Land Rovers have a long and distinct, safari-rich off-road history. While they have never lost their ability to survive the heat of the Savannah desert or the wet of the Borneo rainforest, they have evolved into the most luxurious line of SUVs on the planet, and this week's ebony tester is clear and convincing evidence.
|The King of all roads.|
New for 2007
Each reworking of a Land Rover product seems to diminish its inherent UK-based quirkiness and character. Fortunately the "mainstreaming" hasn't entirely eliminated the Range Rover's uniqueness among the cast premium-SUVs available today.
2007 brought a newly designed cabin to Land Rover's flagship. The cabin features a restyled instrument panel and new seats along with upgraded trim and décor. Opulence abounds, making the Range Rover HSE the Bentley of the SUV world. I found the alterations most attractive and functional indeed. Control and switchgear layout is far more intuitive than in the past. All knobs, dials and switches impart a sense of quality and precision.
My tester was equipped with optional 14-way ventilated power front seats. From these "first class" perches, occupants are treated to a commanding view of the road and surrounding environment. High seating positions is a Land Rover trait. The elevated roosts provided me with a clear view of the vehicle's broad hood. Unlike sleeker nose designs, the Range Rover's hood - or bonnet as the Brits would prefer - is perfectly visible corner to corner.
The extra height also delivers superior sight lines alongside the vehicle, which can be very advantageous when navigating one's way over and around rough terrain, which for 2007 has been made more straightforward than ever.
|For 2007, the interior has received a more than welcome update.|
Land Rover's Terrain Response system is now standard equipment on the Range Rover, making off-roading as simple as turning a five-position dial to match the terrain encountered, such as snow, sand, mud, ruts and rock crawling. The system optimizes traction for each surface type. It also manages the Range Rover's Electronic Air Suspension (EAS) system, to ensure appropriate ground clearance is provided.
|The vehicle's height can be adjusted to increase the ground clearance.|
EAS is capable of raising the front of the Range Rover by 61-mm (2.4-in) and its rear by 51-mm (2-in) to extend the vehicle's ground clearance. A computer performs load-leveling duties while also continuously adjusting the ride height to maintain ground clearance, which at its maximum is 280-mm (11-in). This contributes to an impressive 34-degree angle of approach and a 26.6-degree angle of departure, and in off-road mode a 30-degree breakover.
Augmenting the Range Rover's off-pavement prowess is its Four-Wheel Electronic Traction Control (4ETC) arrangement, which directs power to wheels with traction while preventing those without from needlessly spinning. An electronically controlled centre differential automatically locks to further prevent wheel spin. Of course, a Land Rover wouldn't be such without low-range gearing, which in the Range Rover is engaged with the push of a button.
The final hi-tech element of competent off-roading, and safety for that matter, is the Range Rover's Dynamic Stability Control program, designed to keep the vehicle on-course and under control in compromising situations such as high speed cornering or sliding due to icy roads.
How a vehicle so capable off the road can be so comfortable and quiet on the road is a difficult paradox to comprehend. The Range Rover exhibits manners and refinement consistent with luxury saloons. The vehicle is one of the smoothest riding full-size SUVs I have sampled. It wins the battle for ride supremacy with the aid of enormous suspension travel.
The sophisticated underpinnings are remarkably efficient at absorbing surface aberrations that would normally jar a conventionally sprung off-road capable SUV. So where's the offset? Well it's expressed in handling dynamics. The Range Rover leans significantly when cornered hard, during which its substantial mass of 2,590-kg (5,698-lb) becomes apparent. This is not a vehicle that's quick on its feet, even by SUV standards. That said, it manages to stay-the-course quite confidently when subjected to urgent directional changes.
|The Range has a muscular yet sophisticated presence on the road.|
Power on and off the road
Equally satisfying to the Range Rover's absorbent ride is the liquidity of its Jaguar-sourced 4.4-litre, DOHC V8 powerplant. It's rated at 305 horsepower @ 5,750-rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque @ 4,000-rpm, and is capable of hustling the Range Rover with parliamentary authority.
|The 4.4-litre V8 is mated to a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic gearbox.|
Much of the vehicle's strong showing off-the-line and in the passing lane is attributable to its six-speed autobox, which quickly - albeit smoothly - inserts the cog most suited to demand. Within normal driving parameters, the engine and transmission work imperceptibly together to keep the Range Rover in the flow of traffic, accompanied only by a well-bred V8 note- respectably muted of course.
Should the Squire desire greater motoring domination, a supercharged 4.2-litre 400 horsepower mill is available with 420 pound-feet of torque.
Nobility comes at a price
Driving the 2007 Range Rover is like living in a stately manor, staffed with personal assistants. Its blending of new-world technology with old-world charm is quirky yet tremendously satisfying. Unfortunately, it's also 6-figure expensive. Try $100,900 for starters- need I say more?
Cutting-edge off-road technology
High seating position
Hearty consumption of fuel
6-figure price tag