I first drove the all-new Range Rover not long after it was launched, but only briefly, on a Jaguar Land Rover media day. No matter how brilliant they are on paper, there are some cars I’m just not bowled over by initially – this being one of them. It can take a good length of time to form an admiration of and an inseparable bond with certain cars, if at all, and the Range Rover having been received with so much worldwide acclaim, I really wanted to get to know it properly, albeit with a distinctly more on-road focus. So, cue the arrival of an Autobiography-spec’ SDV8 for a week.

Someone then came up with the perhaps potty idea of attending a family reunion on the in-laws’ side, all the way down on the south coast, driving back up to Manchester within the same day. That someone was me. Having said that, the prospect of 20 hours mainly comprised driving actually felt quite exciting, knowing our transport would be in the form of the Range Rover. Sure, the last car I reviewed was a Bentley convertible, but there’s a lot to be said for barrelling down the M6 and around Sussex and Kent country lanes in a car akin to an executive lounge on stilts. Bring it on.

Five word verdict: Remains the best in class | Rating: 4.5/5

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The day before our roadtrip, I had a number of errands to cross off, which meant a lot of pottering around town. The all-new, fourth generation Range Rover was revealed in late 2012 and deliveries to customers were made from early 2013, but aside from a few examples I regularly see in my local area, most Range Rovers around here are third generation. Undiscerning eyes might fail to differentiate third and fourth generation Range Rovers and may indeed mistake the slightly smaller Range Rover Sport for one of these ‘full fat’ models. Some may always hold the view that such a large, essentially boxy vehicle can never be described as attractive. But for those who ‘get’ the Range Rover thing, the sentiment is that the design has evolved beautifully, this fourth generation model retaining the iconic and unmistakable Range Rover silhouette of the last 74 years but giving it enough of a contemporary feel to appeal to new, younger and emerging markets, whilst providing a glimpse of the things to come in the future. Its design has obviously been influenced by the more curvaceous Evoque in places and although I wasn’t immediately convinced by the new Range Rover’s wraparound taillights when it was launched, I feel they have matured beautifully and that the vehicle’s more streamlined design works so, so well as a whole, with its tapered rear and sloping roofline, redesigned grille, vents and creases – oh, and those mesmerising LED camera-lens-inspired headlights with their ‘interlocking circles’ signature. I’m glad the Nara Bronze colour of this press car turned out to be a very attractive, subtle brown – or as one of my friends described it, ‘mushroom’.

Gazing at the Range Rover wasn’t going to get me anywhere, though, and I had my errands to do, my first port of call being a quick basket-fill around ALDI, after parking next to the now typical abundance of other SUVs whose owners have also switched to shopping there. The Range Rover is obviously a rather big car to say the least, but once you’ve driven it a mile or so, it shrinks in your mind and is fantastically easy to pilot around, owing to its high-up ride, square shape, visible bonnet edge and corners, large wing mirrors, surround camera system, and front and rear parking aids. The turning circle was pretty good, too, so as long as you pick your parking space wisely, you should be fine. As you would expect, it makes mincemeat of speedbumps and it was nice not to have to avoid certain local roads notorious for their poor surfaces or particularly nasty sleeping policemen. The Range Rover did oddly crash over certain manhole covers with a dash of unexpected indignity, but by and large, the ride around town at speeds upto 30mph was excellent.

Just in case we had to scale any incredibly steep, rocky slopes or cross any deep swamps, we thought we had better spend some of our Friday evening re-familiarising ourselves with Land Rover’s revered Terrain Response 2 off-road system, so we duly headed for local farm tracks complete with mildly steep and rocky descents and ascents, standing water, muddy bog patches and moderately deep holes. Naturally, the full-on Range Rover didn’t bat an eyelid, being capable of conquering the most demanding off-road terrains. At least our weedy little off-road foray gave us the chance to splatter a bit of fashionable mud up it and reminded us just how much of a doddle Terrain Response is to use. If you spot a steep slope, simply press the Hill Descent Control button. Encountering loose, rocky, unstable ground, you just push a button and put it in low range. Adjusting the ride height merely involves a button press, too, lowering the car from Normal Height down to Access Height for easier entry and raising it impressively high for when the terrain requires it. I admit it was fun to tinker around with the various 4×4 settings, but the beauty of the new Range Rover is that you can just leave Terrain Response in Auto mode, so it dynamically adjusts everything for you. Our boots positively filled with confidence, we headed off to the Land of Nod at 21:30 ready for our 5am wake-up time. Incidentally, we could have used the Timed Climate function to make the car’s interior warm up nicely for, say, 6am; but it was the end of May so we thought that’d be rather silly.

