AS OTHER luxury carmakers such as Rolls-Royce and Bentley enter the premium SUV segment, one marque stands alone as the only true off-road luxury vehicle. For almost half a century, the Range Rover has set the standard for off-roaders, and while the luxury part of formula has taken precedence over off-road ability in recent generations, the Rangie still holds its own in the rough stuff.
As it approaches that 50-year milestone and with a fifth generation Rangie on the MLP platform only a few years away, we thought it timely to take a look at the current offering, just in time for the 2019-upgrade Range Rovers to hit Australian showrooms. We did it in style with this 2019 Range Rover Autobiography SDV8.
THE FOURTH generation (L405) Rangie has been with us since 2013. When you consider that the first-gen model ran from 1970 right through to 1996, second-gen to 2002, third-gen to 2012, the successive models are running over a shorter lifespan. The L405 brought with it an all-new aluminium monocoque architecture that has since been adapted to Range Rover Sport and Land Rover Discovery models.
Providing information is a 12.3-inch highdefinition Interactive Driver Display with pin-sharp graphics.
The sumptuous interior is designed for max comfort, with veneers, accents and materials utilised throughout.
Range Rover says its LED lights are designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle Ė challenge accepted.
The 2019 Range Rover updates include a new centre stack in the dash that incorporates a pair of 10-inch high-definition touchscreens to control the infotainment, sat-nav, HVAC and seat settings. Thereís also new driver-assist tech with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist now included as is idle stop-start for the engine.
In this vehicle is the SDV8 engine; a sublime 4.4-litre turbo-diesel V8 that makes an effortless 250kW of power and 740Nm of torque. Itís backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission which has been tweaked for improved efficiency and performance as part of the MY19 update.
YOU MIGHT not think so by looking at its liquorice strap-wrapped 22-inch wheels, but unlike most so-called luxury off-roaders, the Range Rover retains off-road ability. The twospeed transfer case is a full-time arrangement that automatically varies the torque sent to the front and back axles right up to full 50:50 lock-up. Thereís an automatically locking rear differential as well and the electronics are controlled by the latest Terrain Response 2 system.
The height adjustable, fully independent air suspension can raise the vehicle 75mm from its regular ride height for traversing off-road terrain and, conversely, it can be lowered to ease ingress and egress or adjusted up and down to make hitching up a trailer easier.
Itís these systems that give the Range Rover the ability it is legendary for and which other luxury brands canít match. Sure there may not be many Range Rover owners who want to go muddiní in their $200K+ wagon, but they like to know they can if they want to. And when they do it, theyíll do it in the lap of luxury.
Many people see the Rangie as a stately luxury car that might consider a trip to a lodge in the ski fields as its most challenging terrain. With that in mind, we decided to take the SDV8 on a snow trip, the 4X4 Australia way.
With bumper snowfalls for the winter of 2018, you didnít have to venture too far from Melbourne to find the white stuff and not have to enter the national parks or ski resorts. A favourite area for Victorian four-wheel drivers is always the hills around Woods Point and Mount Matlock Ė and they certainly didnít disappoint for this day trip.
The drive out of town provides a vast array of conditions to sample the breadth of the Rangieís talents. Its large, heated and cooled, massaging seats encompass the passengers in comfort as they are isolated from the noise, hustle and bustle of city life outside. The engine only shows its V8 diesel characteristics when the driver plants the accelerator and itís the abundance of torque, not a V8 roar or diesel clatter that give it away. It presses you back in the pew while the eight-speed slips through its ratios.
Two 10-inch touchscreens convey different info
Rotary shifter and drivemode switches
Highway driving reveals that the automatic cruise control works well at maintaining vehicle speed in traffic, while the lane assist does as well, making micro-steering inputs to correct your position in the lane if you let the Rangie wander. The lane assist becomes a nuisance, however, when the highway turns to a twisting mountain road and approaching and crossing the white road marking lines becomes inevitable and the steering wheel fights your inputs. Thankfully, the system can be turned off.
The handling and stability of the big Rangie belies its size on these roads. Admittedly itís still no sports car, but swift point-to-point travel is not out of its talents. This is grand touring on the grandest scale. The low-profile 22-inch tyres no doubt help here.
Where they donít help is when the asphalt ends and the roads become rougher. The SDV8 rides on 21-inch wheels as standard, but this car was fitted with optional black 22-inch alloys. We were concerned about the tyreís durability on rocky roads, however, they didnít let us down, literally, or in any other sense of the term. Nor did they seem to have a negative effect on the ride quality as the SDV8 maintained its luxurious demeanour over all surfaces. Weíve driven double-cab utes on 17-inch rims and rubber over this same road with far worse ride quality.
Leaving the road for the snow-laden 4x4 track up to trig point, we switched the Terrain Response system to the snow and mud mode to deliver the best traction and raised the suspension to give added ground clearance. We later played with the Terrain Response 2, switching between the bespoke modes and the auto setting, and it seems that leaving it to its own devices in auto mode is sufficient to deal with these conditions.
Yes, the road-oriented tyres slipped and struggled in the deep icy snow, however, the electronics worked wonders to deliver drive to the wheels with grip and keep the Rangie from getting stuck every time.
A couple of blokes in lifted Patrols on big mud-terrain tyres offered to drag us out of the deep snow where we had parked the Rangie and warned us not to go on any farther; they neednít have bothered as the stately Range Rover worked its own magic on the surface to get us out.
Of course all this opulence and ability comes at a cost and $256,000 is nothing to be sneezed at. Add on another $14K of accessories to get an SDV8 Autobiography just like this and the price is beyond the reach of most buyers. But one place where you wonít pay a premium is at the diesel pump. The SDV8 Rangie is rated at 6.4L/100km, an amazing figure for a beast so big and powerful.
To put that in perspective, the other car we drove the same week as the Rangie was the 2019 Ford Everest with the new 2.0-litre diesel engine and 10-speed auto. Itís official fuel number is 7.1L/100km despite being in a smaller vehicle, with half the cylinders, less than half the engine capacity, fewer gear ratios and less power. Lightweight materials and technology are wonderful things sometimes.
So the answer to our original question as to Ďcan the Ranger Rover still hold it head high when off road as well as on?í is a definitive yes. It might use electronics and computers to give it the ground clearance and traction required, but it gets the job done while remaining the epitome of British opulence and luxury.