2003 Land Rover Range Rover

Tim Andrew

A feat that was not to be, actually. Let's just chalk that S-class talk up to a bit of overenthusiasm for the incredible level of refinement this off-road wonder has achieved. The steering is still a bit numb, although it is certainly better. You can crash the slick new air springs on bumps with the sort of rapid steering inputs you'd use in an emergency avoidance maneuver at 40 or 50 mph. During ordinary cornering sweeps, however, body roll is nicely controlled. Emergency Brake Assistance and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution lend great composure under heavy braking.

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The heavens emptied, and I drove hard, finding the Range Rover faster overall but still a bit sluggish. The dual-range throttle is mapped for on- and off-road use. On the low road, pedal travel is long, mushy, and somewhat vague; on the high road, you have to push through a lethargic initial pedal to get to the engine growl. And that growl is tamer than the X5's. Says Dover, "There was no conscious decision to detune the engine sound. We spent a lot of time on engine and gearbox mounting, on the door seals (there are two), and on sound deadening. People think quiet cars are quality cars. This is the quietest 4x4 we can find." Will Ford be replacing that BMW engine with one of its own any time soon? "Don't hold your breath," says Dover. "It costs so much, with crash testing and so on, to do an engine. And we're very happy with the BMW engine."

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As were we. We were happy with all of it, actually, S-class whipper or not. We came here looking not for a luxury sedan but for an extreme off-roader with better on-road manners than its predecessor. We found all of that, wrapped in exquisite raiment. It's modern, it's roomier, it's quiet, it's beautiful, and it works like crazy. The Range Rover will cost like it, too, but you were expecting that, weren't you? This should not be a problem, says Land Rover's marketing director, Matthew Taylor: "One thing all Range Rover buyers have in common is money. They have money."

They will need it. The Range Rover will hit our shores in June with a base price close to $70,000, topping out at about $80,000. (The first ones all will have the extra-cost bi-xenon headlamps, and a third of them will have the optional "contour" front seats.) Land Rover hopes Americans will want 11,000 of them by 2003. We'd call it a leadpipe cinch.

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