Despite a host of imitations the Range Rover, the brand which germinated the entire SUV segment, remains to most the definitive low range-enabled luxury vehicle.
TOO CAPABLE: Way too few Range Rovers ever get to venture into terrain like this. Is that reason enough to judge it as a superfluous SUV? Picture gallery.
RANGE ROVER VOGUE TDV8
4.4-litre V8 turbodiesel
Eight-speed ZF auto
Zero To Hundred
R1 259 995
Its ability to blend authentic all-terrain ability and premium luxury cabin comfort with matchless grace, in a properly British manner, has always managed to differentiate Range Rover as the most desireable 4x4 wagon.
Although the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and Toyota’s 200 VX also offer low-range, locking differentials and a host of luxury cabin appointments, the Range Rover remains the class standard in terms of style (thanks to its heritage), image (thanks to the people who own them) and ability (thanks to Land Rover’s undiluted commitment to only building off-road vehicles).
Range Rover customers usually sport double-barrelled surnames and, to their minds, the Olde World English charm of these premium Land Rover products can never be usurped by Japanese digitisation or superior German engineering.
They're loyal, too, despite the vacillating service quality from Land Rover in recent years; the automaker says this has now been addressed with an 85% fix-it-right-first-time. Admittedly, with Land Rover now (finally) in a financially sound position (thanks to substantial cash support from its Indian owner, Tata) the quality issues and at times rather strange blend of hand-me-down Ford bits has been consigned to the past.
There is, of course, a rather fundamental issue with Range Rover ownership: how does one justify a plutocratic SUV in this day and age when it’s perceived to possess no credible multi-terrain ability?
“I’ve never even seen one of those things park on a wet lawn,” is the refrain of most critics.
To illustrate this point, back in May of 2005, that most anti-motoring of institutions, Greenpeace, invaded Land-Rover’s plant in the British Midlands and managed to shut down production. Captain Planet’s acolytes were seeking a pledge from (then) parent company Ford to stop making and marketing 4x4 vehicles such as the Range Rover, which was originally intended for overland use but had fallen into the role of a fuel resource-diminishing luxury car.
Range Rover, then, is judged pointless and rather destructive to the very environment Land Rover’s vehicles have always enabled owners to explore.
Or is it, really?
TIMELESS STYLE: All three generations (and the latest facelift, extreme right) of the SUV that started it all. Note the classic bonnet castellations, a Range Rover signature styling detail…
After spending a week with a new 2011 spec Range Rover Vogue, is there sympathy for the original SUV’s role?
SIMPLE STYLING CAN BE STRIKING
Amazingly, four decades since the late Charles Spencer King engineered the original Range Rover, the iconic Land Rover SUV’s shape has not changed much. Its styling remains classic two-box Range Rover, with a large rear glasshouse and strikingly simple proportions composed with neat surfacing. In one of those legends that could only have come from an era of pre-digital car design, Spencer King sketched the Range Rover’s styling himself while busy with the dual responsibility of finishing the vehicle's engineering details.
Spencer King’s artistry was so well executed that his design was left unaltered and went into production. Even on the 2011 Vogue, the grand old master of British mechanical engineering influence can still be seen in the Range Rover’s characteristic bonnet castellations. They were originally crafted by Spencer King, in true utilitarian engineering style, to improve the driver's ability to see the corners of Rangey in congested city driving when parking or driving off-road.
It's one of those iconic design details that set the Range Rover apart from German and Japanese rivals.
Beyond its strikingly simple body styling (and substantial aristocratic presence) the Vogue’s cabin environment remains class-leading without employing materials of similar quality to, for instance, the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. Strangely, though, the lack of ultimate tactile quality doesn’t really matter.
The horizontally split cubbyhole on our test unit had a looser fit than a well-used hostel boarder’s lunchbox but the overall ambience and design renders the Range Rover's cabin so cosseting an environment that you never exit the Vogue in a foul mood – even if you enter it spewing the most ungentlemanly profanities after a frustrating day at the showjumping grounds or Polo field.
