pressure, and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), which helps reduce stopping distances by balancing braking forces front to rear.
The Range Rover may be the ultimate in style, prestige, luxury, and off-road capability in a sport utility. Upgrades for 2006 keep it in contention for best in class. The Range Rover offers European style and pedigree, something neither the Lexus LX 470 nor the Infiniti QX56 has. It offers off-road capability and cargo space that BMW X5 drivers can only dream about. And it'll run circles around the Mercedes-Benz G500 on a paved road while giving the G500 a run for its deutschmark on rustic, ungraded tracks. In short, the 2006 Range Rover maintains its reputation as the standard to which other SUVs aspire. It is a pleasure to drive and it's easy on the eyes. For many, it truly is the SUV champion of the world.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Northern California.