The 2006 Range Rover Supercharged was loafing along Interstate 75 on cruise control. Looking straight-ahead, I said to my wife in a near whisper-as if a baby were asleep between us-"It's very, very quiet in here."
She turned toward me with a smile. "I was thinking the same thing."
Only when noise is the norm does one notice silence. And in too many vehicles today, particularly trucks and sport utilities, noise is very much the norm. Range Rover this year put even more sound-dampening material throughout the vehicle and beefed up the insulated side windows. Vibrations are also non-existent, so this is about as smooth and quiet a ride as can be found in a petroleum-powered vehicle.
The Range Rover, of course, is the top sport utility in the world. It really has no competitor. And this new model with 400 horsepower produced by a supercharged V8 engine is best of the best. It's one notch up from Range Rover's HSE model, which was the previous leader.
How much is this new leader? $89,950 is the base price. Our tester had television sets in each front-seat headrest, connected to a DVD player with remote controls and headsets, so the twin girls could watch Finding Nemo yet again. That tacked on $2,500 for a grand total of $92,450 for the tester.
This Range Rover is not just a luxurious sport utility, however. It can compete with the luxury level of almost any car. It will beat most of them. Sound too good to be true? Test drive one yourself when you're in the market for a premium luxury vehicle. You'll see.
Take speed. You can be traveling 80 mph and it seems more like 45. Thus the cruise control gets used-needs to be used. It keeps you honest, especially when this big smooth vehicle seems to be creeping along.
To understand the Range Rover's excellence today, we have to look back. When I began weekly reviews of vehicles in 1989, I didn't write nice things about Range Rovers. They produced vehicles with ridiculous quirks. At highway speeds, the things drifted off center. I said I might consider owning one only if I drove the African veldt.
In 1997, BMW made a huge mistake and bought Range Rover. It tried to do a quick turnaround, but Range Rover bled red ink all over BMW's accounting books. By 2000, BMW gave up, held a fire sale, and Ford bought Range Rover.
For Ford, it was a good deal. The company had already acquired two other British luxury automakers, Aston Martin and Jaguar. Materials from those excellent vehicles could be used in Range Rovers. Plus, BMW had laid all the groundwork for what would be a completely new 2003 Range Rover. Today's 2006 model is little changed from 2003, with the exception of the new engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
The tester's supercharged V8 engine, lifted from Jaguar, produces 400 horsepower, 420 foot-pounds of torque and gets better gas mileage than before, 13 city and 18 highway.
I don't know that I've ever felt safer in any vehicle. Braking is at a sports-car capability-60 to zero in 110 feet! There is all-wheel drive for maximum traction in any weather. Eight air bags cover everyone in the vehicle except the middle passenger in the second row. The superb bi-Xenon headlights turn with the wheels at night. New for 2006 are ultrasonic parking assists for front and rear, plus a rearview camera with a color navigation screen that remains on for a second or two as you pull away in drive. Nice.
Worthy of note:
* The standard stereo system is a Harman Kardon with 710 watts fed to 14 speakers!
* The GPS navigation system can be voice-controlled (as can the stereo and a telephone) and has a feature to retrace your route, so you never get lost in the North Carolina mountains. The guide's voice has a British accent.
* The driver's seat adjusts 16 ways.
* The vehicle's air suspension does wonders for on- and off-road handling, but you'll love its "access" feature. As we pulled up to an ice cream parlor after travels on the interstate, the Range Rover stopped and then lowered itself, like a kneeling camel, to make our exit easier.
* The rear tailgate is split into two pieces for easy cargo loading or sitting. Under the mat of the spacious cargo area is a full-size spare tire.
* Off-road, this Range Rover has the slowest crawl speed in the industry: 2.4 mph at 1,000 rpm. You could cross the Everglades without getting struck, but it might take you a few years.
* The leather and wood in the interior mimics the finest yacht interiors and those on private jets.
I give up. Not enough room to mention everything. If you can think of a luxury feature or anything needed for off road travel, it's probably standard in this Range Rover.
When the 2003 model came out, I said if I could have only five production vehicles in my garage, the top Range Rover would be one of them. With the 2006 Range Rover Supercharged, that's truer today than ever.