The Range Rover gets even bigger in long wheelbase guise. This is the ultimate Land Rover product. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
In long wheelbase form, the Range Rover grows by 200mm in length, with the extra going to benefit rear seat legroom, taking it to limousine standards. Which means that if you habitually sit behind a chauffeur, you can now include the world's most capable luxury 4x4 on your shopping list when the time comes to change your luxury conveyance.
The Range Rover SUV. It's hard to imagine how any other luxury SUV would work in long wheelbase form but it's a mark of the unique class of this car that the idea of getting it in stretched form raises not even an eyebrow. In driving the standard car, we suspected that Land Rover were going for the top Bentley and Mercedes market as well as that for super-luxury SUVs: here's the proof. Apart from the increase in length to 5,199mm, the rest of the recipe is of course standard Range Rover. Which means that it's all very desirable indeed. The relatively light bodyweight means it can be larger, faster and more responsive than any previous version of this model at the same time as being more efficient and better equipped. It can also claim a lighter eco-footprint 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.
Does it feel just like a standard Range Rover to drive? Of course it does. This was the first SUV to ride on an aluminium monocoque structure. In addition to the strong and rigid lightweight body, the aluminium front and rear chassis architecture gets sophisticated four-corner air suspension. The aim was to retain the previous model's luxurious ride while improving the vehicle's handling and agility. The suspension architecture has been designed to deliver flatter, more confident cornering with a natural and intuitive steering feel. Just as the rest of the SUV sector begins to catch up with Land Rover's Terrain Response system, where drivers could rotate a dial to choose from setting such as mud ruts, sand and snow, the company has moved the game on quite significantly. Terrain Response 2 analyses the driving conditions and automatically selects the most suitable vehicle settings for the terrain. LWB buyers get a choice of the nicest of the engines on offer, either the 4.4-litre SDV8 diesel or the potent 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged petrol model. Speed of course is one thing. Control is another. Previous Range Rovers have conquered the toughest terrain known on this planet, but they've never fully mastered the rather difficult art of making something that weighs as much as two family cars corner on tarmac in a way that could be described enjoyable. This one does better thanks to a standard Dynamic Response active lean control system that we reckon is pretty central to the driving experience that this car can offer.
Design and Build
The most obvious effect of the aluminium construction has been a dramatic weight reduction. Model for model, Land Rover reckon that this amounts to around 420kg pared from the kerb weight, which will have huge benefits in terms of efficiency and agility. Of course you lose some of that gain with the extra 200mm of length of this long wheelbase model but it's still an efficient piece of design. Longer rear doors solve the old car's issue of awkward access to the rear seats. There's superior refinement too, the development team improving the body structures to reduce harmonic vibration and acoustically laminating both the windscreen and the side glass. LWB buyers get a choice of either a standard rear seat or optional individual chairs, either of which can be reclined up to 17 degrees, an increase from the eight degrees of the standard wheelbase model. There's all sorts of luxuries that can be added too, from large TV screens to a front passenger seat that slides all the way forward into the footwell. Seated up-front amongst the beautiful leathers, polished metal and hand-crafted veneers, you'll find yourself in a cabin that looks as classy and cosseting as ever, with its clean, elegant controls and a notable absence of button clutter, with most functions relocated to the eight-inch colour touchscreen that dominates the centre of the dash and which, by voice, touch or steering wheel button, marshals everything from sat nav to seat heating, stereo sound to surround cameras.
Market and Model
The LWB model comes only in top Autobiography trim and only with the two most powerful engines, the SDV8 diesel and the 5.0-litre Supercharged V8 petrol. Buyers will need to find a premium of just over £7,000 over the short wheelbase version. That means a starting price of just over £102,000 for the SDV8 and around £106,000 for the V8 Supercharged variant. The standard equipment list you get for that would occupy the whole of this page, so let's instead focus on the safety side of the equation. Besides the expected twin front side and curtain airbags, ISOFIX childseat fastenings and pedestrian-friendly bonnet, you get a veritable forest of acronyms: DSC Dynamic Stability Control, RSC Roll Stability Control, ETC Electronic Traction Control, CBC Corner Brake Control and, for the anti-lock brakes, EBA Emergency Brake Assist to help in sudden stops advertised to following motorists by automatically flashing EBL Emergency Brake Lights. There's even a towing stability system that can detect trailer sway and correct it with opposite wheel braking. And all that's before you get off road and use HSA Hill Start Assist to get you up steep slopes you can get down again with HDC Hill Descent Control and GDC Gradient Release Control.
Cost of Ownership
Celebrity Range Rover owners like the British Royal family, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Nicholson, Keira Knightly and Madonna may not worry too much about running costs but an increasing number of Range Rover owners do. After all, it's a little hard to tell your employees to turn off their screen savers at night if you're driving a hulking great luxury SUV that can't even average 30mpg on a good day. EEC directives will also be punitive to Land Rover's business if the company doesn't make its cars a little more planet-friendly. Hence the huge investment in lightweight aluminium technology that has brought us the fourth generation version of this car. The extra efficiency of this car isn't only down to aluminium mind you. There's the slippery 0.34Cd drag co-efficient, the lightweight Brembo front brake callipers, the active front grille shutter, the aerodynamic underfloor panelling, the electric power steering and the Start/Stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. The LWB body doesn't affect running cost returns. Which means that the SDV8 diesel manages 32.5mpg on the combined cycle and 229g/km of CO2. 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.
If you're a captain of industry, then you might very well welcome a change from your usual Bentley, Rolls Royce or Mercedes S-Class limousine. In which case, the LWB Range Rover could very well be your perfect car. Celebrities like Jamie Oliver are already chauffeured around in standard length models, so this lengthened version probably already has a ready market. Best of all, the extra 200mm of length has no impact at all on this model's unique go-anywhere attributes. Which means that if your lifestyle fits and you can afford one, you're going to find this car very hard to resist.