2006 Range Rover

The new Range Rover is very much a twenty-first century car, with a technologically-advanced power train and a voice-activated navigational system that works on-road and off. However it is also steeped in the Land Rover tradition: engineered to transport its occupants in the most luxurious fashion to the most un-luxurious places. If a person wanted to invite four of his closest friend to tea on the banks of the Amazon River, he could drive them there in a Range Rover.

The 2006 Range Rover can ford streams up to 20 inches deep, maintain directional stability on two wheels, clear tree roots up to 10 inches tall, and climb the occasional Mayan ruin, thanks to all-terrain dynamic stability control. A new supercharged engine accelerates from zero-to-sixty in just over seven seconds: fast enough to outrun a cougar (at least after the first quarter mile).

Inside, the leather and wood interior is living room comfy, with a standard harman/kardon digital surround sound stereo, Bluetooth enabled telephone, and available rear DVD entertainment package. The standard four-wheel independent air suspension with electronically controlled center differential isolates occupants from bumps in the road, so the tea cups won't rattle. The only remaining question is: Earl Grey or Orange Pekoe?

Refreshed Exterior Styling; More Power Under the Hood

There are three Range Rover models for 2006, two of which are refreshed versions of the 2002 platform. An all-new Range Rover Sport, designed to compete against performance sport-utility vehicles such as the BMW X5, goes in sale this summer. The two other models have revised exterior styling and two all-new engines: a naturally-aspirated V8, and a supercharged V8.

Both are derived from Jaguar blocks, but are modified for better low-end torque and the ability to operate at extreme angles off-road. An Eaton blower on the supercharged model boosts engine power about 100 horsepower during hard acceleration. Two-caliper Brembo front brakes on that model give the standard 20-inch wheels exceptional stopping power.

Both available engines come with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear select option. High and low gear ranges make it possible to navigate challenging terrain at extremely slow speeds. Adjustable ride height on the standard air suspension can raise the vehicle from its standard height of 8.9 inches, to 10.8 inches for driving off-road. When the driver cuts the ignition, the vehicle automatically lowers down to make it easier to exit.

On the outside, both models have a new grille design, new headlamps, tail lamps, and redesigned air vents. Overall, the styling remains classic Range Rover: clamshell hood, two box profile with "floating roof" (created by black roof pillars), and split tailgate. Because it is intended as a luxury vehicle, the Range Rover does not come with a standard roof rack, although a variety of roof carriers are available as dealer-installed accessories. A internal ski bag (integrated into the center arm rest) is part of an available heated accessories package, that also includes heated front seats and steering wheel.

Command View of the Road

The seating positions give both rows of occupants a command view of the road. This is particularly important for off-road driving, because the driver needs to see the area directly ahead of and around the wheels. Front and rear windshield washers and wipers with variable controls keep the glass surfaces free of water, snow and dirt, while a standard sunroof provides plenty of ambient light into the interior. Available bi-xenon adaptive front lighting swivels the headlamps according to steering inputs, to light the corners better in rural areas.

The available voice-activated navigation system functions on and off-road: it includes a backup camera that provides a wide angle view to the rear. The instrument panel controls are fairly intuitive and easy for both the driver and front passenger to reach. Redundant steering wheel controls operate most comfort and convenience functions. The glove box on the passenger side is large enough to hold large map books or a small bag. A cubbie in front of the gear shift on the center console will hold cell phones or PDAs. Five standard cup holders are large enough to hold bottles of water.

The naturally aspirated model comes with a 12-way power adjustable driver's seat and 10-way power adjustable passenger seats. An optional luxury interior package adds 16-way adjustable driver and passenger seats. All seats have inflatable lumbar supports that work well. The seats are firm enough to be comfortable on day-long drives. All models come with leather trim only.

Engineers reduced noise intrusion on the new models by putting a coating on the front A-pillars, and laminating the front side glass for better sound insulation.

The second-row 60/40 split seats fold flat to extend the cargo load floor to a maximum length of 62.1 inches. The cargo floor is 44.3-inches wide: 40.9 inches between the wheel arches. A standard integrated towing hitch is rated for 7,716 pounds (braked trailer).

Almost Like Driving a Car

The Range Rover is a heavy vehicle: curb weight is about 5,500 pounds. The electronic dynamic stability system does a good job of maintaining directional control on tight turns. The extra power of the supercharger comes in handy when the driver needs to accelerate hard into freeway traffic, or from a stop. The brakes are more than adequate on both models to stop the vehicle quickly: antilock brakes come standard.

Weeks of rain in northern California prevented the Range Rover folks from utilizing the off-road course that they had planned for the press preview. Instead, journalists drove the cars on one and two-lane paved and dirt roads between Napa Valley and Bodega Bay. While there are no mountains in the area, there are plenty of rolling hills.

Both models had plenty of power while climbing, excellent steering response on tight turns, and minimal braking distance. Visibility was excellent all the way around the vehicle, and the redundant steering wheel controls minimized distractions for the driver. Getting lost on the back roads was not a concern, thanks to the on-board navigation system.

Commuting through bay area traffic provided a different kind of challenge. The Range Rover was easy to maneuver through traffic on freeways and along narrow side streets in San Francisco. The rack and pinion steering system and drive-by wire throttle control provided quick, accurate steering feedback and a good on-center feel at speed. The rack and pinion system, new for '06, is robust enough to handle the bumps and jolts of off-road driving.

Because the Range Rover is so heavy, gas mileage is not particularly good: averaging 17.5 mpg on the supercharged car, and 18.3 mpg on the naturally aspirated model. Both versions run on premium fuel. Then again, someone who can afford a $75,000- $90,000 car probably doesn't have to worry about the price of fill-ups.

Dealer Roll-Out

The 2006 Range Rover models roll into area dealerships this June. Pricing for the naturally aspirated model begins at $74,950; the supercharged model with standard upgraded suspension, larger brakes and 20-inch wheels begins at $89,950. Range Rover expects the supercharged model to account for about 20 percent of annual sales.

2006 Range Rover

Likes: The Range Rover is every bit as capable as it is luxurious, equally at home in the city or in remote areas of the wilderness. Visibility is excellent: the backup camera eliminates any blind spots to the rear. Despite its relatively large size and weight, the Range Rover is almost as nimble as a passenger car, with excellent acceleration, braking and steering response.

Dislikes: A roof rack is not standard equipment. Washable seat covers, which are available on the Land Rover LR3, are not available on the Range Rover.

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