THE vehicle you see here is only the fourth new Range Rover in the model’s history. The inherent rightness of the design has always been at the core of the flagship Land Rover’s appeal. Few vehicles in the past, if any, have managed to emulate the manner in which it fused genuine off-road ability with asphalt comfort and refinement. The third-generation model, developed under BMW, reached the pinnacle of this perfect compromise. Its rough-road ability went unquestioned, while on-road it managed to instil an aura of effortlessness. It also had a simply lovely cabin adorned with beautifully treated slabs of wood, silky soft leather and chunky, brightwork-trimmed buttons and knobs. It was sublime.
It was also behind the times. When Land Rover launched gen-three in 2002, the world was a different place. Petrol was far cheaper, diesel-powered luxury vehicles were only for government agencies and the market for luxury SUVs still belonged to only the Rangey. Its reception was universally positive, ignoring the fact that it weighed close to three tonnes and consumed jungle juice at an alarming rate. We tested a 5,0 V8 version as recently as 2011 that weighed 2 720 kg and used 17,9 litres of fuel every 100 km.
Clearly, this was not going to cut it. It’s main rival, the S-Class, a car even more closely associated with the luxury segment and its cloying conservatism, was offered with a 2,1-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel. Land Rover had to make a plan to cut the weight and consumption.
Cue the 2013 model. It’s the world’s first all-aluminium monocoque-bodied SUV. In fact, the material is also used on the front and rear sub frames, final-drive units and brake callipers. Magnesium makes its appearance on the front sub structure and the wheels have each shed a few kilograms. Range Rover claims a weight saving of 420 kg if you compare the new SDV6 (not available here, sadly) to the previous TDV8. V8 versus V8, the saving is reportedly closer to 350 kg. We do not have test figures for the defunct TDV8, so were unsure what to expect when the Rangey rolled onto our scales, but the result still came as a surprise. At 2 679 kg, the SDV8 is positively gargantuan. That’s only 40 kg lighter than that thirsty, steel-bodied 5,0 V8 SC.
The reason we’ve devoted 384 words to such a droll topic as mass is because this is perhaps the new Range Rover’s biggest failing. Mass affects every aspect of a car, but none more so than fuel consumption. And Land Rover does charge R1,7 million for this Autobiography, so a sliver from perfection is amplified tenfold. We’ll return to the consumption; in the meantime, know that the new Rangey is (mostly) sublime.
It’s prowess starts under the skin. Powering the SDV8 is a newly developed 250 kW/700 N.m 4,4-litre V8 turbodiesel. It sends power to all four wheels via a heavily revised and just-about-perfect eight-speed ZF transmission. The latter has a sport function but doesn’t need it – it dances with the engine like Astaire with Rogers. The V8 is creamy, hushed when in slumber and well-mannered and powerful when exercised. There’s some expert sound-deadening at work here, evidenced by the thick double-glazed side windows. Pilot the Rangey at triple figures and you’ll hear a very light rustle as the air is torn apart by the bluff shape.
And you’ll feel only slight ripples as the 275/45 R21 alloys pummel the road surface into submission. Air-suspended systems are inherently compromised; they’re deftly adept at keeping body movements in check but are flustered by road scars. The Range Rover, however, manages this compromise better than most.
And the ride is simply marvellous if you factor in its off-road ability. Let’s oblige you with a few more figures: it clears the ground by 303 mm in its off-road setting, can wade water up to 900 mm deep and tow 3 500 kg. Take that, S-Class! We (briefly) took the SDV8 off-road and marvelled at its skill in remaining composed while tackling a number of obstacles. Taking the bow is TerrainResponse 2, which alters input points such as the throttle, suspension and braking depending on the terrain.
Who cares what the Range Rover is like off-road, though? Simply knowing that it can easily traverse rutted paths is enough. Let’s get to the important bit, the cabin. This is where luxury cars are made or broken. The criteria for a successful luxury-car interior are: quality, comfort, convenience, technology, space.
Quality-wise, the Range Rover has it nailed. We lament the loss of the previous version’s upright facia and nautical-inspired matte-wood trim, but the new model has taken a distinct step forward in design coherency, integration of various controls and the application of materials (the leather-trimmed roof of this Autobiography is a delight). Comfort is excellent, too, especially for front-seat occupants – the rear seats (split by a console containing the interface for the four-zone climate control and entertainment system) are a tad too close to the front ones but are as enveloping.
The list of standard features would stretch all the way to the KTM review on page 114, so we’ll mention only a few: the 19-speaker 825 W Meridian sound system with aural reproduction that would shame a top-end home-entertainment system, electrically adjustable, climatised and massaged front and rear seats, the latter each with an eight-inch screen and wireless headphones, dual-view functionality on the sat-nav-enabled front screen, colour-configurable mood lighting, powered tailgates (opening to a capacious boot that cannot be enlarged on the Autobiography), keyless entry and start, soft-close doors and a gadget called Park Heater that allows the vehicle to be heated or cooled when parked.
Our cabin-related gripes are few: the touchscreen is the same clunky, archaic system used in other Land Rovers, and needs updating or canning in favour of an iDrive-like system, and a few testers said they appreciated the configurability of the electronic instrument panel but missed traditional analogue dials.
There can be no denying Land Rover’s considerable achievement. In creating a vehicle that straddles such discordant segments – the ones for luxury vehicles and off-roaders – the company has inevitably created a compromised car. It isn’t quite as good at being a luxury car as the S-Class and its ilk, nor is it equipped with chunky, aluminium-protecting side panels and high-profile tyres to make serious off-roading viable. But, we cannot think of another car on sale that has such an amazing breadth of ability. Yes, it’s very, very expensive, but there’s no doubt about where the money has gone.
And the fuel consumption? We achieved a scarcely believable 8,4 litres/100 km on our mixed-use fuel route.