TOP OF THE CLASS
The third generation Range Rover finally became the vehicle we all knew it should have been. Chronic underfunding had starved the latter-day first generation models of development and the second-generation car, whilst much improved, never had the coherence of design a winning model needs to succeed, being patchy in all round ability. The third generation model, on the other hand, was bankrolled to a large degree first by BMW and latterly by Ford, two big corporations who certainly know a thing or two about building quality vehicles. It shows. Magnificent, imperious and with genuine presence, this version of the Range Rover did away with the cheap plastics, shoddy styling and the surprisingly amateurish parts-bin feel of previous models. Here is a car that feels like an off-road Bentley. Used examples are starting to appear in meaningful numbers and prices look tempting.
The story behind the third generation Land Rover couldn't have been scripted any better if a crack team of tabloid hacks had been set to work on it. The British firm was owned by BMW but the Germans departed in an acrimonious split that left new owners Ford with a magnificent vehicle with which to do battle with - you guessed it - BMW's X5. What's more, the Ford organisation learned lessons from the construction of the BMW designed Range Rover that would later produce another X5-basher, the Volvo XC90. Like I said, you couldn't make it up.
Despite its troubled existence, there's not a great deal wrong with the third generation Range Rover. The previous model's Metrocab styling and low rent interior was resolutely fixed and the BMW-sourced engines were superb units. Reliability has proved good and the addition of a Td6 diesel version has opened Range Rover ownership up to those who baulked at the V8 model's thirst. A V8 Autobiography special edition was launched in late 2003 but other than that, buyers chose between either the Td6 diesel or the 4.4 V8 in SE, HSE or Vogue trims.
For the 2006 model year, the Range Rover received a revised grille, headlamp and front bumper ensemble while a supercharged 4.2-litre V8 was added to the range. At the same time, the normally aspirated 4.4-litre V8 gained an extra 20bhp.
Two highly significant developments came with the 2007 model year revisions. First, the often overwhelmed 3.0-litre Td6 powerplant was replaced by a far more impressive 272bhp TDV8. Secondly, the Range Rover finally received the superb Terrain Response system that had debuted on the Discovery and found its way into the Range Rover Sport. Revisions were also made to the interior trim and the equipment levels.
For the 2008 model year, all models received an electronic park brake, more effective four-zone air conditioning - plus the option of cooled front seats. There's also a 'climate control' windscreen and side glass, available in conjunction with automatic rain and light sensing.
What You Get
The original Range Rover was billed as the first luxury 4x4, but the term is relative. Any car whose interior could be spruced up with nothing more sophisticated than a well-aimed hosepipe can hardly be described as chic. Step into the latest car and you'll be amazed at what the designers at Land Rover's Gaydon studio have conceived. Winners of a three-way design battle with BMW's Munich and California styling houses, the homegrown touch has certainly paid dividends. This is a car whose interior ambience is closer to an Aston Martin than anything else, with wood trim that's tastefully integrated, lustrous pleated leather seats and intelligent use of aluminium and chrome finishing on the dashboard. The effect is tasteful, restrained and isn't going to date as quickly as a more extreme design. Some of the minor controls are obviously BMW-sourced but then that's no bad thing.
Despite the Germanic provenance, the exterior styling is unmistakably Range Rover. In fact, when viewed from the side, only the twin gills mounted behind the front wheel arch immediately give the game away to the casual observer. Chief Executive Bob Dover explains, "It is essential that people instantly recognise the new vehicle as a Range Rover. The exterior is modern yet retains all the distinctive styling cues." It also introduces some new ones. We get a return to round headlamps, plus we get vertically stacked indicator units, a design cue nicked from the utilitarian Defender. This feature is mirrored with the tail lights and indicators, narrowed to allow a wide opening tailgate. The rest of the exterior lines are almost Audi-esque in their surgical cleanliness
The average Range Rover owner, if such thing exists, may also need some extension work undertaken, for the latest car is no less than 291mm longer than the outgoing version. It's also 46mm higher, but in an effort to take the sweaty palms out of city driving, it's also 37mm narrower. A longer wheelbase means that interior space, especially for rear passengers and luggage have been hugely improved, but weight has increased, the V8 model weighing a hefty 220kg more than its predecessor.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Although there's little doubt that the Range Rover is still mighty off road, you'll need to check that the previous owner, perhaps buoyed by that feeling of being bulletproof, hasn't been a little overconfident. Damage to the alloy wheels and exhaust through overenthusiastic off roading can be an expensive fix and even relatively trivial bodywork scrapes can put a sizeable dent in the car's resale value. Check the headlamps for stone chips as this is a very expensive part. Both the V8 and the Td6 engines have proved paragons of reliability and owners have reported good experiences with Land Rover dealers.
(approx based on a 3.0Td6 - ex Vat) A clutch assembly will be around £275, a full exhaust about £575, a starter motor should be close to £220 and a headlamp £275. Front brake pads are about £50 and a rear set £40.
On the Road
Originally, the two engines that nestled beneath the trademark castellated bonnet were of Bavarian lineage. The 4.4-litre BMW V8 petrol was the mainstay of the range, but for those who preferred not to swell the coffers of OPEC quite so extravagantly, a 3.0-litre 'Td6' diesel was also available. Both of these engines could also be found in - you've guessed it - the BMW X5, which should lead to some interesting comparisons. Both engines are magnificent units, far better than anything any Range Rover had been powered with previously.
A Jaguar-derived 4.4-litre V8 with 306bhp replaced the BMW unit in 2006 and was supplemented by a range-topping 396bhp supercharged 4.2-litre engine. The Range Rover's prodigious bulk means that neck-snapping performance is never on the agenda but the supercharged model will still hit 60mph in 7.1s. The TDV8 diesel offers the Range Rover's best blend of performance and economy. The 640Nm torque output makes for a suitably relaxed drive and 0-60mph takes 8.5 seconds compared to a leisurely 12.7s in the older straight six Td6 diesel. Land Rover also claim an average economy of 25mpg for this model, compared to around 17mpg in the normally-aspirated V8.
There's no shortage of technology built into the car. The automatic gearbox includes all the proper off-road functions Range Rover buyers expect, such as a high/low transfer box and Hill Descent Control. A Steptronic manual override option allows drivers to switch ratios 'manually' and the stability control system can be disabled. There's none of the BMW 7-Series' iDrive features inside, but there is an all-independent suspension set up (a first for a Range Rover) allied to an air suspension system that allows the car to be lowered for dignified mini-skirted exits. Although this Range Rover may be used as the ultimate urban battle bus, should the need to take it off-road beckon, a Torsen centre differential should make sure you return safely.
The 2007 models incorporated Terrain Response for the first time. An excellent system that allows the driver to select the type of terrain he's crossing via a rotary dial. The suspension, transmission and electronic systems them adjust accordingly, offering the perfect set-up for mud ruts, rocks, sand, snow or plain old tarmac. Very clever stuff.
If you want the best you'll need to pay for it, but the Range Rover works out very good value for money. Threatened recently by cars like the Volkswagen Touareg, the Volvo XC90 and the Porsche Cayenne, the Range Rover remains the real thing. A used example still looks box fresh and will give you a superiority complex visible from space. Suddenly those prices don't look that steep.