I had admired the Range Rover since its introduction in 1970, a vehicle that was impressive on the road as it was awesome off pavement. My Land Rover-owning friends at the time naturally scoffed at it, mainly out of envy I thought. I first thought seriously about getting one when an interest in ghost town photography had led me to the "need" for a 4WD vehicle. I researched all the currently available SUVs, and concluded the Range Rover was the only one available that was seriously designed for off road use. At the time, there was no US Defender or Discovery although if there had been, I don't think my decision would have been different. These other models, while worthy in their own right, cannot keep up with a Range Rover in most off road situations, and are far behind in sheer panache.
EARLY EXPERIENCE WITH THE CLASSIC
Exploring old mines and ghost towns, I soon gained a tremendous respect for what this vehicle could do. I was amazed how you could just point it in the desired direction and it would calmly surmount almost any obstacle. Over the next few months I experienced some minor problems like the steering box leaking and some slight driveline vibration. The top radiator hose also gave out and was replaced. These were small annoyances that could happen on any vehicle. The next summer I replaced the belts and hoses as a preventive measure. I soon equipped the Rover with a shovel, pick, axe, prybar, fire extinguisher and CB radio, and secreted a supply of vital spare parts around the nooks and crannies of the vehicle just in case. I soon expanded my range of off-road operations including my first introduction to the Black Rock Desert, and trips to Death Valley and the Anza Borrego with my uncle and desert expert Joe Maulhardt. Many of my expeditions were solo, and after a year or so I decided I would be safer if I had a winch, and set about designing a winch mount which I built and installed with Joe's help.
During this period the Range Rover also saw frequent duty as a family hauler, pulling a 20 ft trailer to various vacation destinations. I learned the value of anti-sway devices for pulling trailers with short wheelbase vehicles, but the Range Rover performed flawlessly, allowing us to get to primitive camping spots that would have been out of the question with a 2WD tow vehicle. On one memorable occasion we were crossing the Sierras in a snowstorm which caused Highway 80 to be closed a few minutes after we got through. The Range Rover pulling the trailer never lost traction, but a Mercedes spun off the road in front of us when trying to stop and start.
As time went on, I gradually pushed the limits far enough on some occasions to find out that even a Range Rover can, indeed get stuck. However this happened very seldom, and my overall impression was one of vast appreciation for the amazing off road prowess of this vehicle, which enabled me to cover territory I would never have attempted otherwise. I also found that whenever I was in convoy with four wheelers in other (non-Range Rover) vehicles, it was constantly necessary to stop and let them catch up whenever we were crossing severe terrain.
Looking back over 6 years and 100,000 miles with frequent off road travels, I am frankly surprised to have had so few serious mechanical problems. Only two caused major disruption; one was the temperature gauge going off the dial just as I was setting off for the desert. The engine did not seem overheated, but I postponed the trip. The problem turned out to be a bad coolant temperature sender. I was mightily relieved! The second was related to a fuel tank recall; the replacement tank would collapse under vacuum buildup, hitting and disabling the fuel pump. After three episodes, RAB, at no charge, heroically took the fuel system apart and found the culprit, the vacuum relief/rollover valve on the evaporative tank inside the right rear quarter panel. The part had to be specially delivered from the UK due to flourishing demand.
These episodes were supplemented by the usual complement of irritating but minor Range Rover glitches like a chronically leaking steering box, in spite of two rebuilds, a malfunctioning idle stepper motor, temperamental door locks, two air conditioning thermostats, and periodic sensor failures. In the fullness of time, I naturally had to replace some components that wear out on any vehicle, like the radiator, alternator, suspension bushings, springs and shocks. The heater core was a known weak point in the 1989 model, and sure enough mine blew, but only after 120,000 miles. Many other items I had to replace or fix, like window and seat control switches, owed their demise at least partly to 12,000 miles of desert dust. I do not chastise Joseph Lucas for succumbing to this treatment, especially since he originally had the damp and dust-free climate of Merry England in mind!
