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BIG IS BEAUTIFUL

The Range Rover gets bigger, lighter and smarter. You wouldn't expect anything less, really. Jonathan Crouch drives it.

Ten Second Review

So many cars claim to be unique but the Range Rover really is, continuing to set the standard in the super-luxury SUV sector. Larger, lighter, more economical, smarter looking and even better off road, the aluminium-bodied fourth generation version is finally good enough to properly combine the imperious qualities of a top luxury saloon with off piste abilities that would be limited only by the skills of its driver. A Rolls Royce in the rough, there's nothing quite like it.

Background

Sometimes, being the best just isn't good enough. Take the Range Rover. With a pedigree over four distinct generations going all the way back to 1970, it's always been, without question, the 'finest 4x4xfar'. Yet the challenges remain. How to remain the world's leading luxury SUV while appearing credibly eco-centric? How to make further forays into the market for super luxury saloons against rivals that don't have to be able cross the Congo or see you through Siberia? And how to reach out to a whole new group of buyers from both segments who would never previously have considered a Range Rover? This MK4 model must do all this - and much more.

A lightweight aluminium body structure set Spencer King's very first Range Rover apart nearly half a century ago and here, the SUV market's first adoption of much the same thing gives this car a credible shot at all its stated goals. The much lighter bodyweight means it can be larger, faster and more responsive at the same time as being more efficient, cheaper to run and better equipped. It can claim a lighter eco-footprint, a properly limousine-like rear cabin and performance approaching that of a super-saloon. And yes, it'll be even better if you're setting off across the Serengeti or exploring the Amazon. It'll be, more than ever, one of a kind. Let's try it.

Driving Experience

The freshly developed aluminium underpinnings mean that the car is now light enough to accommodate something less than a hulking great V8 engine - and it's some time since we've been able to say that about a Range Rover. In this case, the six cylinder TDV6 borrowed from the Range Rover Sport, here developing 258bhp and a hefty 600NM of torque, good enough to send you to sixty in 7.4s on the way to 130mph to the accompaniment of a growly but rather appealing engine note. It's all quite satisfying, until of course you try something better - in this case the 4.4-litre SDV8 diesel we tried.

With 339bhp and 700Nm of torque, this is one of the most powerful diesel engines in modern production, dispatching the sixty sprint in 6.5s on the way to a top speed of 135mph, should your private drive be long enough to accommodate it. Those in such a position will also be able to shoulder the running costs of the minority interest petrol model which, with a supercharged 5.0-litre 510bhp, demolishes sixty from rest in 5.1 and has to be restrained at 140mph. At the other end of the scale, there's a frugally focused 333bhp V6 diesel-electric hybrid variant able to put out under 170g/km of CO2 while still sprinting to sixty in not much more than seven seconds.

Off road, there's a full time 'intelligent 4WD system' with a two-speed transfer 'box (that you can shift down into on the move at up to 37mph) plus Land Rover's acclaimed Terrain Response off-road driving system, selectable via a control just in front of the rotary gear knob.

Design and Build

This is every inch a Range Rover. You'd know it as such even without a glance at the elegant badgework. More important though is what lies beneath this slippery shape. Essentially, a £1 billion investment in aluminium technology, this being the world's first SUV to boast a lightweight all-aluminium monocoque body structure. A structure that sees this car up to 420kgs lighter than its direct steel-bodied predecessor, a weight equivalent to a full complement of passengers.

This car's slightly larger size isn't enough to permit the fitment of the couple of occasional rear boot-mounted seats you'll find in a Land Rover Discovery. Still, Range Rover buyers have never seemed to want them. Luggage room has always been a greater priority, so I should point out that there's a little less of it than before, the 909-litre figure down around 10%. Should more room be required, dropping the rear backrest frees up as much as 2030-litres.

This slight reduction in cargo capacity is down to the extra space afforded to those on the back seat. If you need even more of that, then there's also a LWB version of this car offering an extra 200mm in length, all of which goes for the benefit of rear seat folk.

Market and Model

List prices suggest that you'll be paying somewhere in the £70,000 to £80,000 bracket for a diesel Range Rover and around £100,000 for the 5.0-litre V8 petrol supercharged model. That's around 40% more than you'd pay for the less exalted Range Rover Sport - but then that car appeals to a rather different set of buyers. Most potential Range Rover owners won't even consider the smaller model and will instead be mainly deliberating between the two diesels supplied with this one, the major decision being whether or not to find a premium of just under £7,000 to progress from the 3.0 TDV6 to this 4.4-litre SDV8.

As ever, there's a single five-door, five-seat bodystyle and this time round a three-way trim choice that sees a premium of just over £6,500 to progress from entry-level Vogue to the Vogue SE spec we tried. It's hard to see why you'd really need to go much further than that, but if you do, another £10,000 will see you in the more bespoke realms promised by the sumptuously-trimmed Autobiography models. At Autobiography level, SDV8 and Supercharged petrol model buyers get the option of paying a premium of around £7,000 more for the stretched LWB version.

Cost of Ownership

You shouldn't get your hopes up too high in this regard. This might be the most economical Range Rover line-up ever made but buying one still won't get you installed on the Greenpeace Christmas card list. Add on a few options and it could easily end up weighing over two and a half tonnes, which makes the 37.7mpg combined cycle fuel figure and 196g/km CO2 return boasted by the entry-level TDV6 model all the more impressive. Thanks to the 420kg weight saving provided by the aluminium structure, this V6 variant is able to provide exactly the same performance as the V8 diesel in the third generation Range Rover line-up - yet return running cost figures that are 20% better.

If you want to do better than that, you'll need to talk to your dealer about the V6 diesel-electric hybrid model which can return a CO2 reading of just 169g/km. The SDV8 diesel we tried isn't quite in that league of course, but 32.5mpg on the combined cycle and 229g/km of CO2 will be better than you might have been expecting - though not as good as more powerful diesel rivals like the BMW X5 M50d or the Porsche Cayenne Diesel S. The supercharged petrol model is of course a different proposition altogether in this respect, recording 322g/km and a combined cycle fuel return of just 20.5mpg.

Summary

From princes to politicians, from rock gods to rock climbers, from footballers to farmers, the Range Rover has always appealed to a more diverse group of customers than any other car. As you'd expect it would. This is, after all, far more than just the world's finest luxury SUV, instead unchallenged as four vehicles within one - an everyday luxury saloon, a weekend leisure vehicle, a high-performance long distance private jet and a working cross-country conveyance.

Such perfection doesn't come without a price, in origin or in ownership. Or without compromise - in poorer handling for example against, say, a super saloon. And in tighter rear cabin space against, say, a luxury limousine. Perhaps that's why you've never considered one of these. And if so, consider this. Thanks to its revolutionary aluminium underpinnings, this fourth generation version is now sharper to drive, ravishing in the rear and vastly more efficient and affordable to run. It is, in short, a very different proposition.

Drive it through a river, drive it to the opera: it's as happy either way, beautifully built, gorgeously finished and astonishingly quick. True, this car is never quite going to be all things to all people but it has perhaps moved as close to fulfilling that remit as any modern car is ever likely to get. Makes you proud to be British doesn't it.


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