When the Range Rover first arrived on American shores in 1987, it arguably began the luxury-utility segment. Now most luxury brands have an SUV - some more than one - and new players join the field each year. So, for only the third time in its 31-year history, the Range Rover has been redesigned. At the same time, the relatively recent Lincoln Navigator has also undergone a thorough transformation (when was the last time a Lincoln won a performance aspect of a comparison test?). Lexus, which was in its infancy in 1987, has established the LX 470 as its luxury full-size 'ute, and Mercedes-Benz added the G-Class last year.
Land Rover Range Rover
Unlike previous Range Rovers, the '03 model is a monocoque design with three steel subframes. The hood, front fenders, and doors are part of the extensive use of aluminum for weight reduction, though the bigger, gadget-laden '03 Range Rover is hundreds of pounds heavier than its predecessor.
Styling is a moderated interpretation of contemporary retro, with round headlights, low, wide hood with central valley, black-out roof pillars, low beltline, split tailgate, and upswept rear-quarter panels. The side gills are said to vent engine heat (though we couldn't tell how), and for the first time in memory, the wheels had an even number of spokes. We noticed family resemblances to the Mini in the taillights and to the X5 in the mirrors, and the optional bi-Xenon headlamps are best of the test.
The cabin is changed, with more than one tester noting it's lost the warmth and club-like charm of previous Range Rovers. There are eight different materials and finishes in view from the driver's seat, which felt like a few too many, and the wood trim is such we couldn't tell if it's cherry or burled walnut. Given that the ergonomics in an X5 are good, we understand why the gauge panel, tilt-down LCD screen, window and seat switches, and overheard console all looked so familiar. One Rover tradition we could do without are the near-incessant bells, gongs, beeps, and warning buzzers.
Amenities and switches abound in the Rover, with 13 buttons on the thick-rim steering wheel alone. Seats are comfortable, piped power buckets (10-way driver, six passenger), and heat is a group option for front, rear, and the steering wheel. The split-folding rear seat has a flat floor, with traditional heavy rubber interlocking floormats, but now with aluminum trim on the corners. Entry and exit are simplified by doors that open well into the sill, and cargo is readily accessed.
Features include a CD changer behind the glovebox, side-curtain and front-side airbags, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, moonroof, three-zone climate control, three-position memory system, electrically heated and UV-coated windshield (watch where you put that electronic toll transmitter), Park Distance Control, and a sophisticated locking system. Subdued lighting bathes most of the interior, including the door handles and front-door map pockets.