The Range Rover is probably the most useful car there is. This is a car that whisk five people in supreme comfort to, oh, let’s say the south of France, carrying a lot of luggage and towing a 3.5 ton trailer. And once you’re in the south the France you can cruise up and down the Riviera looking like you own half the place, or do some serious off-roading.
But where does the Range Rover feel most at home? I pondered that question as I climbed aboard at the end of our test car’s week at OM Towers. During that time it’s done everything you could possibly ask of it (except the towing) and done all of it exceptionally well.
But being good at something and feeling comfortable doing it aren’t the same thing. It is very possibly the best off-roader in the world (the degrees of separation are small in the Land Rover range). But you still have to get to where you want to go off-roading, which is usually somewhere in the countryside. And the Range Rover really is too big for the countryside. Especially the narrow lanes around the office. It’s not length that’s the issue – though at over 16 feet nose-to-tail it is very long. It’s the width that’s the problem – six and-a-half feet before you add the enormous wing mirrors. I lost count of the number of times I had to dive for the verge to squeeze by on-coming traffic that my daily Peugeot would sail past. At least, sat so high, you can see problems coming.
It doesn’t feel that at home once you’re out of the lanes and onto A-roads, either. It corners much more keenly than you would expect, helped by air suspension that keeps it completely level and soaks up the worst of our ruined roads. But the steering tells you nothing and and there’s a slight vagueness around the straight ahead, which means you’re never entirely sure what the front wheels are doing as you turn into a corner.
Matters improve as the road widens the speed increases – the handling feels much more secure on fast sweepers than tight switchbacks. The ride isn’t quite as serene as you might expect, initial impacts making themselves heard with a distinct thud. It’s actually more stiffly sprung than my Peugeot but, crucially, those impacts aren’t transmitted through the body into the interior. Previous generations of air-suspended Range Rover isolated you from the road; this one insulates you from the road.
On the motorway, the Range Rover is nothing short of crushing. Fitted with 21-inch wheels, our car threw up quite a lot of road noise, but you can easily drown it out turning up the thumping stereo. More to the point, you can luxuriate in the 4.4 SDV8 engine’s bottomless mid-range grunt. 334bhp and 546lb/ft of torque sounds immense, but initial pick up isn’t anything special – there is 2.5 tons of inertia to overcome. Once you’re up and running, though, it surges forward on even a tickle of extra throttle.
But all this is bread-and-butter for a big luxury car. In this sort of environment it’s no better than a Mercedes S-Class and even a Fiat Panda isn’t really much worse. Motorways are a job a car has to do – they’re not really the natural habitat of any. Well, maybe apart from the Vauxhall Insignia.
Then I drove it into London and suddenly the Range Rover started to make a lot more sense. Size is still an issue, but if you’re an assertive driver, and really you have to be in it, you make it work to your advantage. Insulation from the noise, hubbub and ravaged road surface is near-enough total. The high driving position gives a better view of the sights (the optional panoramic roof helps there, as well). The steering that was a bit too light and vague on the open road makes maneuvering and quick lane changes extremely easy. Weird, then, that a car ostensibly designed for the great outdoors feels most at home in the city.
Incidentally, throughout my drive in the Range Rover, m’colleague James was ensconced in the back seat, watching TV and charging his phone. His verdict: it’s a brilliant way to travel and go sight-seeing round London.
There are some issues that would eventually become really annoying living with a Range Rover everyday. Like many cars it doesn’t have a proper key and like all those cars there’s nowhere to put the fob. Or a phone. Or a pair of sunglasses. And sliding out gets the back of your trousers mucky. You need to be pretty limbre to get in, as well. And there’ll always be the question of reliability, never a Land Rover strong suit.
But even at £95,000 (as tested) I would probably find a way to live with its foibles. Because, much more importantly than where it feels most at home, I feel completely at home in it.
N.B. Forgive the quality of the images – they were taken rather hurriedly on my phone.
Range Rover 4.4 SDV8 Vogue SE
Engine: 4.4-litre V8 turbo diesel
Driveline: 8-speed auto; four-wheel-drive
Power/Torque: 334bhp; 543lb/ft
0-62mph/Top speed: 6.9 secs; 135mph
Economy/Emissions: 33.6mpg; 219g/km
By Only Motors