18 October 2023

Range Rover review: Brian Byrne, Irish Car

I remember in the very early 1970s an English friend of my Dad's came to our family pub, having driven over in his new Range Rover, writes Brian Byrne. I had a (much) younger man's interest in cars at the time, though I was still almost two decades away from writing about them.

"Want to take it for a spin?" he said, dropping the keys on the counter in front of me. I didn't need to be asked twice. Two hours later I brought the car back and handed him the keys. "I'm afraid I got it a bit dirty," I mentioned. He grinned. "If the dirt's on the inside, you'd better hose it out."

I had taken the car to an off-road training area not far from my home, operated by the Irish defence forces. And I had fun, even though I'd never at that point had any experience in off-road driving. It was a measure of the car's ability even then that it steered me out of any difficulty. And a measure of my own naivety that I had chanced bringing it into the mud and gullies at all ...

That car was a new take on the Land Rover theme. A modern shape, though still on the body-on-frame platform that served the original LR vehicles so well in rugged terrain use. Smart estate style — though at the time with only two passenger doors. High tech with a 3.5-litre V8 petrol engine derived from a former Buick 'small block', and full-time AWD. Stopping power of disc brakes all round. It was also more comfortable on road than the usual Land Rover, with coil springs instead of truck-style leafs. With all that, though, it wasn't intended to be a luxury vehicle. Vinyl seats and plastic dashboards were designed to be hosed down, just like the utilitarian Land Rovers.

I was remembering those things recently when I collected the latest generation of the Range Rover for review. That it is just the fifth iteration of the car in 53 years says something about the style longevity ethos of the model — change only because it is time to change, and then only with substantial improvements to excellence. It is several generations ago of the Range Rover now since it became a luxury car. And each decade of change since has been to enhance it in that luxury space. But not at the cost of ability to work in the rough, though the technology to allow that has moved by a quantum from the fairly simple AWD system in the original.

The latest Range Rover has the smoothest styling of any of the five generations. A mix of straight lines with subtle edge-softening and a move away from aggressive grille shapes are part of it. Clean but carefully drawn horizontals emphasise the width, which is only exceeded in the segment by BMW's X7 (and even larger Rolls-Royces). There's an engaging simplicity about the rear of the car that hides the two-way tailgate which among other uses provides a clean seating area for those who want to watch the pony shows or picnic to mountain views from the back of the car. While that afore-mentioned subtle curving of the edges minimises any bold look, the car retains a real presence.

Moving inside, plush has gotten noticeably plusher, with a techy edge. The ivory leather in the review car worked well with the dark trims and satin metal fittings on the dashboard, door furniture and storage spaces. The dashboard design itself manages to create both opulence and simplicity, and thankfully makes do with just a single centre infotainment screen, unlike some Range Rover derivative models. Large knobs and buttons for climate control, and a coherent treatment of the primary driving instruments are all welcome. There's more room for the rear seat passengers than in the Range Rover Sport I drove a while back, and the extra headroom also makes a significant difference here. Some of the extra length of the car also extends the boot space.

Like that smaller Range Rover, the power in the big brother came via Land Rover's own 3.0 inline six petrol with plug-in hybrid electrification. The range of the battery on its own proved to be a genuine 80-plus kilometres, while the overall 8.8L/100km that I achieved in my time with the car was quite respectable for a 2.4-tonne vehicle. All travel is done, as it should be for a car with a price that would go a long way to ensuring a small mortgage for an average house, in a smooth and almost serene manner.

And no, I didn't get it dirty. I had previously driven one of this model in some rough and grotty places and knew that I didn't have to do it again. Besides, any time I try for the military training place these days, there's a jeep-load of MPs on my tail in short order ... I think they have a camera there. Also, if I got the inside mucky, I wouldn't be able to hose it down.

PRICE: From €143,998; review car €183,968. WHAT I LIKED: Remembering my early 20s.