Noxious brown water was lapping over the bonnet of Land Rover’s new flagship. Forget towing a boat, I’m in danger of turning the $200,000 Range Rover into one. At the time — midway through a 5km survival swim up Morrocco’s Oued Ourika — it is only of passing concern.
I was far more focused on what was happening under the surging torrent as the luxury four-wheel drive lurched from boulder to boulder. I could feel the Terrain Response software shunting torque to alternate wheels trying to scrounge grip against the current and shifts in weight.
The result was technology and engineering won out and the 2.2-tonne turbodiesel kept ploughing resolutely on, despite being literally out of its 900mm wading depth and coping with ground that was causing a Defender with off-road rubber nearly as many problems.
It had already survived some axle-deep sand dune runs and a rock crawl that had Land Rover PR Tim Krieger wincing on the few occasions when the 260mm of front and 300mm rear of wheel travel were exceeded and the Rangie did bottom out. That wheel travel was tested again in the river run, where one of our group managed to drop two wheels off a silt ledge and can’t the SUV on a 45 degree lean that no one believed it could recover from.
We were already discussing how they were going to extricate the car from the bottom of a ravine when the driver managed to recover it — despite doing almost everything wrong, from trying to swing back up the ridge, thereby increasing the tilt, to gunning the engine and making the Rangie jump.
The car was built from the ground up for just this purpose and it’s a travesty that very few owners will be have the chutzpah to test the extreme capabilities of their decidedly luxurious SUV. One wouldn’t want to despoil the leather interior now, would one? It’d be like mucking out the stables in a pair of Gucci loafers.
Regular owners can rest easy though, because the Range Rover is probably even more composed on the freeway, where revisions to the steering and suspension have all but eliminated the head-shake that beset the previous model at speed and improvements to the insulation make it a serene workplace. Even with the speedo needle nudging 200km/h, it was as composed as a well-trained butler. And the steering wheel, which spun like a child's toy on the sand, stiffens up to sports car levels on the road. Other carmakers should tear it down to find out how to make an electric steering system that works at all angles.
All models have a 3.5-tonne towing capacity and unless you intend to regularly use it, the V6 turbodiesel’s 600Nm and 0-100km/h time of 7.9 seconds should do the job for most owners. The diesel V8’s 700Nm make it the pick for heavy haulers, while the supercharged petrol V8’s 5.4-second sprint time gives it performance bragging rights.
If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Given there’s no direct competition, Land Rover benchmarked the car against everything from BMW’s X5 and 7 Series to the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and S-Class — and says the Range Rover is quieter than them all at highway speeds. The V6 turbodiesel will go on sale in February at $168,900 in HSE trim and will be the volume seller, though a $178,900 Vogue spec will also be offered.
The turbodiesel V8 will be a $195,100 proposition in Vogue format, stepping up to $217,100 for the Vogue SE and $232,800 for the “with-the-log” Autobiography trim. The supercharged V8 is the sole petrol engine destined for Australia and starts at $224,400 in Vogue SE spec, rising to $240,100 for the Autobiography. A diesel hybrid will join the range late next year.
The fourth-generation Rangie uses an aluminium monocoque chassis and alloy panels to trim more than 300kg of weight from most models. That is then promptly returned with an apps store of technology, reinforced aerodynamic shields under the SUV and heavy-duty air suspension to give it the legs to go anywhere. Even if anywhere will be no farther than a gravel driveway or grassy paddock for most owners.
It is part of the Range Rover mystique that this vehicle is as capable as it is classy. To make life easier for owners, the Terrain Response system has been upgraded with a default auto mode that switches between five settings — general; grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, sand, and rock crawl — as it detects the surface it is travelling on. Each setting alters the car’s throttle response, gearbox shift points, centre differential and chassis systems to optimise drive.
A dial still lets owners manually choose their preferred mode and there’s an adjacent switch to active the low-range function. The latest Bosch ABS software includes stability, roll and traction control, along with hill ascent and descent control. The V8 models also pick up a lean control system that uses hydraulics to adjust the stiffness of the front and rear stabiliser bars and reduce head-toss on uneven surfaces.
All models have automatic variable damping that can be best felt when switching the eight-speed automatic transmission from drive to sport. That also sharpens throttle and steering response.
The traditional Range Rover look has been refined and given a sportier makeover. The clamshell bonnet has been kept, the side fins are still there (though moved from the front quarter panel to the front doors) and the floating roof, courtesy of blacked out pillars, has been retained. The bottom of the two-part tailgate can still act as a standing platform at the polo, but both sections are now powered.
Designers did sharpen the windscreen angle, which improves looks and fuel efficiency and the roofline itself has been lowered to give the big SUV an edgier look. The “camera style” bi-xenon headlamps are the easiest way to spot the Rangie, especially at night. It still has the presence of a truck, just a very good-looking one.
It hasn’t been tested yet, but expect the Range Rover to keep its occupants supremely safe. The only criticism of the last model was it didn’t protect pedestrians. Land Rover has responded by fitting a raised bonnet and optimising the bonnet and bumper to absorb energy.
Adaptive cruise control is now linked with an optional queue assist function for stop-start driving and there’s blind spot warning and automatic emergency braking systems. Front parking sensors are boosted with a reversing camera and there’s six airbags to cover all occupants.
Composure is a learned trait and the Range Rover has learned over the years how to do it with panache. The substantial price is matched by as much substance on and off the road as any potential buyer could desire. It’s not as nimble as an X5 but it is has more presence on the road and behind the wheel. Simply put, it is the most luxurious heavy-duty tow vehicle on the market, with the potential to do much more if the owner dares.
Land Rover Range Rover TDV6
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 12 months/26,000km
Safety: Six airbags, ABS with EBD, BA, TC, ECS, hill ascent and descent, blind spot warning, reversing camera
Crash rating: Not assessed
Engine: 3.0-litre turbodiesel, 190kW/600Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Dimensions: 5m (L), 1.98m (W), 1.84m (H)
Weight: 2.16 tonnes
Thirst: 7.5L/100km, 196g/km CO2
Price: from $113,300
Engine: 225kW/600Nm 3-litre DOHC 24-valve twin-turbodiesel six-cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Thirst: 7.5l/100km, on test , tank 85 l; 198g/km CO2
Mercedes-Benz GL 350
Price: from $131,490
Engine: 195kW/620Nm 3-litre direct-injection turbocharged V6
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Thirst: 9.2 l/100km, on test 12.2l/100km; 242g/km CO2
Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI
Price: from $93,814
Engine: 245kW/440Nm three-litre, dohc, 24-valve, supercharged V6 petrol
Transmission: 8-speed auto, AWD
Thirst: 10.7l/100km 249g/km CO2