21 December 2001

STILL THE STUFF THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF?

A trip to the West Country

gives Andrew Pearce the

chance to reflect on the

current Range Rover, due

soon for replacement

POLITICAL Correctness would have us out of Range Rovers and into something much more egalitarian. After all, its hardly right to drive around in something costing as much as a terraced house in Bradford. Especially given the sad irony that farmers, the very people the original Range Rover was designed for, are now among the least likely to afford one.

Ah, forget the tut-tutters. Theres still a few in agriculture who can stretch to one of Land Rovers finest, and good luck to em: lifes too short to fret over how others spend their money. And speaking of short, anyone in their early thirties can, should they be sad enough, measure their days by Range Rover model changes: production started in 1970.

Now its time for change again. Next Feb will see an all-new model, only the third full reincarnation in all that time. So before the current version expires we take a last drive to see what most of us are missing, and perhaps to gauge how big a tear to shed.

A run to Lands End seemed appropriate. Grab a couple of days leave and explore a bit of town, a bit of motorway, a bit of by-road. Off-piste? No more than necessary. Heres the diary.

Thursday. Range Rover arrives mid-afternoon. Struck again by its uncanny resemblance to a taxi, particularly in black like this one. Recall that in the used car trade theyre called metro cabs; though in 4.6 Vogue spec and priced at £49,995, this is some taxi. Worry in case it should have gone to Mr Prescott, but the paperwork shows no mistake. Discover that cost includes the whizzo-looking satnav system, leaving only Oxford soft leather seats (£2000) and smoked rear glass (£450) as options. Well, some things you just have to do without.

Burble down the lanes to drop delivery driver at the local station. Get immediate pleasure from the softly thunderous V8 and fragrant leather interior, disappointment from the slow steering and low-speed ride. Wish there was a BMW X5 for direct comparison.

Friday. Day on farm. Couldnt contemplate loading greasy toolboxes into pristine boot so the Range Rover stays at home, leaving the familys uncomplaining 1986 diesel Classic to do the dirty work. Try not to compare and contrast the two as this brings on fits of depression.

Saturday. Duty and Bourne-mouth (jewel of the south) calls. Mightily impressed by the way the Vogue swallows a dismantled double bunk bed and its mattresses, not to mention bags, coats, running gear, wetsuit and two short surfboards. Some of the room comes from the 2.75m (108in) wheelbase (Classics are 2.5m (100in)), the rest from banishing the spare wheel to under the floor. Reassured to find some things dont change: the back seatbelts still get trapped in the seat latch mechanism.

Glide down the A27/M27 in afternoon traffic, cruise control set for 80 and the big V8 never more than a hum and a hiss. The car barges through the air so wind noise can be significant: it all depends on direction. The steerings slow and like its predecessors, needs small corrections to track true. Little aftershocks run through the bodyshell as the Range Rover rides rippled tarmac, nibbling away at the air of luxury radiated by the cabin. The driving position – tailored by electric motors and restorable by the push of a button – is definitive 4×4: you cant sit higher, wider or more handsomely this side of a Trannie van. Arrive relaxed and in some style, expecting (though not getting) a red carpet to the front door. The trip computer reckons 19.3mpg. which is only a little terrifying.

Sunday. Picture-taking in the morning, take mum out for tea in the afternoon. Exploit the air suspensions ability to drop the car by 65mm (2.5in) for easier access by older bones. Mum is duly impressed, but reckons if son had a proper job he might be able to turn up in such transport every time. Some hope.

