Copyright 2001

[ November 25th 2001 ]

The all-new Range Rover, on sale from February, is the best car BMW never built. Ford Motor Company bought Land Rover from the German group 18 months ago, and claims their new model is "the most capable vehicle in the world."

Investment in the model, only the third new version of Range Rover in 31 years, is said to have been around pounds 1billion. At first glance, not a great deal appears to have changed on the outside. Land Rover wanted to keep the basic conservative design as a contrast to the funky styling of small 4x4s like the Toyota RAV4. Every body panel is new, but the Range Rover stays true to its heritage in its extended exterior lines.

But this model is longer, wider and taller, and the more you look at the newcomer, the more you realise the contrasts with the older versions. Lines are smoother and less square. The headlights have the jewelled effect now popular among manufacturers of luxury and sporting cars.

And viewed from the side, it looks much more appealing than the existing model. Inside, the contrasting finish is dramatic, with leather and wood creating the look and feel of a luxury saloon. With the Range Rover and top Jaguars, Ford wants to take on Mercedes-Benz and BMW which, following the recent takeovers of those British motoring institutions, are respectively preparing all-new Rolls-Royce and Bentley models.

BMW also has the X5 4x4 to compete against the Range Rover and Mercedes contests the sector with the ML. Beneath the surface of the Range Rover, all is different, with new electronic aids linked to the permanent all-wheel drive, designed to improve safety and increase comfort. Independent suspension front and rear, and a new chassis, transform the ride, say Land Rover insiders.

The new Range Rover, to debut at January's Detroit motor show, will scale hills and wade through rivers with even greater ease, says Land Rover. The firm's boss Bob Dover said: "It's supremely capable off-road and one of the world's finest luxury cars." BMW, which had to sell Land Rover to cushion the effects of huge losses during its ownership of what is now MG Rover, builds the engines to be used in the new model. These are a 3-litre, six-cylinder turbo diesel and a 4.4-litre V8 petrol unit. Prices are expected to range from pounds 50,000 to pounds 55,000.

Land Rover launched the Range Rover in 1970 to appeal to "country gents" who wanted comfortable transport around their estates. The idea was they could use the car for work during the day, then hose it down before going out for dinner in the evening. At the time, the only other Land Rover was the Defender which, by astute product placement, was Lara Croft's transport in the Tomb Raider film. By 2005, Land Rover is likely to have a new Defender which will look more sci-fi than agricultural.

The Discovery, less expensive and with a younger image than Range Rover, should be replaced in about three years, and Land Rover plan a "mini Range Rover" in around 2006.

Meanwhile, the company launched a range of special editions at last week's Scottish Motor Show aimed at putting the fun into back seat travel. Defender, Freelander, Discovery and Range Rover versions of the Braemar all have Playstation games consoles for rear seat passengers. Available in Blenheim silver paint, they come with additional picnic tables, safari lamps, a rear access ladder and 18-inch sport alloys.

Prices for the Discovery Braemar special edition start at pounds 28,995 on the road.

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