Engine: 5.0 litres, eight cylinders, petrol, supercharged
Top speed: 140mph
Power: 503bhp at 6000rpm
Fuel/CO2: 20.5mpg, 322g/km
Why is it that no rival car company has ever had a proper crack at stealing a slice of the Range Rover’s action? I know my role is usually to provide answers rather than ask questions, but here there is no easy explanation.
It may simply be that the Range Rover was considered inviolable, that it performed the role of luxury SUV so well any attempt to usurp it would end in failure. This happens more often than you’d think: the BMW Mini enjoyed almost a decade with the market to itself while the Rolls Phantom is effectively without rival now Maybach is dead and Bentley’s Mulsanne is a very different kind of luxury car.
But finally the world has woken up and within two years the Range Rover will face more genuine rivals than it has seen in the four decades plus it has so far spent in the marketplace. Bentley, Lamborghini and Maserati’s contenders are already declared, Aston Martin is believed to be pressing ahead with a Lagonda SUV while a true luxury Mercedes SUV is on the cards. I’d like Jeep to make one; after all its 1960s Wagoneer invented the luxury SUV and not the Range Rover as is popularly supposed, but I expect that’s being a little too hopeful.
Besides it’s not as if even the more exalted brands are going to find it easy to break into a market that is as synonymous with the Range Rover as Sellotape is to sticky-back plastic. And to make life more difficult still, Land Rover has just released an all-new Range Rover, only the fourth such car since 1970.
I’ll cut to the part you want to know. It’s extraordinary. Even coming at it from a perspective inherently suspicious of vast and profligate SUVs, there were times during my day on board where I could not suppress a stifled snort of amazement at just how wide this car casts its net. I can see how its incoming rivals might choose to tackle certain areas of its endeavour and using that focus, to arrive at specific solutions even more impressive than those already reached by Land Rover. But across the board? I can scarcely conceive what kind of car could prove so much better as a whole as also to negate Land Rover’s inbuilt advantage of heritage and authenticity.
The new car is available with three engines: a 3-litre, six-cylinder diesel almost all customers in Europe will buy, a 4.4-litre V8 diesel that will undoubtedly offer the optimum blend of performance, range and fuel efficiency and an utterly indefensible 503bhp, 5-litre supercharged V8 model retailing for £98,395. No prizes for guessing which I’m in.
Here’s progress for you. When I first got into this game 25 years ago I briefly ran a Mitsubishi Shogun. Its diesel engine offered a top speed of less than 90mph, 0-60mph sometime the same day and 20mpg if you drove it sensibly. This was in range. Of course there are cars far quicker new supercharged Range Rover takes 5.1sec to reach 60mph, will reach 140mph and will also do 20mpg if you drive it sensibly.
Using that performance is an extremely guilty pleasure. You’re so aware of the car’s looming presence and its capacity to intimidate anything else on the road that I tended to deploy its formidable firepower only when I knew nothing than this, but none with five seats available for a five-figure sum that comes close to providing this level of theatre. You sit high on your throne, blown V8 bellowing away floors below you while tonnes of metal, wood, leather, flesh and bone are projected through the scenery.
It can do this because, vast and heavy though it is, its new aluminium monocoque still makes it several hundred kilos lighter than the old steel Range Rover. It’s also the reason the new car handles so much better than you’d expect. Rightly Land Rover has made no attempt to confer any sense of artificial and entirely spurious sportiness upon the Range Rover for even that monstrous motor merely makes it feel fast rather than sporting, but that in no way disqualifies it from providing true driving pleasure. On the contrary, its accurate steering, carefully controlled body movements and, above all, transformed ride quality, have added real capability to the immense charm of the previous model.
The Range Rover’s finest achievement, then, is that it stacks up very well as a luxury car for which no further qualification is required. For 40 years my forebears and I have been excusing the car by saying, for instance, that its ride is impressive given the car has dual purpose on/off road functions to perform. Or that it’s commendably refined given it’s as tall as a 1960s tower block. We can put all those excuses away now. It may not ride quite as well as a Mercedes S-class or be as eerily quiet as an Audi A8, but it’s close enough to stand comparison without proviso.
And of course, should you feel like driving over the Atlas Mountains or deep into the Sahara desert, or tow a double horse box or a vintage Bentley, it can. You no longer even need to tell the car what kind of work you want it to do: its Terrain Response system is now laden with sensors that know if you’re in mud, snow or sand, or clambering over rocks, and adapts the transmission, engine and suspension mapping to suit.
If it has a fault, it lies in its interior design. The cabin of the previous Range Rover was a landmark of its type, the perfect blend of form and function where wood was used so cleverly it looked structural, as if limbs of trees provided the framework for the interior. I guess it was a near-impossible act to follow, and there’s little you can point at in the new interior that’s wrong — it just lacks that sense of occasion.
It will be interesting to see where Land Rover takes the Range Rover from here. Expensive though this top of the range model is, it’s likely still to be significantly cheaper than most of its forthcoming rivals, especially those from Bentley and Lamborghini. Land Rover also knows from how quickly the ‘Ultimate’ edition of the last Range Rover sold out despite its £120,000 price that there is considerable potential for the new car to move up to and, undoubtedly, beyond this price point.
I’m expecting an elongated version in the spirit of the original LSE Range Rover. All its street-tied rivals are available with a choice of wheelbases and while the Range Rover is now notably more spacious in the back than before, it is now a good enough luxury car to make genuine sense as a chauffeur-driven machine.
And, for the avoidance of doubt, I’d not have the 5-litre supercharged V8. Its tidal wave of performance has novelty value, but the V8 diesel has much more low-down torque and will go well over half as far again on a tank of fuel. It may not be quite so quick, but it will feel even more effortless. A long-wheelbase version powered by such an engine may start to ask questions that even the likes of Bentley might struggle to answer.