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Taking toughness to a new luxury dimension; RANGE ROVER: Gliding over the rough terrain, mud and water obstacles with a clear sense of style.

Byline: ROBIN ROBERTS Motoring Editor

YOU know its going to be a different sort of vehicle when the specification includes a heated steering wheel. And you might want to securely hold onto it when your road-test starts by driving up and over the roof of an aircraft hangar.

After this high flying start you wonder what depths it might sink to and the answer is revealed two hours later when you find yourself steering between canoe slalom poles suspended over a half-metre deep river you are now negotiating for 200 yards.

It was an eerie experience to look ahead, to the side and behind, and not see a road but an awful lot of white water.

The deep muddy track which followed would have been impossible to walk through, but why worry about such mundane matters when you are sitting cocooned in the cabin of the new Range Rover?

It simply insulates the driver and passengers from some extra-ordinary conditions and everyday worries.

A 250-mile hike over sweeping, rapid and demanding main and secondary roads of Scotland this week was accomplished as effortlessly as it had tackled the grass-roofed hangar at RAF Kinloss or waded the river below Loch Glass.

It was an unusual launch for the latest version of what has become an automotive icon over 30 years. Combining luxury saloon comfort with exceptional off-road capability, it is the original "cross-over" vehicle and has a generation of experience to beat much more modern SUVs which would aspire to the same credentials.

Only the third derivative in those 30 years, the new Range Rover not only builds on its reputation it extends the performance envelope by a considerable margin, particularly with its on-road ability.

All the wealth of experience gained in three decades has been distilled into the new Range Rover. It is bigger and roomier and very modern inside while retaining its exterior landmarks such as the bonnet and floating roof profile.

Initial development was started when Land Rover was owned by BMW and the German company's excellent engines and transmissions are used to great effect with modifications by the Range Rover engineers.

But apart from the power train, it is pure Land Rover and with the new version there is a completely new monocoque body which does not need a separate chassis, independent height adjustable air suspension and the most advanced 4x4 system you can buy.

It is fitted with the latest version of the acclaimed hill descent control and a dynamic stability control to ensure that whatever the driver asks or expects of his vehicle it will perform with the greatest ease and maximum possible safety.

Over a very demanding off road route the Range Rover V8 petrol I tested never failed to impress at any stage or potential obstacle. It simply got on with the job and got through or over the hurdles.

My first test car made some uncharacteristic noises underneath and engineers assured me this was due to the air valves operating in the new suspension and a slightly lose antiroll bar.

A substitute model created less suspension noise but there was still a little road thrumming from the big tyres and wind buffeting around the large mirrors. Under hard acceleration the eager V8 petrol engine could also sound thrashy but cruising was a remarkably quiet experience.

Changing to the diesel was not a disappointment and with 60pc of new Range Rover sales expected to be for the considerably cheaper model it could be a conservative percentage.

It did not have the urgency or response of the petrol engine and it needed more gear changing to gain rapid pickup at motorway speed, but it pulled very well, was very quiet and measurably more economical.

The Range Rover Td6 engine easily pushed into the mid to high 20s compared to the V8 petrol engine's sub to low 20s. But if you could afford the new Range Rover you are unlikely to be troubled by the fuel consumption and instead appreciate its luxury and its ability to climb over an aircraft hangar or cross a river.

If you want to know if it does what it says on the can: It can.

pounds 43k-pounds 60k

IN the UK both petrol and diesel versions of the new Range Rover will be sold in three models - the SE, HSE and Vogue, all available with either the Td6 six-cylinder diesel or V8 petrol engine. Prices start at pounds 42,995 for the Range Rover Td6 SE - the same price as for the outgoing entry level model - rising to pounds 59,995 for the flagship Range Rover V8 Vogue.

The new Range Rover will be available through the Land Rover UK dealer network from March 15 2002.

Priced at pounds 42,995 for the Td6 diesel and pounds 49,995 for the V8 petrol, the SE model features leather seats with electric adjustment, leather covered steering wheel, automatic air conditioning, cruise control and a sixspeaker in-car entertainment system with single CD facility. Safety features include eight airbags including head airbags for the rear seat passengers and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

HSE models are priced at pounds 45,995 for the Td6 and pounds 52,995 for the V8 and feature heated leather seats with adjustment memory that also automatically adjusts the steering column and electro-chromatic exterior mirrors. Fascia wood trim in either cherry or walnut is offered in addition to the standard Foundry finish.

An upgraded in-car entertainment system with 11 speakers and a glovebox-mounted CD autochanger is fitted. Convenience features include rain sensing windscreen wipers, park distance control and Bi Xenon headlamps.

The top-of-the-range Vogue models are priced at pounds 51,995 for the Td6 and pounds 59,995 for the V8. The Vogue specification features Oxford leather Comfort front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. At the heart of the 12-speaker in-car entertainment system with Digital Sound Processing (DSP) is a widescreen monitor with TV and satellite navigation system.

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SPLASH OUT: It is expensive but the Range Rover copes with driving out of water beautifully
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Title Annotation:Motoring
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 19, 2002
Words:1013
Previous Article:Ride, walk, golf or fish for fun; DARTMOOR: A chance to kick off the city grime and enjoy nature.
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