- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The Range Rover HSE from Land Rover is the original luxury SUV and remains to this day equally at home on the range or at the Ritz. The first production Land Rover was introduced at the Amsterdam Auto Show in April of 1948 with permanent four-wheel drive, a canvas roof and optional doors.

Land Rover and Range Rover were actually sport utility vehicles (SUVs) before the phrase was coined by the automotive press to describe utilitarian modes of transportation that were alternately employed in the sport of exploring vast reaches of wilderness generally referred to as off-roading.

Initially of course, there was no need for a class designation because there were only a handful of examples.

Range Rovers are rugged, all-purpose, aluminum-bodied, four-wheel-drive vehicles that are not subject to luxury tax because of their multipurpose vehicle classification and GVWR in excess of 6,000 pounds. The original Range Rover model in the Land Rover lineup didn’t come along until 1970, first appearing and winning a gold medal for coach work at the Earl’s Court Motor Show and fulfilling the need of a more polished and refined vehicle in the family.

The new Range Rover HSE reigns as the top-of-the-line vehicle for the Land Rover group, and is only the third all-new Range Rover in 32 years. It continues to better itself in terms of refinement and technological development, attaining a taller stature, longer wheelbase, overall length and slightly narrower width than before. The V-8 engine has decreased in displacement (from 4.6 liters to 4.4 liters), while managing to boost both horsepower and torque ratings.

I tested a new Range Rover HSE, which provides all of the qualities and amenities of an upscale luxury sedan (and then some) while maintaining its legendary and traditional off-road capability. The $71,200 base price tag of the Zambezi Silver unit with Parchment primary tone, trimmed in Navy leather interior was reflective of its luxurious attributes.

Certainly not everyone is destined to own one. Addition of a heated accessories package, polished walnut wood trim and inland transportation charges elevated the final sticker total to $73,165. The price includes free scheduled maintenance for four years or 40,000 miles.

The looks of the HSE have been dramatically improved with softened lines and contours, as has the new monocoque body structure itself. The ground clearance has been increased with outstanding approach and departure angles yielding greater off-road capability than its forebears. Safety features, functionality and ergonomic issues have been given the royal treatment as well.

The more spacious interior features an elegant and revolutionary design format with a variety of styling and texture cues, sporting a blend of rich woods and leathers, suggestive of fine yachts. The focus of the new Range Rover is more simplified with but one body style and engine. There are, however, two luxurious woods and three leathers from which to choose to complement the interior tones chosen.

The five-speed automatic transmission is more advanced, featuring CommandShift control, which allows manual sequential shifting up and down and a two-speed, electronically activated transfer gearbox with the ability to shift from Low to High or High to Low ratios on-the-fly. A new Torsen torque-sensing center differential monitors torque bias between front and rear axles dependent upon available traction.

Ergonomically, controls are logically placed and easy to use. The steering wheel is both tilt and telescopic, which coupled with infinite adjustment range of the seats offers the ultimate driving position. The driving position, incidentally offers an excellent command of the road and functional controls.

Both an on- and off-road navigation systems provide guidance, while front and rear park sensors help to prevent unwanted contact. What might well be optional equipment on other vehicles comes, not surprisingly, as standard on this regal SUV. A CD player for instance, is standard along with a 60/40 split folding rear seat, a rear cargo cover and a tilt-and-slide sunroof with privacy shade. There’s lots more.

The Range Rover HSE makes a statement regarding one’s level of success. It affords those who own it the opportunity to travel luxuriously amidst regal appointments even in the wilderness. It is indeed a “lifestyle” vehicle that offers a much more positive experience than ever before.

Acceleration and power of the 4.4-liter aluminum V-8 are indeed more than adequate. The driving position adds to the security of operation — the HSE has no top-heavy feel as many SUVs seem to.

The ride is smooth and stable with admirable cornering characteristics. One must keep in mind, however, that the Range Rover is designed as an off-road vehicle and, as such, does not possess the same cornering physics as a low-slung sports car. By the same token, you wouldn’t want to take the sports car for an off-road ride through the woods.

The Range Rover HSE is “a rather exceptional vehicle,” according to the folks at Land Rover — a typical British understatement. In my opinion, it’s a luxury that’s not taxing and it’s not a pretend off-roader, but actually capable of traversing the wild country and truly at “home on the range”.

Ground clearance is now up to 11 inches, while the maximum gradient is 45 degrees. I must add here that it is doubtful that those who pay the price for a vehicle of this magnitude are going to be willing to expose it to the cosmetic hazards that serious off-roading has to offer.

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