Land Rover Range Rover – for the landed gentry - they get to buy the best

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We can understand why India’s mega-conglomerate and car producer Tata wanted to get its hands on Land Rover; after all Land Rover sells nearly 50,000 premium sport utility vehicles in America every year. Its flagship Range Rover has outsold the Lexus LX and Toyota Land Cruiser combined the past few years, and it annually outsells the Mercedes G-Class.

The high-riding Range Rover oozes luxury from its stately exterior to its rich leather, wood and chrome adorned interior. And it’s one of the most capable off road vehicles in the world. In an effort to make that point, Land Rover has built three challenging off-road venues — in North Carolina, California and Canada — to offer the “Land Rover experience” to anyone who enjoys learning the proper way to play off road.

So now Tata controls the fortunes of the Land Rover brand, having secured the English company from Ford who is selling the furniture in an effort to stay afloat in a sea of red ink. The Land Rover (and Jaguar) sale reportedly raised about $2.3 billion for Ford; plus some longer term engine and other bits and pieces business for the Dearborn based automaker.

Current and future owners of Land Rover products should not despair over the change. The storied brand may actually be in better hands with the India-based company, which is probably more able to invest in the future of the product. Tata Motors is the car and truck subsidiary of the huge Tata Group, which has been around for more than a century and reportedly is worth in the neighborhood of $70 billion.

While Tata began building trucks in 1954, it didn't build a car until 1998. And up to now, it has never sold a vehicle in the United States. Also, a couple of recent ventures into the English automotive market did not fare well. But let’s not fret yet.

This time Tata is picking up an established automaker that has been building upscale trucks for more than half a century, and if it is willing to spend the necessary cash to carry the Land Rover brand forward, all should be well.

Land Rover dates back to 1947 when it was first manufactured in Wales. The Land Rover soon became famous as the vehicle of choice for African safaris, and it can be seen in many 1950s and ’60s movies. It has also been a long time favorite of the Royal family. Tally-ho and all that nonsense.

A more civilized version of the original and rugged Land Rover, called the Range Rover, was introduced in 1970 and was first exported to the United States in 1987. While it got snazzy the vehicle has never lost its penchant for rugged off-road work.

The company was purchased in 1994 by BMW and sold to Ford in 2000. Much of the engineering and most of the hardware on the current-generation Range Rover, including the V-8 engine, comes from BMW. Ford made numerous improvement but at a heavy cost contributing to its red ink woes.

All seems well with Land Rover in 2008. Sales increased 3.7 percent in 2007 compared to 2006 and quality - an historical issue with the brand, seems to have improved significantly. The funny thing is that Land Rover has actually proved profitable in the last few years, but far too little too late to stave off sale as Ford restructures itself.

And all is definitely still well with Land Rover’s 2008 lineup. We were blessed with another seven-day stint in the flagship Range Rover and as in several other visits with the upscale vehicle in recent years, we came away impressed at its every day driving demeanor combined with its luxurious surroundings.

The Range Rover is primarily purchased as a status symbol and we understand that phenomenon. For most Range Rover owners, the closest thing their truck will come to off road is a potholed street. It’s a handsome status of wealth with which to transport the children to private school, visit the country club on the weekend and drive to the favorite restaurant for dinner on Saturday night.

The fact that it can compete with the likes of Hummer and Wrangler off road represents peace of mind to its owners if not an opportunity to get the truck dirty in the wilderness. For this reason some of the Range Rover’s standard equipment may be pricey overkill. But if it didn’t have it those who can afford it probably wouldn’t buy it. Affluence is demanding.  

For instance, all Range Rovers come with a sophisticated air suspension that can automatically raise and lower the ride height according to conditions. It can also be raised or lowered manually by a console-mounted switch. When the suspension is at its top raised position, the Range Rover has serious off-road ground clearance of 11 inches.

Powertrain, suspension and electronic systems can be set to optimize traction over five road conditions — general, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, sand and rock crawl. Hill descent control is also part of the package.

There are only two trim levels, the HSE starting at $78,450 and the Supercharged starting at $94,100.

The HSE comes with a 4.4-liter V-8 making 305 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The Supercharged comes with a 4.2-liter V-8 generating 400 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic and both have a maximum towing capacity of 7,700 pounds.

Even with the smaller engine, performance befits the luxury stance and price. Zero-to-60 runs can be completed in just over eight seconds and there is plenty of V-8 punch for all highway situations. If performance is demanded, move up to the supercharged version and you will be rewarded with mid-six-second time from 0-to-60.

The driving position is good. People say they purchase sport utility vehicles because they sit them up high with a commanding view of the road, and the Range Rover is the benchmark. No vehicle we’ve driven gives the feeling of height like the Range Rover. And it’s a comfortable feeling.

The interior is lavished in luxury touches, and at first the dashboard layout may be overwhelming with buttons, knobs and controls. There is so much going on that you will be forced to study the owner's manual. But a bit of book learning is a good thing because it will reveal the Range Rover’s sophistication, and once you can a basic familiarization, you will find the SUV is relatively simple to operate compared to its German counterparts.

As you would expect for the price of entry, the Range Rover is loaded with standard equipment including three-zone climate control, a 710-watt 14-speaker Harman/Kardon surround sound audio system, satellite navigation with “bread crumb” off-road tracking, rear-view camera, Bi-Xenon headlights, front and rear park distance control, and leather and wood trim.

Safety features include stability control, antilock brakes with brake assist, tire-pressure monitoring, front side airbags and side-curtain airbags. Full-time four-wheel drive is standard across the lineup.

Our well equipped HSE edition tester stickered for $85,450.

The Land Rover is certainly facing some interesting times with its new owners. But for now there is still no better sport utility on the U.S. market than the company’s flagship Range Rover. 


Base price, $78,450; as driven, $85,450
Engine: 4.4-liter V-8 

Horsepower: 305 @ 5,750 rpm 

Torque: 325 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm 

Drive: four-wheel 

Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 113.4 inches

Length: 195.8 inches 

Curb weight: 5,698 pounds 

Turning circle: 39.4 feet 

Towing capacity: 7,700 pounds 

Cargo capacity: 74 cubic feet 

Fuel capacity: 27.6 gallons (premium) 

EPA rating: 18 highway, 12 city 

0-60: 8.5 seconds (estimated) 

Also consider: Lexus LX 570, BMW X5, Mercedes GL-Class 

The Good 

• Luxury abounds

• World-class off-road capability

• Cutting-edge performance in supercharged model 

The Bad 

• A lot of pricey off-road equipment is wasted on the typical owner 

The Ugly

• Land Rover’s anemic gas mileage even makes the rich queasy