2004 Range Rover road test - Andrew Noakes - Motoring Writer

Land Rover pulled no punches about the third-generation Range Rover on its launch in 2002. LR boss Bob Dover called it 'the world's most capable vehicle, with the greatest breadth of ability of any vehicle ever made,' and even allowing for launch-day hyperbole it's clear that Solihull and its Ford masters have enormous confidence in the new machine.

The new L322-series Range Rover is significantly different to previous generations, and much more car-like in its design. It's based on a monocoque chassis and body, instead of the truck-like box-section chassis frame and separate body of previous generations. It also has independent suspension all round instead of the beam axles which were used front and rear on previous Range Rovers to give them superior off-road ability, at some cost to their roadability.

A vehicle this big and this tall will never drive like a sports car, but the third-generation Range Rover is rarely out of its depth on a paved road, and it's fun to thread down a winding lane thanks to sharp steering response, the well-controlled air suspension and plenty of power from the BMW-derived 4.4-litre V8 engine.

Better yet, a day at Eastnor Castle, Land Rover's off-road test and training venue, demonstrated that the Range Rover has lost none of its forebears' ability on the loose. The latest iteration of the air suspension system delivers an off-road ride quality which is streets ahead of any rival, making the L322 Range Rover possibly the most comfortable way of traversing a rutted track yet devised. Luxury is all very well, but the air suspension offers practical benefits off-road: the driver can focus on the course and terrain, and the system offers adjustable ride-height which can be raised to deal with the most serious obstacles.

The only significant flaw is mammoth fuel consumption, though few Range Rover buyers are likely to find that offputting.

It's easy to see why Land Rover believes this car has such all-encompassing ability. It cossets passengers across every terrain, deals with on-road and off-road dramas with equal aplomb, looks terrific and is easy and fun to drive. Fuel consumption apart, it's difficult to fault.

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