In sum, with the mileage at 152,000 when I sold the vehicle I had no complaints. In fact, I am impressed that apart from the various engine ancillaries, the basic drivetrain needed no work whatsoever other than routine maintenance. The engine and transmission still ran just like new. Oil consumption was always high, not to mention fuel consumption, needing top-ups with every few gas stops, but usage remained constant, and I have read that many examples of this engine used quite a bit of oil. Naturally, after 150,000 miles some of the components leaked a bit, but I would be interested to see any other brand of SUV hold up as well under off road use. Indeed, I have heard of J**ps whose shocks started leaking after a single off-road trip.
Most other owners I know have had similar experiences. Horror stories are available in any brand, see the March, 2000 issue of Automobile Magazine for a tale of woe on their long-term Jeep Grand Cherokee. It does seem that the later model Classics, 93 onwards, with the new air suspension, ABS, etc were more likely to develop expensive faults in these new systems, and when purchasing these models an extended warranty would be well worth considering. Overall, however, my ownership experience is probably typical, with a number of minor annoying problems but good reliability of the basic drivetrain.
PARTING WITH A FRIEND
Taking a test drive with the nice folks who bought my Classic Range Rover was a strange experience for me, and made me question my sanity with regard to my decision to sell. It is extremely difficult and wrenching to part with a friend who has taken me to so many magical places, got me out of so many jams, brought me home safely from situations I deserved to be stranded in, and been my constant companion as a "daily driver". In saying goodbye to this old friend, I begin to understand the propensity of so many Rover owners to become "collectors", keeping their old vehicles when they buy the next one. There is something different, a certain mystique, about all Land Rovers which engenders a devotion and camaraderie among owners beyond anything known for lesser breeds of vehicles. Whatever the reasons, parting with my Classic Range Rover brought tears to my eyes. I looked forward to making friends with a more current Range Rover, but this long-time companion would be hard to replace.
SWITCHING TO A MARK II/P38 4.0SE
People sometimes asked the inevitable, how did the "new" Range Rover compare to the Classic? Partly to answer this question, I switched in 1998. My RR has always been my only transport, and with my first one heading inexorably towards 200,000 miles I could not expect it to last forever. My habit of solo trips into the remote back country made me want a newer vehicle for safety's sake. Choosing between a later model Classic and a Mark II/P38, I was influenced more by my curiosity about the newer model than any objective consideration. Initially I had been skeptical of the new model's off road ability and had not been anxious to update. However in 1998 a winch option for the Mark II/P38 finally became available, and re-reading an off-road comparison test in a 1995 issue of Automobile Magazine bolstered my faith in the new design's off road capability. I decided to take the plunge.
I found a suitable 4.0SE with only 35,000 miles on it, and due to my lack of "hands on" mechanical experience with the new model, got it checked out by the local dealer, RAB Motors (now Land Rover of Marin). They performed a number of recall operations on it that had not been done by the previous owner, fixed a couple of inevitable oil leaks, replaced the front shocks, and gave it a new set of tires and brakes. They also installed the Warn 9,000 lb winch for me.
Mark II/P38 4.0SE MAINTENANCE COSTS
After the initial check-up, my first act was to take the vehicle on an off-road shakedown cruise to bring any "bugs" to the surface. Sure enough a few showed up, including a strange problem that created a "gearbox fault" message every time I went round a hard right hand curve. This was traced to a loose connector in the transmission wiring harness. The harsh weather encountered on this trip also showed up a windshield leak due to a previous incorrectly performed repair. A front air spring proved to be worn out, the water pump had to be replaced, and the ABS was overreacting due to an incorrectly installed wheel speed sensor.
