From the June 1987 issue of Car and Driver.
“What is this thang? A Toyota?”
“No,” we said, “it’s a Range Rover. It’s sort of like an air-conditioned dune buggy for people who drink bottled water and get expensive haircuts.”
“You sure? It looks like a Toyota.”
“Positive. You could buy three Toyotas for the price of this thing. Hell, you could buy a vacation home for the same money.”
“What’s it got makes it so special?”
“Full-time four-wheel drive. V-8 engine, lots of wheel travel, and plenty of snob appeal. When the queen of England wants to inspect the troops on field maneuvers, she usually shows up in one of these. Saudi princes use them to tailgate parties. That sort of thing.”
“So?” he asks, looking us over pretty hard, implying that we don’t look like either the queen or a Saudi prince.
“We’re just driving it to keep them honest.”
That scene, or something like it, took place at virtually every gas stop between Las Vegas and Ann Arbor. Most observers mistook the Range Rover for yet another Japanese import. That’s not hard to understand, since the RR does look a bit like the offspring of an Isuzu Trooper and a Nissan Hardbody.
As new as the Range Rover may be to Americans, it’s been part of Europe’s stable of four-by-fours since its introduction in 1970. Over the years, the RR has been improved and refined with several updates: a four-door model in 1981, a five-speed manual transmission in 1983, fuel injection and a ZF four-speed automatic in 1985, and a host of minor changes. All along, the Range Rover was building itself an image as an off-road Rambo with the manners of an English country gentleman. It has become the vehicle of choice for the chap who doesn’t want to get his Aston Martin or Rolls-Royce high-centered on a boulder while visiting the tenant farmers.
Before leaving for Michigan, we got a chance to play with our Range Rover at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There we found that a lot of the Bigfoot-in-a-tux hyperbole that one hears about this vehicle is well deserved. We crawled up dunes, forded the Colorado River, bumped over boulders the size of large doghouses, and blasted down miles of gravel roads, and the Range Rover never once bogged down, got tippy, or rattled our teeth loose. Even at 70 mph over unpaved roads, it had a remarkably smooth ride, more like a Cadillac than a dirt donk.
Part of the RR’s poise over the rough stuff is due to the huge coil springs positioned between its rigid axles and its ladder frame. The front spring rates are linear, but the rear springs are dual-rate, started at 123 pounds per inch and rising to 170. These long and compliant coils provide eight inches of vertical wheel travel at the front and a whopping eleven inches at the rear. The resulting suspension suppleness allows the Range Rover’s wheels to conform like the tracks of a tank to the most tortured terrain without bouncing the passengers off the cabin walls, spilling their cocktails, or causing them to blow their cool.
A further refinement is the use of a Boge Hydromat ride-leveling unit in the rear suspension. This device looks like an extra-large shock absorber but performs a somewhat different function. Mounted between the frame and the axle housing on an A-arm (which also serves a locating function), the Hydromat unit uses pressurized gas, hydraulic fluid, and the pumping action of normal suspension travel to help the rear springs support the body on an even keel, no matter what load is being carried. The Hydromat automatically senses a low ride height and closes an internal valve to trap hydraulic fluid above a piston in such a way that a leveling force is produced. If a load is removed and the ride height is sensed to be too high, the valve opens, hydraulic fluid passes through the piston, and the leveling force is reduced.
The Range Rover’s full-time all-wheel-drive arrangement isn’t exactly cutting-edge technology, but it gets the job done, both on- and off-road. The ZF four-speed automatic (the only transmission available) drives a transfer case that delivers power to the front and rear axles by means of a center differential and two driveshafts. The transfer case also has a high and a low range and a means of locking the center differential. 1n high range, the diff lock can be engaged at any speed by flicking the transfer-case lever to the left. To engage the low range, the Range Rover’s speed has to be no more than about 5 mph. You shift the transmission from drive to neutral, push the transfer lever from high to low, and then shift back into drive. In the Superman mode, you can leap tall mountains or flatten your tenants’ sod hovels when they start getting uppity. A warning light on the dash illuminates whenever you lock the center differential.
Despite its extensive use of aluminum body panels, the Range Rover is a 4308- pound chubbette. A major contributor to this obesity is the massive boxed-section frame; with the body off, it looks like something a civil engineer would design to span a river. With so much weight to haul around, the slavish devotion of every one of the 150 horses produced by the 3.5-liter aluminum V-8 engine is required to keep the RR rovering along. There is ample torque on hand, but the RR needs a long runway to achieve takeoff velocity. It requires 13.2 seconds to reach 60 mph. The quarter-mile eats up 19.2 seconds, the Range Rover rolling through the traps at a leisurely 72 mph. In our testing, we found a terminal velocity of 95 mph in third gear. The ZF transmission has a kickdown switch located under the throttle pedal, so you have to lift slightly for an upshift to fourth gear.