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A key ingredient when it comes to devouring over 600 miles in a single day is comfort and it’s fair to say that you’d struggle to find a more luxurious 4×4 SUV than the Autobiography-spec’ Range Rover. The interior immediately felt almost as special as the Bentley I tested a few weeks ago, with splendidly soft ivory leather seats and tasteful ‘Brogue and Ivory’ leather trim on the dashboard and other surfaces. Even the roof lining surrounding the huge panoramic, sliding glass panel was softly padded. The Shadow Walnut Veneer wood trim didn’t entirely convince me but the leather-trimmed, heated steering wheel felt perfect and both the front and rear heated and cooled massage seats had a mind-numbing level of adjustment on offer, even as far as the height and support of the beautifully soft headrests. It would be worth briefly noting at this point that my test car came with the Rear Executive Class seating option, meaning it was a 4-seater with two individual rear seats, separated by a sumptuous centre console complete with storage, cupholders and controls for the massage, heating/cooling, panoramic roof blind, climate and other functions. Don’t fret, if you’ve got kids or generally want the ability to carry three rear passengers, the new Range Rover does come with a 3-seat rear bench as standard, which does fold flat unlike the Rear Executive Class seats, so provides more practicality for loads, too – not just people.

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Our plan was to split the drive from east Manchester down to the Herstmonceux near the south coast into three or four shifts, taking the M6, M40, M25 and A23. Unless we’re in something special, the first leg of any journey down to Birmingham can seem to take an eternity. Needless to say, it took what felt like half an hour in the Range Rover. It wasn’t just the fact that Izzy could watch headphone-fed Freeview TV when I was behind the wheel listening to my digital radio station of choice, but a lot of the specialness was down to the 339bhp, 4.4-litre SDV8 diesel engine. I’d never really fallen for its charms on short, previous drives, but after yesterday’s around-town and mild off-road shenanigans which saw it average 19mpg, and the first 75 miles or so of our 300-mile marathon to the south coast today, I was utterly smitten. Okay, there’s a noticeable lag partly owing to the Range Rover still being a sizeable vehicle despite its 420kg weight loss over the previous model, but the sheer torque (700Nm) of the SDV8 powerplant is instantly noticeable, as is its relative smoothness, mated to a creamily wonderful 8-speed ZF transmission. I’d recently spent a week with a Jaguar XFR-S fitted with the same gearbox and rising, rotary gear selector – and it’s fair to say that it’s equally as magical in the new Range Rover. Previously, I’d given the SDV8 a bit of a Rob Brydon’s ’man in a box’ complex in my mind, thinking it sounded like a somewhat distant, diesel-powered car driving behind me rather than right in front of me. But now, 48 hours into my week with the new Range Rover and its almost petrol-quiet V8 diesel, I was totally falling for its spell and knew that the remaining 225 miles would be mighty enjoyable – at least as far as the car was concerned. No, I’m not referring to sharing a 6-hour car journey with one’s other half, but rather, traffic. Once again, the M6 proved miserable, with 50mph roadworks zones blighting our progress. The M40 and M25 weren’t much better, either, the latter confined to 20mph for long stretches.

 

Fortunately, to rescue us northerners from becoming frustrated, we had the fabulous Meridian Signature 1700W Audio System to play with. Compared to the Bentley’s Naim system which was almost perfect, we weren’t quite as staggered by the Meridian installed in the Jaguar XFR-S – but when we heard the Meridian within the acoustic environment of the Range Rover, we were amazed. The bass was particularly stunningly good and speakers seemed to be positioned everywhere we looked. The sound quality from the three pairs of wireless headphones was awesome, too – and while we’re on the subject of technology, pairing my Samsung Galaxy S3 to the new Range Rover via Bluetooth was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, so full marks to Land Rover there, too. As Jeremy Clarkson once mentioned in a VT on the old Range Rover, all the buttons are nice and large, and our test car had soft-closing doors, a split-folding tailgate also operated by button and a very useful dual glovebox. I was just a bit surprised that neither the parcel shelf nor the floor of the surprisingly small-feeling boot were electrically operated, making it difficult to reach the back of the boot – and for extreme off-roading, a grab handle above the windscreen in front of the front passenger might be nice.

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We eventually reached Sussex and the Range Rover was very much at home on the undulating country lanes, just as much as it was at home cruising down the motorway. In fact, the air suspension is so darn good, I would even call the Range Rover’s handling fun. The steering could do with a little more feel at times, but combine the highly impressive suspension and potent engine with very little body roll for such a tall vehicle, and you’ve got yourself a very good B-road blaster.

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From lunchtime until mid-evening, the Range Rover wafted us through the pretty towns of Haywards Heath and Hailsham and along the single-track lanes of Herstmonceux, then on to the respectively historic and picturesque towns of Battle and Rye, every mile proving utterly enjoyable thanks to the sumptuous interior, smooth gearbox and brilliant engine.

