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by Richard Russell
A full-size luxury sport utility vehicle dating back to 1970, the Range Rover’s reputation is built on decades of proven off-road ability. Its parent company, Land Rover, like Bentley, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and many other highly respected marquees were rescued from bankruptcy by a German manufacturer. In this case, BMW purchased the company in 1994 and put its expertise to work on an entirely new Range Rover. Only the big boxy look was retained. Everything else, from chassis and drivetrain to electronics and interiors is new. At just about the stage of completion, BMW sold the whole shebang to Ford.
While engineered by the Germans, the Range Rover remains stoically British. As Connolly is to leather and Savile Row to men’s tailoring, Range Rover is to SUV’s. The epitome of class, style and wealth, the Range Rover has the ability to go further offroad in more difficult conditions than almost any conveyance available to the general public. But my guess is that few owners will ever venture far from the beaten path in this expensive and exclusive vehicle.
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Change does not come often to Range Rover. After the thorough makeover for the 2003 model year mentioned above, the Range Rover has undergone only minor updates for 2004. All Range Rovers now carry the HSE designation previously reserved for the top of the line trim level. There is only one body style, one trim level and one drivetrain combination. Buyers can select from a small colour pallet including two choices for the wood trim and five for the leather. Enhanced luxury and 20-inch wheel packages are the only available options.
The Range Rover, in standard trim, is burgeoning with all the accoutrements expected from a high-end British luxury car. Carpets with pile so deep as to require a depth gauge, leather as supple as anything the imagination can conjure up and wood trim that actually began life on a tree as opposed to a laboratory. Beneath all the wonderful things you see and feel lies German technology and engineering. The drivetrain is pure BMW and there is a full slate of modern electronic aids (Electronic traction control, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Hill Descent Control (HDC), and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) to enhance the standard ABS.
The Range Rover is designed and built to capabilities few, if any, will ever require. It is comprised of a steel monocoque with integrated unitized chassis and three steel subframes. The front quarter panels, hood and doors are of aluminum alloy while zinc-coated steel is used for the roof and rear quarter panels. The Range Rover’s combination of off-road prowess and on-road refinement can be attributed to its an all-independent suspension with interconnected air springs – struts in front and wishbones in the rear.
The drivetrain consists of a 32-valve 4.4 litre DOHC BMW V8 connected to an advanced five-speed ZF automatic transmission and an electronically activated two-speed transfer case, which can be shifted on the move. A torque-sensing centre differential apportions power front-rear according to available grip.
In addition to its ability to drive around – way around – possible problems, the Range Rover is equipped to provide plenty of occupant protection should one prove unavoidable. There are eight airbags providing both front and rear occupants in frontal and side collisions.
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The interior can only be described as elegant. Light and airy, there is good visibility in all directions. The wood, leather, chrome and other quality materials have been assembled with impeccable craftsmanship. Seats are big and comfortable and there is decent headroom in all positions. Cargo capacity is average with all seats in position but thanks to the tall roof, if you fold down the rear seat you are greeted by an astounding amount of space. The Range Rover is also exceedingly quiet on the road for such an aerodynamic blunderbuss – until you crank up the fifteen-transducer, 570-watt Harman/Kardon digital surround sound system.
Driving the Range Rover is an exercise in civility. You sit tall in a gorgeous leather throne looking out past American Cherry or Burled walnut over the aluminum hood. Nothing this tall and heavy, despite all the best engineering expertise and effort in the world, can be considered remotely sporty in the turns, but the Range Rover acquits itself a lot better than it has a right to in this respect. Ride comfort on the other hand is exemplary. The cross-linked air suspension can be used to provide up to 28 cm of ground clearance, or it can be lowered for a more hunkered down on-road attitude. It can be further lowered when at rest to allow milady to enter or exit with suitable grace. Its exceedingly rigid chassis, advances in high-strength steel and sophisticated computer-aided permanent four-wheel-drive system result in an unmatched combination of on-road refinement and offroad ability.
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Despite extensive use of aluminum, this is a very heavy vehicle weighing over 5,600 pounds with only a driver aboard. It is therefore a tribute to the V8 that it propels this truck in such an impressive manner. Acceleration to 100 kilometres from rest takes approximately 10 seconds, not world shattering but decent for something this big and heavy. It actually feels even quicker thanks to the excellent interaction of the engine and transmission. A suitable ratio is at hand at all times.
All this does not come inexpensively. The Range Rover’s price tag is $98,000 including all regularly scheduled maintenance for four years or 80,000 km. The standard equipment list suits the price tag and position: bi-xenon lights, security system with parimetric and volumetric functions and engine immobilization, remote central locking, keyless entry, power windows and sunroof, Park Distance Control (PDC), three-zone automatic climate control, ten-way, power driver seat and 6-way power front passenger seat, heated front and rear passenger seats, heated power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and sunroof.
The Range Rover is but a mere blip on the Canadian automotive radar. One finds its way into the hands of a new owner at the rate of about one a day – during the same period, Honda sells 165 Civics. But as with anything at the extreme high end of a price range, it brings with it a cachet and exclusivity well worth the cost to those who can afford it.
Technical Data: 2004 Range Rover
|Base price||$98,000 plus freight, license and taxes|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger full-size SUV|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||4.4 litre DOHC V8|
|Horsepower||282 @ 5400 rpm|
|Torque||325 @ 3600 rpm|
|Transmission||five-speed automatic with manual CommandShift mode|
|Tires||255/55HR-19 inch mud & snow|
|Curb weight||2440 kg (5379 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2,880 mm (113.4 in.)|
|Length||4,950 mm (195.0 in.)|
|Width||1,924 mm (75.7 in.)|
|Height||1863 mm (73.3 in.) (plus roof rack)|
|Cargo capacity||530 litres (18.9 cu. ft.) (seats up)|
|1760 litres (62.0 cu. ft.) (seats down)|
|Max. towing||3500 kg (7700 lb.) (trailer with brakes)|
|Ground clearance||281 mm (11.1 in.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 19.3 l/100 km (15 mpg)|
|Hwy: 12.9 l/100 km (22 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|