2003 Land Rover Range Rover
This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2012.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
It's an odd sensation, sitting in a sport utility vehicle that's stopped at an abrupt angle, one wheel way up off the ground.
But as the 2003 Range Rover rose up and stopped at that angle with me at the steering wheel, I realized I wasn't scared.
After driving this new SUV through an off-road obstacle course, I had decided the Range Rover's easy ability to traverse difficult terrain while behaving gently—yes, gently—qualifies it as the "No. 1 Vehicle to Take Mom and Grandma Off-Road."
Capability isn't the only thing that will impress about the new Range Rover. Its luxury interior breaks new ground in the auto industry with wood-embellished "support beams" in the middle of the dashboard that are striking enough to belong in Architectural Digest.
A lot of "firsts" in $70,000 SUV
For the first time, this flagship of the Land Rover company rides on an all-independent suspension.
This kind of suspension gives the Range Rover a much better ride on pavement. The ride is less truckish, with less bounce over bumps, which everyone—mom and grandma included—is sure to appreciate.
The new Range Rover also is the first with monocoque construction, which uses a combined body and frame unit like that on cars for stiffness and better handling.
This, plus first-time-ever rack-and-pinion steering, helps give the driver a greater sense of control and more confidence on twisty mountain roads, for example, as body motions for this more than 6-foot-tall vehicle feel better managed than in earlier Range Rovers and steering is more precise.
In fact, I found this Range Rover, which is some 9 inches longer and 2 inches taller than its already sizable predecessor, felt like a smaller vehicle when I was in the driver seat.
More new features
This feature, found in many sports cars, adds a sporty touch to this full-size SUV.
Another new feature allows the Range Rover driver to shift from high range to low while the vehicle is still in motion. Before, this was done with the vehicle stopped.
The new Range Rover is the first with a BMW engine that provides the most horsepower and torque ever for a Range Rover.
The 4.4-liter V8 generates 281 horsepower and 324 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm compared with 222 horsepower and 300 lb-ft at 2600 rpm in the previous General Motors Corp.-developed, 4.6-liter V8. A BMW diesel engine that's offered in Europe is not coming to the States.
BMW, by the way, used to own Land Rover and helped engineer this new SUV before selling the company to Ford Motor Co. in 2000.
Making off-road travel easier
Luckily, the Range Rover is an anxiety buster.
In off-road mode, the maximum 11.1 inches between the ground and the bottom of the Range Rover—also known as ground clearance—provide ample room to straddle rocks and wayward debris without damaging mechanicals underneath.
This SUV's full-time four-wheel-drive system keeps all wheels working strongly in muddy conditions, and low range adds another, greater level of "keep the wheels moving" capability if the going gets tough.
If you come upon a hill that looks slick or scary-steep, you can engage the Range Rover's updated Hill Descent Control (HDC) that's designed to keep you stably moving down the hill at a controlled, slow speed.
In fact, with HDC on, I looked like an off-road pro heading down a hillside so steep it had me sort of dangling from the driver seat, held back only by the seat belt.
All I had to do was steer correctly, which is to stay straight down, during the descent. With my foot away from the brake and accelerator pedals, HDC managed the braking and speed for me, keeping the vehicle controlled and gentle on the hillside.
The Range Rover, though large and heavy, went through large dips and gullies with skill, too. Again, proper steering is required.
Once I picked my path and began to proceed slowly—with care for both the vehicle and the environment—I found the Range Rover capably sent power via a new torque-sensing Torsen center differential to the traction-providing wheels.
Inside the vehicle, my ups and downs felt gentle. I'm sure they looked far more dramatic from the outside—like that time I had one wheel up in the air.
Trust me, inside the Range Rover, the experience could be almost sublime.
Range Rovers have a history that's unlike those of other SUVs, even luxury SUVs. English royalty have owned them, for example, and they're known as the most well-traveled vehicles on Earth. Simply, there's status that comes with driving a Range Rover.
Don't buy a 2003 Range Rover without checking out the cherry wood trim. It's lighter than the burled walnut and really highlights the center "support beam" appearance. I think it adds a decidedly contemporary look.
Turn down the strong-sounding stereo to listen to the wonderful engine sounds of that sophisticated, multi-valve BMW V8.
There are more safety features in this Range Rover than in any before it. They include anti-lock brakes, electronic traction control, emergency brake assist, side airbags and head airbags.
But note …
Land Rover officials said it's not a requirement for a Range Rover.
It's still a big climb to get up and down from the Range Rover, although an air suspension system allows a 3.7-inch height change—the highest being off-road mode, the middle being highway mode and the lowest, access mode when passengers need to climb in or out.
Fuel economy in the Range Rover does not impress. This heavy, 5,300-pound vehicle is rated at just 12 miles a gallon in the city and 17 mpg on the highway.
The test 2003 Range Rover had noticeably improved fit and finish compared with previous Range Rovers. Body gaps outside and interior trim pieces were consistent and nicely matched up throughout.
Range Rover has yet to make it into the top three of luxury SUVs in the annual J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality studies.
Lastly, watch for more luxury SUV developments.
It's a hot segment, with several new, competing models out. They include variations of the Cadillac Escalade and the re-engineered 2003 Lincoln Navigator, both of which have powerful V8s and starting manufacturer's suggested retail prices that are some $20,000 less than the Range Rover. Note these models offer two-wheel-drive versions while the Range Rover is available only with permanent four-wheel drive.
Other competitors are new entrants such as the Lexus GX 47 and Porsche Cayenne.