Autos: Range of Emotion

  • Paul Dean

The 2003 Range Rover is the product of Wolfgang Reitzle’s persistence. It is more powerful, taller, roomier, wider, and heavier than any previous Range Rover. It also rides higher, tows more, and, at $100,000 with modest options, is pricier than any of its predecessors.

“It is my beloved baby,” says Reitzle, president of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, which includes Jaguar, Lincoln-Mercury, Volvo, Aston Martin, and Land Rover. Reitzle helped launch the concept that would become the new Range Rover a decade ago when he was with BMW, which then owned Britain’s Rover Group. In 1999, after running the Rover Group for two years and being passed over for the chairmanship of the parent company for the second time in six years, Reitzle left BMW. He went to Ford, which bought Land Rover and placed the company, its products, and its plans within its Premier Automotive Group—and back under Reitzle’s command. “Not a lot of car people can start development of a product with one company and finish it with another,” Reitzle says with satisfaction and maybe a touch of vindication.

Reitzle attaches lofty comparisons to this baby of his, which went on sale in February. The quality of the technology and craftsmanship, he says, matches BMW’s 7 Series. Its on-road performance mimics the smooth punch and balance of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. As far as motoring icons go, he adds, place the Range Rover alongside Porsche’s 911.

Reitzle’s rhetoric runs deeper than the mud that is any Range Rover’s natural element: “Whatever the best solution [during development], we went for it. . . . Every problem was resolved in optimum fashion. . . . It’s just like a fine watch, an uncompromising piece. . . . Seven or eight years from now, this car will still look as good, as fresh, and as obviously a Range Rover.”

Right. Things have been pretty rotten in the state of Solihull for many years now. Reliability of Land Rover products has long lurked near the bottom of J.D. Power ratings. Its vehicles looked dated, and lacked the grunt of perkier contemporaries. And the Range Rover’s on-road performance could best be described as float and roll.

Reitzle acknowledges the lapse. “But we have made huge progress in the past 15 months,” he promises, “and we are at a quality level never known before.”

 

With its enhanced dimensions, the new Range Rover will stand tall in traffic, which is what owning an SUV is mostly about. There is also gentleness here, a definite lack of intimidation thanks to a more fluid profile, rounder edges, and a noticeable reduction in the square-jawed appearance. But a flat front and four-bar grille with its green oval says this is still a Range Rover.

Land Rover has gutted the old interior and created a new one from scratch. Aluminum is everywhere. Yet what could easily fail as an expanse, succeeds as accents because the metal is displayed in three textures: brushed, matte, and foundry.

Lines are sharp, angles acute, and surfaces flat. The sparseness is quite modern, and a curve here, a round there, and the best and most supple of British leathers everywhere make the interior inviting.

The engine will be a 4.4-liter V-8 that in the BMW 7 Series produces a respectable 325 hp. And there are whispers that a 6.0-liter V-12, also from BMW, is being considered for the 2004 Range Rover. At 400 hp, that should transform Reitzle’s baby into the might-iest of the off-road/on-boulevard brutes.

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