Part one: Driven to Write gets ideas above its station.
‘Above and Beyond’: As advertising taglines go, this one speaks to an essential truth. Because driving a Range Rover genuinely does suggest an altogether loftier plane, and it is this sense of elevation, otherwise the sole preserve of Rolls Royce owners, that is perhaps the car’s defining characteristic.
Of course the corollary to splendid isolation is one not infrequently experienced by the privileged classes in wider society; a distancing from street level realities, something which can be witnessed in the way some luxury SUV owners conduct themselves on the roadway.
It’s probably fair to say that the SUV as we know it originated in the USA, but on this side of the Atlantic, the 1970 advent of the Range Rover marked the beginning of our motoring World’s love affair with the concept of a luxurious off-road-capable vehicle. Originally created as a car for affluent farmers, the Range Rover quickly became an adopted urbanite, where its tall stature and good visibility made them surprisingly effective town dwellers. As Land Rover’s BL masters (somewhat belatedly) realised its market potential, it increasingly became a more overtly luxurious machine and once it was introduced into the US market in the late 80’s, its original utilitarian remit was swept away entirely.
This L322 generation is the model which saw the Range Rover concept come of age. It also best encapsulated the ‘excellence at all costs’ ethos and fierce drive of former-BMW engineering chief, Wolfgang Reitzle. Certainly, it was to be the most generous and probably most profitable bequest from the Petuelring following its sale of the Land Rover business to Ford in 2000. Under Reizle’s leadership and thanks to BMW’s generous funding, Land Rover was given the resources to produce a ground-up Range Rover for the new millennium – the previous P38A being essentially a reskin of the original.
Much effort and expense was expended in creating an exterior and interior style befitting a true luxury car, the 2002 L322 being viewed as much a direct competitor to the likes of Mercedes’ S-Class as any putative 4×4 rival. The L322’s styling theme was a masterful blend of time-honoured RR design cues with a more architectural, more sophisticated flavour. Even now, several years since its replacement, its appearance remains timeless, patrician and more to the point, it looks like nothing else on the road. To these eyes, it also makes a more convincing fist of its styling remit than the current rather gaudy L405 model, a vehicle now too large and nakedly ostentatious for these cramped islands – or indeed, for its own good.
Now I’ll admit to a fairly strong ideological bias against these type of vehicles. A combination of weight, height and the placement of the vehicle’s masses makes for one which has a taller centre of gravity, a greater polar moment of inertia, and all that entails for efficiency, stability, or indeed crash performance. So I came to this vehicle with more than few preconceived notions.
On my visits home to Ireland, I’m fortunate to gain occasional use of a number of vehicles, this 2009 L322 being the latest. It’s a 2009 edition Range Rover TDV8 Vogue, purchased in the UK and imported to the Republic in 2014. A low-mileage, one owner car, it was in as-new condition and barring the odd nick and scratch here and there, remains in hale and hearty fettle. Over the intervening years, this full-fat Rangie has provided the occasional shock to the system – (and wallet), but has on balance proved to be well made, durable and (surprisingly), reliable.
Inside, the RR is lavish, airy, and well finished and while the parchment leather marks easily, it makes for a cheerful environment which contrasts with the piano-black trim on both centre console and door panels. While it’s suitably sybaritic, it isn’t so precious one couldn’t contemplate wearing muddy boots within – something one wouldn’t necessarily say of its current incarnation.
Controls are a model of clarity; logically and attractively laid out with large, easy to read buttons and rotary dials which can be operated by gloved fingers, should the need arise. Only the hilariously outdated infotainment cluster shows the vehicle’s age and as we know, there’s nothing in this world more dated than yesterday’s tech. But with the trademark ‘command’ driving position, low windowline and clear vision over the vehicle’s forward extremities, the Range Rover is a considerably less intimidating proposition for the novice than one might first be led to believe.
The paradox of the this car is that it’s both fundamentally equipped for Irish driving conditions – with its shocking road surfaces, fierce weather, and poor sightlines on rural roads, while at the same time being spectacularly inappropriate. This particular example is based in a small, picturesque West Cork town, to whose narrow streets and surrounding country roads the good ship Rangie really couldn’t be less suited.
Even in the teeming metropolis of Cork city, the RR proves a bit of a stomach clenching proposition – the experience of inching the leviathan into (and out of) a particularly narrow and precipitous multi-story car park, for instance lives long in the memory…