Monday. Away by 6am for a fast run to south Devon. Carin 2, the Range Rovers severe satellite navigation lady, recommends the coast route through Dorchester and Axminster. At this time in the morning were not about to argue. Relieved of the bunk beds and sundry clutter the Vogue nips along, its underpinnings digesting big bumps but those heavy axles pattering across smaller stuff. Wish for a bit more overtaking grunt; 215hp doesnt deliver a true kick in the pants, even with Sport mode dialled into the four-speed autobox – a modern five- or six-speeder would let the eights 295lbf ft torque shine brighter. Soon decide the answer is to drop manually into third rather than wait for kickdown. Swoopy sections confirm the old bus can be hustled but at the cost of heroic body roll. Grips there all right but the car never lets you forget its height and weight, suggesting self-control is the best way forward. Discover in due course that the brakes are mightily reassuring.

Closing in on the target village, were tickled to find that Carins notion of the fastest route includes one-car lanes and a final ascent up a track unsuitable for motor vehicles. Ho ho – pay £50,000 and get a dunce. Still, no worries: into low range and up we go, greenery scraping the sides. Plenty of transmission whine plus clattering from the traction control, followed by aggrieved beeping while the computers argue about changing back to high range. Follow the on-screen prompts and all goes quiet; reflect that a lever, while not as flash, is easier.

Discover farmer John Sampsons plans for Quantum Sports Cars (see FW Jan 4) then hop back into more regal transport for a flying visit to the Eden Project. Arrive in gathering gloom – impressive engineering, wife likes the plants – then drop down to Maenporth for an overnighter. Carin does the business properly this time, threading us through the darkness without a hiccup. Unleaded has disappeared at one gallon every 18 miles – bearable given the days pasting, if at odds with Eden philosophy.

Tuesday. Cool, blowy and damp so this must be Cornwall. Auto de-mist and climate control quickly civilise the interior as we take back lanes to Helston, the Vogues refined rumble bouncing from granite walls. The A30 funnels us past Penzance, out across the slightly surreal landscape and down to the clean, sea-washed sweep of Sennen Cove. Fall in the Oct surf until cramp nips the toes, bless the Range Rovers drop-down tailgate while getting changed, take some more pictures then back to Penzance. Leave under biblical skies as dusk turns to night and a southerly gale roars in, feeling safe and snug in a bubble of warmth and calm. Cosy things, Range Rovers.

Wednesday. Back home by way of Bodmin and Dorchester. Still cant come to terms with the ride and steering, but impressed by the cars overall blend of abilities. Arrive remarkably bushy-tailed despite six hours in the saddle. Check the trips: 822miles at 19.4mpg, so fuel has cost the same as two period returns to Penzance by train. Park the Vogue up and find a beer. Cant help but feel a little sad… and not only as its back to reality tomorrow.

Endnote

Since BMWs X5 redefined the standards, the games up for the current Range Rover. Its stacked full of kit and character but a very English ambience cant hide a knobbly low-speed ride, the hazy dynamics, wind noise and lack of real punch. Yet still theres a little tingle of anticipation each time you slip behind the wheel, reinforced by the comforting feeling that not much is going to come between you and your destination. Me, I cant wait until secondhand prices get a bit lower. Lpg conversion, anyone?

Above: Travelling first-class. Top-notch driving position, good seats and climate control take the stress out of long runs.

Left: Last look – current Range Rover will be replaced next year.

Standard Carin 2 satnav system (1) works off-road, isnt as straightforward as some, though, might be helpful to bank managers lost among their vast acres. Complex climate control panel (2) has sensible auto-functions. Low range and diff lock live in shifts left-hand gate (3), while button to right handles sport mode. Window switch panel (4) is in traditional Range Rover place.

Centre cubby box has gas strut for lid.

Now theres plush for you.

Vogue-spec interior has certain style, though tweed underwear not obligatory. Wood capping to steering wheel looks odd but works well. Buttons on his n hers keys (below) will reset seat and mirrors to individuals liking.

Variable ride height drops car automatically at speed, raises it if chassis grounds. Centre rocker switch gives manual control, easing entry to tall vehicle.

New Range Rover has strong visual echoes of current car. Independent suspension replaces beam axles, engines will be 4.4 litre petrol V8 or 3.0 litre diesel turbodiesel. Dont ask the price.