Once up Lo speed, the Range Rover is a comfortable, if not particularly aggressive, highway cruiser. Without a whole lot of reserve power on hand, you have to plan your passes carefully. You also have to think ahead if you want to conquer steep grades in a single bound. The drill is to build up a lot of momentum where the road is still flat; then you carry as much speed as possible up the hill. If you rely on the standard-equipment cruise control, you’ll find yourself consistently losing five to seven miles per hour when climbing a long or steep grade. If you lose too much speed, the transmission eventually kicks down for the surge to the top. Short stops also demand planning. It takes the fourwheel disc brakes a lengthy 223 feet to stop the RR from 70 mph.
The Range Rover’s cockpit is comfortable, though not terribly spacious. The front seats have power adjustments for height, seatback tilt, and fore-and-aft position, and they are equipped with adjustable armrests, one per chair. The rear-seat passengers get two armrests per seat. Wherever you sit in the Range Rover, you get a mightier-than-thou view of the world. You’re way up there off the pavement, Commander Cool trading steely looks with the lowlifes in pickups.
Unlike some of the recent Japanese entries into this market, the Range Rover offers few spaces in which to stuff the things you tend to accumulate on long road trips, or even in daily driving. Other than a bin in the center console and a shallow map pocket in each door, there is no place to stash things for easy retrieval on the move. Road drinks invariably end up between your legs, giving you a terminal case of inner-thigh freeze.
While generally comfortable, the RR’s interior is not a resounding ergonomic success. The radio, for instance, is hard to reach and requires taking your eyes off the road for too long a time. The horn button is located at the end of the turn-signal stalk, hardly the ideal location.
A few other areas could also use improvement. The plastic doesn’t have the quality you expect in a $30,000 machine. The unvarnished wood trim pieces along the tops of the doors look like shop-class rejects. Some people may find the wood quaintly evocative, but to us it looks like an afterthought.
The Range Rover’s suggested retail price is $30,825. For that you get a long list of standard equipment, including power seats, power windows, air conditioning, a Clarion four-speaker AM/FM stereo/cassette unit, cruise control, power rear-view mirrors, a rear wiper-washer, and a towing package. The only option is leather upholstery. If your priorities are snob appeal and playing one-upmanship down at the polo club, the price should be an attribute, not an obstacle. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for genuine value, efficient packaging, and modem mechanicals, there is no shortage of alternatives in the dual-purpose market. If you really have to have archaic mechanicals and something with a lot of heft, you could slide yourself into a comparably equipped Jeep Grand Wagoneer for about $5000 less. But it’s tough to pretend you’re Lord Duke Slapsaddle when you’re driving something built in Toledo.
I’d built up quite an image of the Range Rover long before I ever had a chance to drive one. I used to watch John Steed of “The Avengers” catch crooks with one. I’d seen films of Britain’s SAS commandos performing exacting counterterrorist maneuvers with Range Rovers by their sides. And then there was the reputation for how luxurious this workhorse was. I just knew the Range Rover had to be the quintessential four-wheel-drive machine.
My expectations are only partly fulfilled. The Range Rover is no more luxurious than any number of big four-by-fours. Irritating mechanical noises intrude from the engine compartment. And the thing is awfully expensive. I think $35,000 is a lot to ask for a machine that is, at best, only marginally better than its competition.
I don’t think you’d be crazy to spend the bucks if your heart is set on this British four-wheeler. But now I know that John Steed didn’t always get the bad guys just because he had the better wheels. —Arthur St. Antoine
Parnelli Jones once said that racing down Baja is “like being in an all-day plane crash.” For off-roaders sorely tested by tough terrain transmitting itself into their, uh, cabs, the Range Rover is the only answer. This thing rides better than Preparation H.
Off-road, with viscous shock damping and long, wonderfully elastic spring travel, the Rover leaves the Neanderthal four-by-fours wincing in its wake. The only thing that feels like the onset of an all-day plane crash is climbing in and smacking your knees on the low steering column. For everyday driving, the superb chassis dynamics, the fine steering, the true tracking, and the tall glass make you feel as if you’re riding the rails in an observation car. Normally can’t keep tabs on shuffling traffic? No worries, mate: the Rover seats you just high enough for a comfortably layered view.
Too bad the little motor feels like an eggbeater with too many eggs in its basket. With an all-aluminum 350 Chevy up front, more than the ride would take things in stride. Then Rover could claim, “No pain, all gain. ” —Larry Griffin
I can’t get too worked up over the Range Rover. When it was introduced in 1970, it immediately became the definitive blend of off-road capability, on-road comfort, and high style. In the intervening decade and a half, though, most other off-road machines have polished up their manners considerably.
The Range Rover’s coachwork no longer looks particularly futuristic or sleek, its driveline lacks modern Iimited-slip technology, and its luxury features and power assists have been matched by any number of current off-roaders. And the Range Rover is no longer the only four-wheel-drive machine with a decent highway ride. Indeed, now that countless four-wheel-drive cars are available, there is no reason to drive a machine like the Range Rover just to have secure traction on slippery roads.
Perhaps I would feel differently if I trekked into the bushes every weekend to make like an antiaircraft battery whenever any ornithological creature flew overhead. For the kind of use most four-by-four owners have in mind, though, there are many better choices. —Csaba Csere
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