Range Rover 4.6 HSE

I t had to happen one day. The original Range Rover (b 1970) lives on, just about, in Classic guise but the marques destiny lies elsewhere.

The ever-increasing quality/ ability of luxury off-roaders from Japan and the States made it inevitable that Range Rover would have to do more than refine the dynamics of its boxy, but desirable, old favourite.

Middle-age flab is setting in. The contemporary machine looks more substantial, perhaps more cumbersome, though it’s still elegant in its own way. Launched 18 months ago, the 1996 range is available with three engine options: a 2.5-litre turbodiesel (the excellent BMW unit); 4.0-litre petrol; and, as tested here, the 4.6 HSE.

It costs £45,550, putting it bang in lower Mercedes S-Class/BMW 7-Series territory. There again, it has certain limousine qualities, not to mention appreciable vim for something of its size and weight, with a top speed approaching 120 mph and a claimed figure of 9.3s for the 0-60 mph sprint.

The most impressive gains, however, are in the comfort zone. The latest electronic air suspension automatically adjusts the ride height to compensate for variations in terrain and circumstance, keeping the body level when towing (or returning from a French supermarket, which usually leaves you with goods weighing at least as much as a two-berth caravan). Ride quality is superb, and the cushioning effects do not overly restrict the chassis’ feedback.

Trick as it may seem, the suspension makes a positive contribution to use of the Range Rover as an off-roader (something I have yet to witness outside magazine articles and Range Rover sales brochures). As for the rest of it, it really is the ultimate all-rounder. A vehicle for any day, any weather, anywhere.

The air suspension is common to all models. If the thirsty HSE (don’t expect to better more than 16/17 mpg overall) isn’t your cup of tea, prices for the last word in versatility start at £33,350 for the most ‘basic’ 4.0 V8 and turbo diesel variants. S A