When is a BMW not a BMW? When it surfaces in the form of Land Rover's '03 Range Rover. Land Rover conceived its plans for a new Range Rover in 1996--about the same time the company's then-owner, BMW, started development of its X5 sport/utility. The goal was to spread engineering expenses across both platforms. This plan's master was Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle, at the time BMW's head of product development. Dr. Reitzle left BMW in 1999 to join Ford, where he was instrumental in Ford's purchase of Land Rover in 2000 and got a second chance to finish up the Range Rover. Despite this slight interruption in parental involvement, Reitzle has fathered a superb premium-luxury sport/utility vehicle.
Compared to the current model, this new Range Rover is a radical departure, at least mechanically. Gone are the body-on-frame architecture, solid axles, and ancient OHV engines. The new chassis is welded to the body in the name of greatly enhanced structural rigidity. MacPherson struts up front and an independent rear suspension out back replace the aforementioned live-axle setups. The new hardware also features airbags rather than springs (similar to the BMW X5).
The result is dramatically improved ride and handling. Land Rover identified the BMW 5 Series as the Range Rover's on-road driving dynamics-bogey. Though it's not quite that good--understandable given its equally important mission as a serious off-roader--it's 85-90 percent as capable as the decidedly sporty X5. Whereas the current vehicle leans and doesn't feel especially pinned down while cornering, the new one tackles curves as well as it does mud.
Off-road, the new version at least equals the present Range Rover--and that's a compliment. Like the current model, ride height is adjustable, offering low, medium, and high settings for entry/exit, highway, and off-road driving. The IRS rear differential is tucked up high, creating more ground clearance (11.0 in. versus old 8.4). Land Rover's renowned Hill Decent Control makes off-roading safer by limiting vehicle speed when descending steep terrain. The electronically shifted 4x4 system can be activated on the fly.