Your Editor gets notions.
First published on 28th June 2017.
Above and Beyond: As advertising taglines go, this speaks to an essential truth in advertising. 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 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 observed in the manner some luxury SUV owners conduct themselves upon the roadway.
It is probably fair to say that the SUV as we know it originated in the USA, but on this side of the Atlantic, the advent of the Range Rover marked the beginning of our 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 panoramic visibility made them surprisingly effective city dwellers. As Land Rover’s BL masters 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 1980’s, its original utilitarian remit was swept away entirely.
This L322 generation is the model which saw the Range Rover concept come of age. Certainly, it was to be the most generous and probably most profitable bequest from the Veirzylinder following BMW’s sale of the Land Rover business to Ford in 2000. 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, its own good.
Now I’ll admit to a fairly strong ideological bias against these type of vehicle. 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 a few preconceived notions.
On my visits home to Ireland, I have been fortunate to gain occasional use of a number of vehicles, this 2009 L322 being the latest. It is 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 cards. 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 implies 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 proving 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.
One could be excused for expecting the Range Rover’s road behaviour to be ponderous and unresponsive, and while one never loses the sensation of driving something quite vast, the RR can cover ground with an alacrity and poise that is both satisfying and deeply impressive. Even on the narrow, meandering and frost-scarred roads of West Cork’s ‘Wild Atlantic Way’, the air suspension’s ability to flatten rugations allied with a resistance to body roll and accurate steering, allows the driver to cover ground with considerable verve, should one be so disposed.
But HMS Rangie is no corvette so one shouldn’t expect sportscar responses. The steering; a system which is required to combine road-car agility with off-road capability, suffers from an almost imperceptible off-centre vagueness. This manifests itself in a very slight delay from the initial input on the handwheel to the response from the Pirellis at road level. It is a characteristic the driver quickly acclimatises to and soon forgets about entirely. For its size and bulk, the RR steers faithfully, albeit one is never in any real doubt about the kinematic forces at play. The turning circle however is in the cruiseliner category.
Comfort is something of a mixed bag. The Range Rover’s air suspension provides a Citroënesque magic carpet sense of isolation, particularly for those on the bridge. Aft-mounted passengers however are exposed to a surprising level of road shock owing to their proximity to the rear axle. So while rear seat comfort is good – the tall body allowing a comfortable seating position for most shapes and sizes and plentiful legroom, it isn’t as cosseting back there as one might expect. Front seat occupants however travel first class.
The luggage compartment is accessed in time-honoured fashion by a two piece tailgate. The lower section hinges outward, which is fine if you want a perch to sit on while you’re changing into your walking boots, but otherwise makes loading a bit of a chore. The boot itself isn’t massive, being somewhat shallow, if reasonably deep, but the rear seats do fold down and as I’ve discovered, bulky loads can be accommodated. Disappointingly, both upper and lower portions of the tailgate shut with an downmarket clang – the former in particular. I would have expected better for the money.
The beating heart of this machine is the 3.6 litre TDV8 32 valve twin turbocharged power unit developed by Land Rover and Ford in 2006 to replace the overwhelmed BMW M57 3.0 litre turbodiesel. Developing 272 bhp and an ocean-going 472 lb/ft (640Nm to you) of torque at 2,000 rpm, RMS Rangie tops out at 124 mph, whilst 0-60 can (reputedly) be induced in 8.6 seconds – not too shabby for a vehicle with a kerb weight of 2.7 tons unladen.
Of course what these figures don’t illustrate is the V8’s character, one which underpins and defines the RR’s manners and bearing. For a compression ignition unit, the V8 has characteristics that are more reminiscent of the reciprocating engines of steam era. Slow revving, with a metallic undercurrent to its languid multi-cylinder beat, its a creamy, emollient powerplant, utterly suited to the Range’s upper-class demeanour. Coming from someone with a fervent loathing of diesel, this has been quite the Damascene revelation. It’s a magnificent powerplant which suits the car admirably.
With power of course, comes responsibility, so while Rangie Mac Rangeface can be made to lift its prow and hurl itself towards the far horizon, one cannot help feeling that it is slightly beneath its dignity. Given the blanket 100KM/H speed limit on non-motorway Irish roads (that’s most of them then…), outright speed is somewhat academic anyway. And while vehicles such as these often lend themselves to pretty lamentable examples of road manners, I find myself conducting Rangie in a positively Victorian fashion – ‘No sir, I insist – After you…’
These vehicles have gained a well-documented reputation for unreliability, one which has not really manifested itself here. Over three years of ownership, the only significant failures have been the alternator – easily and relatively cheaply reconditioned, and a damaged air-conditioning water pipe – a labour intensive, but not uncomplicated fix. On a number of occasions random, panic-laden warning messages have flashed up, usually relating to the Terrain response or suspension ride-levelling, but applying the standard (have you tried turning it off and on again?) hard reboot quickly return matters to normal.
A Range Rover is not nor ever shall be an austerity choice. If running costs are your concern, this is definitely not the vehicle for you. The RR gets through a tankful of the black stuff with the sort of giddy abandon that would have seen the late Richard Harris in rehab. Apart from a voracious appetite for hydrocarbons, RMS Range gets through tyres and brake consumables with eye-watering regularity, which shouldn’t be too surprising given the forces acting upon them.
I came to the Range Rover with a healthy dose of bias, expecting a vast unwieldy Downton Abbey of a vehicle only to be charmed by a car which offers perhaps an unrivalled balance of abilities, combined with a sense of occasion few others can match at any price. Flaws it has aplenty, but what it also has in abundance is character – the latter as much a factor of that magnificent V8 engine. Don’t even consider one without it.
As you can now possibly gather the Rangie has me charmed. It should have been awful. Profligate, vast, overweight and overbearing, and yet it is possessed of such an engaging, such a strong yet benign personality, that driving it isn’t simply an occasion, it’s a positive pleasure. The Range Rover is irresistible, so even if my proletarian roots still show, I can on occasion at least, assume the high life. Don’t judge me too harshly.
My grateful thanks to MMD for the use of the RR featured.
Images taken by the author on the Wild Atlantic Way, West Cork.