- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003


  The 2003 Range Rover is the most capable off-road vehicle you’d never want to take off road. With a price tag of $73,165, it’s more at home on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles or Fifth Avenue in New York.
  It is only the third Range Rover in the Land Rover company’s storied history, and likely the only one that will ever be developed under the tutelage of Germany’s BMW, which briefly owned the company. It now is owned by Ford Motor Co., but the new Range Rover already was in the works before the sale.
  That means it gets, among other things, an all-aluminum, 32-valve V-8 engine from BMW, along with a heavy dose of BMW’s design, engineering and production expertise. For many buyers, that likely will give the Range Rover even more cachet than it already had, which was considerable.
  Despite its legendary off-road prowess, or perhaps because of it, the Range Rover has been the luxury SUV of choice among big-bucks exhibitionists. The enduring image of Land Rover is that of military-style vehicles traversing the African veldt or the New Guinea jungles. British-bred, they had a reputation for basic indestructibility, though often such piddling equipment as gauges and sometimes even brakes gave up the ghost.
  There’s little question that the designers and engineers at Land Rover have maintained expertise in vehicles that can handle virtually any terrain. In the current infatuation with SUVs, that reputation has helped carry the flag for all of Land Rover’s vehicles, and the company nurtures that gritty image even as it markets its wares to the wealthy.
  Like Harley-Davidson and Jeep, there is an aura about Land Rover that is often out of proportion to reality. So when a customer looks at the top-of-the-line Range Rover, he or she senses something beyond the actual machinery.
  Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s little question that the Range Rover is among the best off-road vehicles available. It can crawl through the muck and mire, and over the rocks and stumps, with deceptive ease — as long as you know what you’re doing. And to make certain you do, the company operates driving schools to teach you how to make any Land Rover vehicle conquer the boondocks.
  It’s just that not too many people would want to risk scratches or other damage to something so luxurious and expensive as a Range Rover. It arrives as a fully equipped luxury SUV. The only option on the tested HSE was a $1,300 package that included heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel and a built-in ski sack so you don’t soil that beautiful leather upholstery.
  The leather covers seats that are unobtrusively comfortable and supportive front and rear. Even the center seating position in back is not too bad, mainly because the flat floor affords foot room.
   Whether the interior is, as the promotional materials put it, “the most beautiful of any vehicle” is a matter best left to individual taste. But there’s little question that it is classy, with a combination of leather, tasteful vinyl trim and burnished wood that looks as if it could also be used on the stock of a fine, hand-made shotgun.
  The BMW V-8 engine delivers 282 horsepower, which gets to all four wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission — with a manual-shift mode — and a torque-sensing center differential. It’s adequate to the task of moving the Range Rover’s 5,379 pounds, which would be a lot porkier except for the aluminum doors, hood and front quarter panels. But don’t expect to win too many drag races.
  Standard equipment includes an air suspension system with ride-height adjustments, xenon headlights, stability control, a low range for the all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes with traction control, and a hill-descent system for off-road forays that slows the Range Rover automatically in low range on steep downhill grades.
  There also are side air bags, side head-protection air bags, front and rear fog lamps, a three-zone automatic climate control system, a 290-watt stereo with 12 speakers and a six-disc in-dash CD changer, a navigation system combined with the stereo controls and a trip computer, heated mirrors, a motorized sunroof, and memory settings for the driver’s seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors.
  On the road, the Range Rover offers stable handling despite the up-high driving position. The adjustable suspension system allows the ride height to be lowered by several inches for better handling and fuel economy.
  Not everything was up to snuff, however. Engine noise makes its way through to the passenger pod under hard acceleration. The brakes on the test car, though they worked fine, emitted a rumbling noise when they were applied.
   The automatic climate control and steering-wheel memory sometimes got confused. And the horn is operated by a couple of buttons that are close to other steering-wheel controls, meaning it’s possible to change the radio station when fumbling for the horn.
  Oh, and if you buy a Range Rover, make sure you get lessons in how to operate the navigation/stereo/computer controls.
  They’re irritatingly complex, and the instructions in the owner’s manual don’t help much.
  

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