The simple dual-tone trim finish, nautically themed controls and ergonomically perfect driving position make the Vogue one of the most comfortable vehicles (of any configuration) to settle into for a one-day Gauteng-to-Cape Town drive.
Although trim and styling changes accompanying the new TDV8 engine are minimal (access the cabin in low light and you’ll notice new illuminated tread plates) the cabin environment is one of the best – an exceptionally well-executed blend of classic British craftsmanship and contemporary digitisation.
Equipment levels are keen, too - Infotainment especially.
First, there’s the clever dual-view centre screen, which features contrast pixel technology which allows the driver and front passenger each to view different functions on the same screen. It’s a great way for wayward spouses to (clandestinely) rely on the Vogue’s satnav while the other enjoys the hybrid TV function or orchestrates a playlist.
Rear passengers have access to two DVD screens and headphones and an iPod connection is standard (you pay extra for those with a G-Class Merc)and the premium 19-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system’s opera-quality acoustics are standard too. These are all extra-cost details on premium German luxury SUVs.
Traditionalists will, or course, be aghast at the lack of analogue road and engine-speed instruments. The entire instrument binnacle, instead, is a 300mm TFT (thin-film transistor) screen which means full digitisation and a range of display properties.
TIMELESS STYLE: TFT instrumentation, an affront to analogue traditionalists. Having real-time wheel articulation and direction diagrams in your field of view are awfully handy, though…
As much as I detest the idea of a Rangey Vogue’s critical functions being relayed to me in “iRover” mode, the benefits are undeniable. On a practical level the terrain response display has migrated to a new view between the digital engine and road-speed dials and a very handy wheel-articulation and direction indicator joins it when broken terrain is engaged.
The 'Terrain Response' system’s configuration has also been altered, its rotary selector replaced by a switch. This change is due to the Vogue gaining a Jaguar XF selector dial to control primary drivetrain functions, replacing the traditional shift lever and tidying the centre console.
Thanks to the migration of these terrain response displays to the instrument binnacle the Vogue’s party piece is enabled on the hang-down section’s display screen – a stunningly useful series of 360-degree field of view driving cameras.
You might think it’s an awfully contrived gimmick but the five cameras (dual front bumper, one under each external mirror and one aft) yield a hugely practical field of view. This, in turn, enables one to navigate the Range Rover’s substantial dimensions over broken terrain (and around claustrophobic underground parking garages) with aplomb.
Two particular features of the camera system are worth mention...
First, if you manage to nose the Range Rover beyond an entrance, you’ll have a full 180-degree field of view to gauge traffic hazards from each side, even though all you’ll be able to see from the cabin are walls on each side. Very clever.
Second, considering the Range Rover’s military logistics 3.5t towing ability, you’d expect Rangey owners to hitch up the horse-box quite often for equestrian pursuits.
If you’ve ever attempted to reverse out of a muddied car park with a dual-axle trailer you'll know exactly how confounding the counter-intuitive steering actions needed to guide the trailer's path can be.
To correct this, when reverse is engaged with a trailer hitched, the reversing camera not only displays yellow vehicle path guidelines (kind of useless on their own with a trailer blocking the terrain in view) but also an overlaid red guideline set – indicating the trailer's path.
BIGGER V8 IS BETTER
Statistically the Vogue’s new V8 engine (naturally) out-performs the Ford 3.6-litre it replaces. Power is up rom 200 to 230kW, peak torque from 640- to 700Nm – improvements of only 15%. These increases in engine output trim the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint appreciably from 9.2 to 7.6sec and top speed increases by 9km/h over the 3.6 V8 to 209km/h, primarily thanks to the new eight-speed auto transmission’s gearing.
The real advantage of Range Rover’s new 4.4 V8 diesel, curiously, is in terms of uel consumption; it averages only 10.2 litres/100km (10% less than the smaller 3.6).