After these teething troubles, the new Rover settled down to a steady repair routine, with slightly fewer problems than my Classic -- but with with each item more expensive to repair. It seemed to take two to three thousand dollars in annual parts and labor costs (aside from scheduled maintenance) to keep it in top condition. Since the initial shakedown, a steady stream of other items had to be replaced -- all the air springs, a leaking inlet manifold gasket, a door lock actuator, a 3 way air conditioning pressure switch, the transfer case ECU, many oil seals, the air compressor mountings, an updated air conditioning compressor harness, the alternator, the right hand exhaust manifold, and a suspension height sensor. Under my policy of preventive maintenance, I also replaced a number of other parts that would probably have lasted longer, such as my radiator, fan clutch, battery, rear shocks, the last original air spring, etc. Loaded with high technology and $1,000 parts, the Mark II/P38 is an expensive vehicle to run. After a year or two of ownership, I wished I had obtained an extended warranty at the time of purchase.
THE DOG THAT DID NOT BARK IN THE NIGHT
Aside from the periodic repair bills that kept my check writing skills from fading and help support the local Land Rover dealer, I found that the 4.0 gave satisfaction in NOT having many of the persistent, minor but annoying hassles of the Classic. The seat switches and door locks did NOT quit every few months, freezing cold air did NOT filter through the dash when trying to get warm, false warning lights did NOT keep showing up at random intervals, and the idle speed did NOT start surging after a few hours of desert dust. Similarly, I found the enjoyment of the new model not so much in the plethora of electronic features and sophistication, but in the basic mechanical and electrical systems that were got right in the redesign. It is nice NOT having to provide constant steering input just to stay in your lane on the freeway, NOT having to wait until the engine is stalling before the transmission downshifts, NOT to hit your head on the sunroof lining, NOT to have a permanently, incurably leaking steering box, NOT to have a flimsy track rod that seems to bend whenever you go over a bump, NOT having the door locks seize up or the idle speed control become wildly erratic after a day in the desert, NOT having a permanent sagging rear end or list to starboard, and NOT having the interior filling instantly with dust on dirt roads. It is good to have air conditioning that really works and headlights and reversing lights that render auxiliary lighting unnecessary. Many intangible benefits such as these separate the 4.0/4.6 from the timeless but idiosyncratic Classic.
MY FEELING ON THE MARK II/P38 4.0 vs CLASSIC
On pavement, there was no question about the relative refinement and safety; the 4.0 won hands down over the Classic and was a pleasure to drive long distances in a way the older model never was. For a vehicle lacking the power to out-accelerate the average economy sedan, the 4.0 is a remarkably fast A to B cruiser. It is also a far superior tow vehicle, although sometimes a slight shortage of horsepower made me wish I had gone for a 4.6 model when towing a heavy house trailer.
Off pavement, my feelings were mixed. Here, I found the P38/4.0 was by no means a quantum leap ahead of its predecessor, but also was not the compromised off-roader described by some. The fat wheels and tires on US models could not equal the Classic on old-fashioned muddy roads -- although the flip side was superior performance in deep sand and questionable "dry" lake playas. But wheels and tires are easily swapped, and after tweaking my 4.0 to personal taste, including UK spec wheels and narrower tires, I was confident in taking it any place I felt able to go in my (also tweaked) Classic -- and even some I did not.
My main gripe was losing the superlative off-road ride of the coil sprung Classic, which, on the average rough road or trail, made it impossible to keep up with in any other vehicle. The newer model rode harshly over bumps and rough terrain, due to the designers' efforts to give it sporty pavement handling. OTOH, it was a safer handler on washboard and good dirt roads, and its longer wheelbase helped smooth out the terrain. The track rod did not constantly get bent by ground contact as on the Classic, and the air suspension's ability to maintain high clearance fully loaded allowed going through washouts without dragging the tail on the ground. I could also drive in convoy without breathing dust, avoid constant bottoming out, and load up the vehicle without worrying about losing ground clearance.
