Motoring / The Independent Road Test: A steep price to pay for some country cachet: The luxurious new Range Rover is even further removed from its origins, says Brett Fraser

OVER THE years, the specification, price and aspirations of the Range Rover have been climbing steadily. Its tremendous off-road ability apart, all links with the farmyard Land Rover have been cast aside with the acquisition of the trappings of the well-heeled car about town: wood, leather, Wilton carpets, automatic transmission, electric-powered this, that and everything. The name Range Rover now appears on buyers' shortlists alongside the Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. And often it tops the list - not just in Britain, but all over the world.

But it is now in danger of getting too big for its boots. When the latest round of revisions are announced at the Birmingham Motor Show later this month, the top model will cost close on pounds 40,000. That's an awful lot of money for a car which, despite all the changes, isn't so far removed, mechanically, from the original model.

Its rivals, however, are every bit the Nineties luxury cruisers you'd expect for 40 grand. They're whisper-quiet, sports-car fast, and as solidly built as St Paul's Cathedral - all things that the Range Rover isn't. Ah, but can they drive up the side of mountains? Of course not, but then most Range Rovers never even go near a molehill. And if you treat it as a road car, its act starts to look ragged around the edges.

But let's not undersell the story of the Range Rover, because there are few more heartwarming examples of a country boy doing well in the city. In June 1970, it was born into the highly respected Land Rover family whose reputation for ruggedness, practicality, adaptability and a keen sense of adventure were already well established. But the family was always ill at ease when asked to travel too far from a farm or far-flung jungle track; they could not cope with urban life.

From day one, however, the young Range Rover was designed to be less rural. True, its early role was to serve 'gentlemen' farmers, landowners, and the horse racing fraternity. But the fact that it was expensive (at pounds 2,000) and initially hard to get hold of, gave it an instantaneous cachet, not just with monied country folk but city dwellers, too.

Two decades ago, 'luxury' was not what it is today: the interior was swathed in vinyl, the floor mats were rubber, and you had to wind the windows by hand. But all mod cons are incorporated in the new king of the hill, the Vogue LSE model. It is unique in the Range Rover line-up in having a longer wheelbase (108in against 100in for the standard model), the extra inches allowing rear passengers more room to stretch their legs, and more luggage space.

Also unique to the LSE is a new 4.2-litre 200bhp derivative of the 3.9-litre V8 which continues to power lesser models. It goes some way towards making the big off- roader a more convincing on-road rival to a 4.0-litre Jaguar or S-class Mercedes. The bigger capacity engine accelerates like it means it, without the thrashy wheezings that accompany the 3.9's exertions. In the crucial middle rev- ranges, the overtaking band, the extra oomph is most keenly felt, and most greatly appreciated.

Just as important, it brings a relaxed gait and peacefulness to motorway cruising, which is aided by substantial improvements in the sound-proofing throughout the car. But by decreasing engine and road noise levels, the car's wind- noise problem - caused by bodywork which has the aerodynamic refinement of a shoebox - is left with the stage to itself.

More worthy of star billing is a sophisticated electronic air suspension (EAS), which replaces conventional steel coil springs with air-filled rubber diaphragms. The technicalities of the system are worth an essay of their own, so here we'll stick to the effects, for they help to make the LSEthe best, most desirable Range Rover yet.

Most of its functions are masterminded by a computer, but it allows some human intervention through the buttons on the centre console. There are five height settings: 'Standard', the same as on conventionally sprung models; above 50mph, the system automatically drops 20mm, and adopts 'Low Profile', to aid aerodynamics and stability; 'High Profile' (manual selection only) raises the suspension 40mm, for off-road work; if that's still not enough, 'Extended Profile' provides a further 30mm elevation. At rest only, the suspension can be dropped 60mm below standard height, into 'Access Mode', making getting in and out easier.

As well as improving the Range Rover's practicality and providing a new toy with which to impress the neighbours, EAS enhances the ride quality, most noticeably off-road. (An optional extra to boost its off-road capability is electronic traction control.)

Inside, the timber has changed from walnut to poplar, and there's more of it. The LSE has gorgeous soft leather upholstery, which distracts you from thinking about the seat cushions, front and rear, which are too short.

For the money - indeed for far less - there are better luxury cars than the Range Rover. But I suspect the typical Range Rover buyer won't care. The car's great off-road potential, though perhaps never exploited, compensates for all other failings. Besides, it's a national treasure, a local hero. And it sells.

SPECIFICATIONS

Range Rover Vogue LSE, pounds 39,995. Engine: 4.2-litres, V8, fuel-injected. Power: 200bhp at 4,850 rpm. Four-speed automatic transmission, permanent four-wheel drive. Variable-rate air-sprung suspension system. Performance: top speed of lllmph; 0-60mph in 9.9 seconds. Average fuel consumption: 13-20mpg on unleaded petrol.

COMPARISONS

BMW 740i, pounds 43,950

Recently in receipt of a brand new V8 engine, the 7-series is vastly quicker than the Range Rover, and more refined. Not as spacious but its seats are more comfortable.

Jaguar 4.0 Sovereign, pounds 38,300

The strong, silent type. Just as luxurious as the LSE, rides more serenely, performs more ably. Needs more space in the rear, and a bigger boot.

Mercedes-Benz 300SE pounds 43,060

Nobody builds 'em like Benz does. Dynamically superior to the Range Rover on all counts (except off-road). Short on soul, big on bulk.

(Photograph omitted)

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
people
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Data/ MI Analyst

    £25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

    Project Manager with some Agile experience

    £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

    Biology Teacher

    £100 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Urgently required teacher of Bi...

    PPA Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments