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The Range Rover gets new engines and transmissions for 2006, improving on what remains the ultimate luxury sport-utility. This top-of-the-line Land Rover offers authentic all-terrain capability combined with a beautiful European-flavor cabin and the latest in safety features. Driving it makes you feel good. It's smooth and poised on the road and makes its occupants feel classy and sophisticated. It's one of the best luxury vehicles available, counting cars. Land Rover doesn't sell vast quantities of them, ensuring the Range Rover remains an exclusive vehicle, and further adding to its class and panache.
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.
The 2006 Range Rover upholds its legendary off-road capability, but with equally civilized road handling. There's little lean in corners. A jaunt of a couple hundred miles through the Northern California wine country and along the state's northern coast was a delightful and comfortable way to spend a warm, sunny day. Bay Area freeways, and traffic, were conquered with ease and smoothness. As boxy and upright as the Range Rover is, the '06 is remarkably quiet, its beefed up sound deadening and new laminated side window glass blocking all but the most pronounced road and wind noise.
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.
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