Overall, I found myself genuinely enjoying the new model, except for its hard ride (although even this was much softer than the Discovery II). Its modern luxuries were seductive, and doing without some of the annoying foibles of the Classic was easy to bear. More practical and enjoyable as a daily driver, it was also equal to any off road challenge I was brave enough to tackle. Undeniably, however, I did sometimes miss the timeless looks and the "magic carpet" off-road ride of my old Classic....
My 4.0 carried me through 150,000 miles of adventures, and many situations from which was lucky to escape. The longer I had it the more I appreciated its basic ruggedness and its often under-rated abilities. Even after getting the Mk III (see below) I was reluctant to part with it, and used it as a spare runabout vehicle for another year before finally selling it under pressure from my family. I was much sadder than I expected to see it go. Now, if I had just had the foresight to get that extended warranty in 1998....
UPGRADING TO A MARK III/L322
After 6 years of faithful service, the near-180,000 miles on my 4.0 got my family concerned and "forced" me into buying a Mark III/L322 model. I confess that as soon as the Mark III was launched in mid-2002, I had fallen in love with it. I thought it much truer to the original Range Rover concept, making the P38 seem an interim compromise. Like the original, the third model adopted radical concepts. The monocoque body and all-independent suspension were as heretical to off-roaders as the original's all-round coils were in 1970. The designers had clearly enhanced both on and off road ability. With a body design that dropped the P38 blandness and adopted more Classic cues, a powertrain that left the earlier models for dead, and an interior that won all kinds of awards, this "clean sheet" design was in my mind a true breakthrough on the scale of the original Range Rover concept.
Taking delivery of my 2004, I was ecstatic. The upholstery and interior appointments were of much higher quality, and made it an attractive place to spend long periods. On the pavement it felt more like a car, with a supple ride combined with absolute smoothness and refinement. Accelerating, braking, cornering and rough surface performance were effortless, and as noted in magazine reviews, the vehicle seemingly lets you push the limits further and further. It is a very fast and competent cruiser indeed, and its overall performance belies its modest 9 second 0-60 time. I have to be careful not to get speeding tickets in this one!!
Off road, I was pleased to find it had gone some way towards shedding the harsh ride of its predecessor. In "High" mode the ride was more supple and flexible (even with the stock 19 inch wheels and tires). The rear overhang did not scrape the ground as often, the greater wheel travel kept the wheels on the ground and the more advanced traction control usually kept them gripping -- except on muddy climbs where the wimpy street-oriented treads were out of their depth. These tires stood up pretty well to my off-road punishment until after half a dozen desert trips including a lot of sharp rocks, I finally ruined one (putting one hole in the center of the tread and one in the sidewall). Since then I have similarly ruined several more -- switching to 18 inch wheels and more serious all terrain tires (which finally became available in 2006/7) is on the agenda. Overall, the Mark III has a better off-road ride than the P38, although it still does not equal the Classic in this regard. Aside from less compliance, it still makes thumping and bumping noises when it "tops out", as when dropping off a berm or slight terrain irregularity. Another annoying feature off road is that the suspension lowers to standard height at only 30 mph (compared to 35 on the 4.0), and at only 25 mph yo get an annoying audible and visual warning.
MARK III/L322 MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS
After experience with my other Range Rovers, I did make sure of getting an extended warranty -- I am hoping it will act in the same way as carrying an umbrella does in preventing it from raining! Although the new model is a bit more reliable and "sorted" than its predecessor, still comes last in the JD Power rankings, so I still find there is a steady stream of minor issues needing to be fixed. Mine is probably in the shop about once every 2 or 3 months for these repairs, such as replacement of the rear air springs, various defective items of trim, tailgate latches, several repairs of the steering column adjustment mechanism, oil leaks, etc. The only serious mechanical repair so far has been the front diff, the notorious weak spot of this model (see the front diff page for more details). The number of needed repairs is certainly still far greater than other makes -- my wife's new Toyota Sequoia purchased the previous year has barely had a single issue since new. Land Rover build quality is clearly improving, but others have improved faster, so Rovers still tend to score at the bottom of all the quality surveys. On the other hand, they do much better in "Owner Satisfaction" -- putting up with a higher rate of minor build quality shortcomings is a small price to pay for life with such an amazing vehicle.