After sneaking in a quick photoshoot in Rye before the light started to fade, we headed north west up the A268 towards Hawkshurst and suddenly saw a tiny sign saying ‘Norman Church’. It was getting a bit late to say the least but knowing we wouldn’t be down in the south again for many months, if not years to come, we decided to have a gander. After driving up the spookily dark and atmospheric Church Lane, we eventually found the church itself, but a chap had just parked up outside and we didn’t want to cause any nuisance, as some people can be rather offish about car photos being taken, even in public places. The gentleman came up and asked if we were lost, so I explained that we were hoping to take a few photos before heading home. When it became apparent to us that the gentleman was immersed in a world of Land Rovers and when he discovered that ‘home’ meant all the way up in Manchester, the three of us instantly hit it off and a very pleasant conversation ensued for near enough forty-five minutes. I should really say the five of us, as Keith Wright is ‘daddy’ to wonderful Alsatian dogs, and we had the pleasure of meeting Storm and Shadow. Actually, I ended up holding and patting the two dogs throughout the whole conversation with extremely affable Keith, whilst Izzy took some photos. Keith was keen to have a picture taken of his Defender next to the new Range Rover and he recounted many fascinating tales of him and his Defender rescuing countless people over the years in their less capable 4x4s.

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After chatting about the Paris Dakar Rally, G4 Challenge, Manchester house prices and various other topics, we bid farewell to Keith, Storm and Shadow, and snaked up the A21 towards the M25. We would’ve loved to have visited family who have recently moved to that area, but it was 21:30 by this point, as we had thought it prudent to briefly take the Range Rover to the pub en route, but had to detour to find one. Don’t worry, Land Rover PR team, we’re talking car pubs, filling stations. The SDV8 probably did have enough left in its 105-litre tank to get us all the way home, but only just, and we didn’t want it gasping during the final stretch. By our reckoning, the range from full to empty would have amounted to 650 miles, give or take, which is highly impressive – and the Range Rover averaged 33.5mpg combined, by the end of our sizeable journey. This is 1mpg more than Land Rover’s published figure. At night, the cabin is tastefully lit by ambient lighting and you can even choose the colour you would like. We chose blue. Okay, a feature like this is a bit OTT, perhaps, but one very practical thing we really appreciated was the automatic headlights, which switch between full and dipped beam for you. It’s just a shame the windscreen wipers couldn’t seem to remove the plethora of insects splattered all over the front by this point. After a quick pitstop for caffeine at Cobham services, the rest of our journey home to Manchester was uneventful and remarkably comfortable.

The next day, we took the new Range Rover to Skipton, North Yorkshire, so my dad could have a go and we could test it off-road to an extent. The power and smoothness of the 229g/km-producing V8 diesel powerplant impressed him right from the off, too, and we were all left in admiration of the excellent axle articulation, raised suspension and the simplicity offered by Terrain Response. Some fun was had driving the Range Rover up and down rocky and grassy slopes, angled tracks and muddy terrain, but we knew we would only be able to experience the tip of the iceberg in terms of its incredible capabilities.

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Our week with the new Range Rover SDV8 Autobiography came to a close courtesy of ferrying my parents to the airport in style. We would all miss this test car dearly, as it really did make that much of an impression on us. Its £102,000 price tag (as tested) may sound steep, but prospective buyers are mostly aware that it’s the best 4×4 SUV off-road car on the market in terms of blending luxury with true off-road capabilities. The latest Range Rover looks just as appropriate parked outside a law chambers or modern office block as it does a modern hotel or a farm. I just wish more owners would strip out of their pinstripe suits or boohoo jumpsuits and actually use their Range Rovers in the rough stuff. Anyway, each to their own. In terms of what the Range Rover tries to do and be, it really is one near-perfect vehicle. We salute you.

© Author: Oliver Hammond

Photography: © Isabel Carter

Range Rover, Registration – OV13ULC

Nara Bronze, featuring Ivory Seats, Brogue and Ivory Interior, with Shadow Walnut Veneer
Autobiography spec with a Sliding Panoramic Roof and 21” Delta Wing Sparkle Silver Alloy Wheels
Engine: 4.4L SDV8 Diesel
Transmission: Automatic
Maximum speed: 135 mph
Fuel consumption: Combined 32.5 mpg – 8.7 l/100km
Power (hp/kW): 339/250
Torque (Nm) – 700
Maximum Torque (rpm) – 3,000
CO² Emissions – combined: 229g/km
Obstacle Clearance – up to 295.5mm off-road height
Standard ride height – 220.5mm
Wading depth – max 900mm
Off-road approach angle – 34.7˚
Off-road departure angle – 29.6˚
Optional features (on this vehicle):
Rear Seat Entertainment System with Touch Screen Remote Control – £1,500
Meridian Signature 1700W Audio System – £4,000
Wade Sensing – £250
Park Assist – £450
Detachable Tow Bar – £810
Active Rear Locking Diff – £460
Full Size Spare – £200
All prices inc vat. On the road price: £94,720 inc vat, exc. above options

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