Four decades and just four generations old, the Range Rover is a kind of Duesenberg of its time, only more influential. Not only did it give rise to a whole new class of car in the SUV, it also remains, on balance, at the head of the pack it spawned.
In the 4.4 SDV8 oiler we have the middle variant amid three engine options, bookended by the base TDV6 diesel and JLR’s 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8. There are four trim levels: HSE (V6 diesel only), Vogue (V6 or V8 diesel), Vogue SE (V8 diesel or supercharged V8 petrol) and Autobiography (ditto).
So the Vogue SE we have here sits upper-middle in the range. The ask is big at $217,100 (plus on-road costs), but relative to its market, so is the offering.
The cockpit is a subtle update, retaining the virtual gauges of the thin-film transistor (TFT) instrument panel, the mega-multifunction steering wheel with its layered switchgear, the Terrain Response dial on the console and the signature gearshift knob that rises from its recess in the console at a press of the start button.
Still there, too, is the familiar dual-view centre screen, allowing the passenger to watch TV or a DVD while the driver stays with navigation and touchscreen controls. In support is an excellent 825-watt Meridian audio package.
Neat luxe touches abound — the logo-typed puddle lighting, for example and the wireless headphones all round. Our test vehicle’s optional console fridge proved big enough for several decent sized flasks.
The console switch that drops the suspension to assist with entry and exit is more gimmick than real help — it’s a long way up and down regardless. Indoors it’s light, spacious and airy — you’d be hard pressed to find better than the tri-zone climate control.
Everything, but everything, is electric; down to the rear seat recline/fold mechanisms, the soft-closing doors, both halves of the two-piece tailgate and the 18-way adjustment for the heated and cooled front seats.
Few city limos come this well equipped.
Not surprisingly, then, it’s also complex. It can get a bit fiddly learning the wheel and touchscreen controls, but all up it’s an excellent HMI considering what’s asked of it.
A little extra wheelbase shows up in a small improvement in rear legroom. That said, I had a couple of adult passengers who noted that this isn’t a high point for a vehicle of its size. Elsewhere, space and storage are abundant, with nice big pockets (open and lidded) in the doors, and 909 litres of cargo space astern (with a full sized alloy beneath) before you fold the rear seats forward.
The real changes, though, are underneath and out of sight, and they give this generation of Rangie a very different feel to its predecessor.
On the road, a 420kg weight reduction pays off not just in reduced thirst (down about 8 per cent) and emissions (down more than 10 per cent) but in handling. Helped by a ground-up redesign of the air suspension, it feels altogether better planted, less top-heavy. While its air suspension ensures it’ll never bother Lotus, it corners with huge confidence and grip and admirably little body roll for a 2.3-tonne wardrobe.
Land Rover has tweaked the 4.4-litre V8 diesel for a 20kW power boost to 250kW; peak torque remains at 700Nm but cuts in a little higher. No matter — it carves a full second off its predecessor’s 0-100km/h time, down to 6.9 seconds. There are cheaper Germans and Jeeps that’ll beat that, but they won’t touch its mix of sheer interior luxury and offroad prowess.
With help from the jumping castle down below, the seamless ZF eight-speed transmission and loads of insulation, the interior sequesters you from the elements like a bunker, save for a little wind noise at speed around the A-pillars and wing mirrors.
Complaints? No $200K car should want for cruise control braking. In fact no such vehicle should want for full adaptive cruise, at a time when Volkswagen bundles it for $1300 in a $25K Golf. Yet here it’s a $3240 option…
Speaking about rough, the suspension redesign pays off in extra ground clearance (an extra 17mm takes it up to a maximum 303mm) and benchmark vertical wheel travel (260mm front and 310mm rear). Putting those to the test on a couple of trails, we lost our nerve well before our car did.
The Terrain Response system lets you dial up a suspension preset for most conditions — mud, sand, snow, rocks etc. — or you can set it to auto and forget it. Not having the bravura one needs to take $200K’s worth of rolling state room into terrain this car is known to lick, we stuck with the auto setting and decided to take Land Rover’s word on the extra 200mm of wading depth, now up to 900mm. And on the claims of 3500kg braked towing weight.
After driving the two back to back, I’d pick the SDV8 quick smart over the snappier but costlier and thirstier supercharged petrol V8. The Rangie is so well insulated from its own power it’s hard to tell the difference, even acoustically.
This is a car that lives in its own win-win ecosystem. Few owners will ever push the undercarriage to its limits offroad, but it’s an elegant performer on tar and those who don’t venture off it can as easily rationalise the spend on what they get inside.
Quite simply, a doozy.