MY FEELINGS ON THE MARK III/L322 vs EARLIER MODELS
I really believe Wolfgang Reitzle did a wonderful job on the new model, dramatically enhancing refinement and on-road performance while also improving off road capability. Driving my old 4.0 felt like going back to a dray by comparison with the newer model (admittedly the comparison was exaggerated by the rough ride of the mud terrain tires I had on the 4.0 in its latter years). Sometimes I wish the new model was a bit smaller, but its interior roominess is appreciated when I need to transport family members. (And, those who want a slightly smaller model can now buy the Range Rover Sport!). Until I can get rid of its ridiculous 19 inch poseur wheels with their racetrack tread and minimal tire sidewalls, I still do not feel as confident in its ability to negotiate rocky or muddy terrain as I did in the 4.0 or the Classic. Also, I am not as comfortable with bashing its undercarriage on rocks due to its lack of a separate chassis. The ride is still not as good as the Classic -- maybe no future vehicle ever will be! But its many other improvements make it feel superior to both its predecessors in almost every respect, and I can imagine it being my friend for a very long time!
RANGE ROVER vs OTHER LAND ROVER MODELS
Throughout my period of Range Rover ownership, I have had the pleasure of driving the other Land Rover models a fair amount, both on and off road, allowing some interesting comparisons.
Classic vs Series: When I obtained my Classic, most Land Rovers in the US were Series models, and most Series owners were of the opinion that Range Rovers were just for the effette and poseur classes. They were also extremely skeptical of Range Rover off road ability. Of course, in practice the Classic RR could run circles around the Series Land Rover both on and off road, but it was surprising how long it took to convince the doubters. Enough said.
Classic vs Discovery I: The Discovery came out in the later years of Classic RR production, and was basically a Range Rover with different body panels, some missing parts, and cheaper trim. The main mechanical thing missing was the rear load leveler strut, which on the RR allowed the designers to use extremely soft springs for better ride and off road traction. (Also when the later model RR Classic introduced air suspension the Discovery continued with coils). I preferred the RR's automatic locking (viscous coupled) center diff, but others prefer the Discovery's manual setup. The interior of the Discovery was not as nicely done as the Range Rover, with more hard plastic pieces scattered about, and the vehicle lacked the Classic RR's "Classic" look, but it was probably better value for the money.
4.0/4.6 vs Discovery II: When the Discovery was redesigned to retain the same Discovery body style but with P38 Range Rover-derived mechanicals and underpinnings, the rear overhang was made much longer resulting in easier hangup on off road obstacles. The ride was much stiffer than in the Range Rover, a feature that I did not like. The cheaper trim and greater use of hard plastic interior parts befitted the less expensive model. Overall this was my least favorite Land Rover, but I am biased!!
RR Mark III/L322 vs LR3: The LR3/Discovery III benefited greatly from the experience of designing the RR III. Its body is highly utilitarian, spacious, comfortable and intelligently laid out. It has greater payload capacity than the RR. The further refined independent suspension is better than the RR version, with a softer ride off road and no loud thumping and banging noises. Its only drawback off road is reduced ground clearance, but otherwise I prefer it to the RR for off road driving -- a sad day for the Range Rover name!! With the same engine as the base model RR, it is also a lively on-road performer. This is the first Discovery (called LR3 in the US) I would seriously consider buying.
RR Mark III/L322 vs Sport The Sport is the first Range Rover to be based on a Discovery instead of the other way round! As such, compared with the RR III it benefits from the better LR3 suspension, albeit retuned for a firmer ride. For such a fast on-road stormer it turns in a remarkable performance off road, and has the advantage of reduced size. The interior trim is somewhat less luxuriant than the "real" Range Rover, but that is one of the few downsides of this very popular model.