Day one: Designing a new Range Rover must be rather like designing a new Volkswagen Golf. With all that history behind it and the health of the company dependent on it, the top item written on the whiteboard in the meeting room has to be ‘Don’t fuck it up.’ The first thing that strikes you about this car is the doors. Not literally. It’s how massive they are. Swinging one open feels like preparing to enter a shiny and very well appointed building. Once inside you feel quite tiny, what with the width of the interior and the vast amount of headroom. The good news is, it still feels instantly lofty and glassy and like a Range Rover. So they’ve got that bit right.
Day two: This particular car is the top-of-the-range Autobiography model and, with a few options fitted, it costs over £100,000. Yowser. Fortunately, it feels like it. For the first time ever, there’s a sense of integrity to it, as if everything was designed properly using high quality materials. Even the last one had a slight feeling of corners cut and components bought in a job lot from a man in a pub. The only thing that spoils the top notch atmos is the V8 diesel engine which is louder than you might expect and at certain revs sends tingles from its oily workings through the pedals. I’d imagine the supercharged petrol V8 does not suffer from these things. Sadly, you’d have to be a barely-contained lunatic to buy one in the UK. Or a Russian. Which may amount to the same thing.
Day three: This Range Rover has a diesel-burning auxiliary heater which you can set in advance or activate with a little fob. At 6:15 this morning I pressed the ON button on the fob. At 6:30 I came out of the house to find the car making a faint roaring like a central heating boiler whilst gusts of mild air wafted from the interior vents, taking the chill off an early start. It’s not a ground breaking feature – you could have it on the old Range Rover and, Brit car nerd fact fans, the Rover 75 – but it does contribute to an overall feeling of well being. And that’s an important aspect of Range Rovers. Somehow they make everything a little bit better. Sitting up high is nice. Having an excellent view out through huge windows is nice. Even pushing a button and watching both halves of your split tailgate close electrically is, as it turns out, nice.
Day four: Staring at the Range Rover from my bedroom window, I rather like the way it looks. Some of the detailing is a bit Elizabeth Duke but overall it’s a hell of a handsome thing. The sills on the original Range Rover curved upwards at the front to mimic some part of a speedboat. The new one looks quite speedboaty too with a front that appears to be rakishly spearing through water and a long tapering tail that, from some angles, seems to be squatting down. The interior is rather good too. By moving many functions onto the touchscreen in the middle they’ve managed to make the dashboard tastefully minimalist. I have just two complaints. One, the interior is so massive that the master buttons down the left hand side of the screen are too far away. And two, the heated seat controls are within a sub-menu, like on current Jags. On a cold morning you don’t want to fart about with sub-menus, you want your balloon knot burners controlled by a ruddy great button you can jab straight away. Minimalism doesn’t keep your arse warm.
Day five: This evening I have to go to a birthday bash for my mate Andy. My mate Andy lives 120 miles away. This distance barely registers. The Range Rover sits rock solid at proper motorway speeds, very quiet and utterly relaxing. I could have driven all the way to Moscow. But that would have been silly. My mate Andy only lives in Bath. One of the things that marks this out as a proper, top level lux-o-cruiser is the climate control. A lot of cars claim to have thermostatically controlled heating but you still find yourself farting about with the temperature or the fan controls. In this, you select 20 degrees, set it to auto and never touch it again. That’s what you want when you drop 100 grand on a car. Things that are so good you don’t notice them rather than things that make your passengers moan about draughts. See also the keyless entry which pops the locks as soon as you touch the handle. It’s amazing how many car companies manage to make the convenience of such things secondary to how annoying they are.
Day six: Another flawless, effortless cruise down the M4. For a big old bus it’s bloody brisk, this thing. Coming down a sliproad I floored the accelerator and then, after a bout of unexpectedly vigorous acceleration, found myself arriving on the actual motorway a bit too fast. Put some of this down to the Range Rover’s new, lighter, all-aluminium bodyshell. Land Rover claims weight loss of up to 350 kilos over the old model. Actually, this V8 diesel is only about 220 kilos skinnier than the last one but that’s still the equivalent of being able to join a motorway without a really fat bloke and an extremely unhealthy St Bernard on board. The weight saving also manifests itself in the way you can chuck the Range Rover around. The steering seems to have an immediate and effective bearing on what the car does, unlike earlier models where it acted purely in an advisory capacity. The brakes no longer feel like they’re struggling in the face of physics either. Given its size, it’s actually astonishing how it briskly it can swish around country roads. Given its size, it’s also worth remembering that if things go wrong you could completely crush smaller things such as Fiestas, houses and Chichester.
Impressive though much of the chassis is, however, after a few days I’ve had to conclude that the ride is not as good as it should be. On the street it’s still quite off-roader-ish and thuds quietly but very firmly into potholes. At least in such circumstances it feels like the pothole would break first.
Day seven: Designing a new Range Rover must be a total bugger, and not just because of that Golf-ish hand of history that rests on the design team’s shoulders. When Mercedes sets out to create a new S-class they have to make it quiet and luxurious and comfortable. With the Range Rover, the engineers have to do all of those things and make it capable of driving across a quagmire. Which I gather it’s very good at. Surely that’s twice the workload, probably even more. And most people won’t use the quagmire-crossing ability, they just like to know it’s there. With that in mind, this car is remarkable. Using the luxury car standards by which it must be judged, the ride could be better and the engine could be more refined. Buyers have a right to expect the sensation of being carried everywhere in a warm cloud of condensed milk and you’d get more of that feeling from an S-class, an XJ or a 7-series. What you wouldn’t get is the Range Rover’s vast breadth of abilities and its unique sense of occasion. The S-class, the XJ and the 7-series are all very good. But only the Range Rover could be described as majestic.
This car was a Range Rover Autobiography LR-SDV8 with a 335bhp 4.4-litre twin turbo V8 diesel engine and an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Land Rover says it can do 0-60 in 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of 135mph. It costs £94,695 although this test car had a few options on it and was worth £102,640.