SAN FRANCISCO- The , introduced in its current form in 2003, is the monarch of SUV royalty, thanks to former owner BMW, which designed and engineered it before selling Land Rover to Ford in 2000. Since then, we’ve been dreading a new and “improved” Range Rover with a Ford powertrain. No sarcasm necessary, though. For 2006, Ford has replaced the Range Rover’s BMW engine with a pair of tractable, refined, and powerful Jaguar V-8s. The new top-of-the-line, 400-hp supercharged model (at $15,000 more than an HSE) adds speed to the Range Rover’s repertoire of class-leading poise and luxury. With a quick-acting, close-ratio six-speed automatic, smooth acceleration is always a mere foot flex away.
You might think a high-tech, 32-valve mill like this would lack the low-end grunt necessary to motivate a 5800-pound SUV, but acceleration is as impressive off the line as it is at speed, even if it isn’t in the same league as a Turbo or a Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG. As revs climb, the supercharger’s characteristic whine lends a bit of sportiness to the Range Rover’s otherwise muted sound track. Handling is slightly sharper with twenty-inch wheels and reprogrammed stability control, and cruising feels natural up to about 120 mph, at which point the steering gets a bit light and you remember you’re driving a flying brick on wheels.
Trim changes for 2006 include fussy silver plastic mesh grilles on the front and sides (“They look good from far away” was the most enthusiastic comment we could muster) and “grand black lacquer” interior trim, both exclusive to the supercharged model. Last year’s grilles and wood finishes looked grander; sybarites will opt for the still-available wood trim. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes are all introducing new luxury SUVs next year, but at this moment, the Range Rover is still the plutocrat’s off-roader.
Engine: Supercharged 4.2L V-8, 400 hp, 420 lb-ft