The improved fourth generation Range Rover gets semi-autonomous driving features, extra connected-car technology and a fresh high performance variant. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
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. This improved MK4 model boasts more electronic sophistication - and extra 'InControl' infotainment technology, plus an extra V6 supercharged petrol option and a new top 550bhp SVAutobiography Dynamic variant. As ever, it's astonishingly good off road, particularly if you take up the option of the brand's clever All-Terrain Progress Control system. More significantly perhaps, it's more economical than you might expect, thanks an emphasis on efficiency for the mainstream 3.0-litre six cylinder diesel engines that most customers choose. The key qualities remain though, this aluminium-bodied luxury SUV 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.
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 in developing the current MK4 model, the challenges remained. How could this vehicle remain the world's leading luxury SUV while appearing credibly eco-centric? How could it 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 could it reach out to a whole new group of buyers from both segments who would never previously have considered a Range Rover? This MK4 model has proved up to the task of accomplishing all this - and much more. Here, it's been updated with a round of carefully considered improvements. A lightweight aluminium body structure set Spencer King's very first Range Rover apart nearly half a century ago and the SUV market's first adoption of much the same thing in this fourth generation Range Rover gave this car a credible shot at all its stated goals. The 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 check out this improved version with its extra interior technology.
The sophisticated aluminium underpinnings mean that the car is these days light enough to accommodate something less than a hulking great V8 engine. In this case, the six cylinder TDV6 borrowed from the Range Rover Sport, here developing 258PS 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 - probably the 4.4-litre SDV8 diesel we tried. With 340PS 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 supercharged petrol models. There's now a 340PS 3.0-litre V6, or a 5.0-litre V8 unit that in the top SVAutobiography Dynamic flagship model develops 550PS and makes 60mph in 5.1s en route to 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 the option of Land Rover's very clever All-Terrain Progress Control system. Here, the driver can input a desired speed without any pedal inputs. The ATPC set-up will then maintain that, reducing the driver's workload and keeping the car's composure over steep gradients, rough terrain and low-grip surfaces.
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. Inside, the key change with this improved model is the adoption of a larger 'InControl Touch Pro' 10-inch dual-view centre dash touchscreen infotainment display screen. this complements the even larger TFT monitor that replaces conventional dials in the instrument binnacle and can also be configured to display graphics from the 3D satelite navigation system. Land Rover's 'InControl' infotainment technology also allows owners to locate their car, check its fuel level and even lock and unlock the doors remotely via an app. Plus we like the way that the car's air suspension system automatically drops to its lowest 'Access Height' when parked to make entry and exit easier. This car's substantial 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 or (optionally) in a Range Rover Sport. Still, buyers of this top Range Rover model have never seemed to want them. Luggage room has always been a greater priority, so I should point out that there's 505-litres of it - which may be a little less than you were expecting. Perhaps that has something to do with the greater priority that Labnd Rover's designers have given to space for rear seat passengers. 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 £76,000 to £90,000 bracket for a diesel Range Rover, but you could be paying as much as around £133,000 if for you, nothing less than the top SVAutobiography Dynamic supercharged V8 petrol model will do. These asking figures represent a big premium over what you'd pay for equivalent versions of the less exalted Range Rover Sport - but then that car appeals to a rather different set of buyers. Extra technology included in this latest model includes features like Adaptive Cruise Control, Queue Assist and Intelligent Emergency Braking. Advanced Tow Assist takes the anxiety out of reversing when towing a trailer. And Low Traction Launch is a manually selectable driving mode that helps you gain traction when pulling away on slippery surfaces. As ever, there's a single five-door, five-seat bodystyle and a trim choice that sees a premium of just over £6,500 to progress from entry-level Vogue to the Vogue SE spec most customers choose. 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. Plus there's a 3.0-litre SDV6 Hybrid variant in the long wheelbase bodystyle.
Cost of Ownership
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 improved 40.9mpg combined cycle fuel figure and 182g/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 very similar performance to the V8 diesel in the third generation Range Rover line-up - yet return running cost figures that are more than 20% improved. 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 isn't quite in that league of course, but 33.6mpg on the combined cycle and 219g/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 V8 petrol model is of course a different proposition altogether in this respect, recording 299g/km and a combined cycle fuel return of just 21.6mpg.
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 amazingly sharp to drive for a large SUV of this type, as well as being ravishing in the rear and surprisingly 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.