TWO EXTRA GEARS – ONE WORLD OF DIFFERENCE
EIGHT-SPEED: The centre-console gains a Jaguar-sourced shift controller. ZF’s renowned eight-speed auto transmission is seamlessly brilliant and wonderfully intuitive in its shift regime…
Most credit for the larger engine’s efficiency gains over the 3.6 TDV8 must go to the eight-speed ZF auto transmission that has a more generous ratio spread and an exceptionally tall overdrive. The ZF transmission is operated by only two internal clutches - minimising friction.
Other clever engineering features incorporated as part of the ZF transmission upgrade include a recalibrated torque converter, which enacts lock-up as soon as possible to reduce transmission slippage.
In cold conditions the ZF transmission operates in the lowest gear possible to coax the engine to peak operational temperature with the necessary urgency.
Although the new Range Rover TDV8 doesn't have absolute stop/start engine technology it does have an idle control that disengages 70% of the vehicle’s drive when stationary.
As part of the ZF transmission upgrade the Range Rover’s Terrain Response system adds new functionality. A gradient acceleration control enables safe traversing of extreme gradients even when the hill-descent control has not been engaged.
A STABLE CRUISER - AS IT SHOULD BE...
The 4.4 Range Rover TDV8's most endearing characteristic is its outstanding cruising ability. Low levels of wind and road noise (not to mention outstandingly isolated mechanical vibration) make the Rangey a choice long-distance cruiser or daily commuter – despite its size. Its radar-controlled cruise control is a (huge) boon for keeping up the pace on dusty/misty secondary roads when visibility is limited (it 'sees' through the haze).
Thanks to the ZF eight-speed transmission upgrade the steering wheel gains paddle shifters (lacking on the current third-generation Range Rover since its launch in 2006) and, despite the inertia effect of its mass, once the tachometer passes its 2800rpm value the Vogue is plenty quick enough to zap past slower traffic..
It remains a (very) large vehicle at 2.7t, though, and although the ride quality (even on20" wheels) is outstanding, you’d expect it to roll like a battleship when cornering at moderate speeds. Well, it doesn’t… Land Rover's engineers have shored up stability by employing the latest German-sourced adaptive dampers on each wheel.
Tailored to suit the Range Rover’s specific mass distribution profile, Bilstein’s 'DampTronic' valve technology is able to process 500 calculations per second (adapting damper oil-flow and bypass viscosity accordingly) to keep body roll to a minimum. Yes, it’s not as planted as BMW’s X5,but then the BMW has nothing approaching the Rangey’s off-road ability.
This, for me, is a crucial part of the Range Rover’s appeal.
You see, Land Rover doesn't bother going to the Nurburgring with its vehicles. Its premium product remains the Vogue, in its role as a luxury off-road station wagon; unlike BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, where the headline SUV offerings are X5/6 M, G55 AMG and Cayenne Turbo S. These German SUV's are all fantastically capable but utterly pointless – and have some of the most fidgety (compromised) ride characteristics around, not to mention rather limited off-road capability when shod with ex-factory specification rubber.
I respect Land Rover for not pandering to this pseudo-performance SUV craze. Yes, it builds the Sport too, but that is very much a junior Range Rover (discounting the Evoque), not the pinnacle. This it’s a marketing and product-planning principle I came to respect deeply during my week with the Vogue, as the cosseting ride and lack of Nordschleife-geared steering (the Rangey’s got a nice, easy-to-twirl helm) won me over.
Although you feel the Vogue's high(ish) mass centre-point move around when pushing on it always remains stable and has none of the nausea-inducing oscillation that plagued Range Rovers of yore while traveling at speed through a mountain pass.
The Vogue inherits the pre-facelift (2006) Supercharged’s ventilated 360/350mm front/rear disc combination, actuated by dual and single-piston sliding callipers respectively and as such manages to stop its considerable mass with reassuring efficiency.
GOES WHEREVER YOU NEED IT TO
AT HOME: With low-range engaged and air-jacked to 280mm worth of ground clearance, the Vogue’s (very) capable off-road. standard tyres clog quickly though and the front lip-spoiler winglets are easily damaged…
When Charles Spencer King engineered the first-generation Range Rover in the late 1960's his breakthrough engineering detail was suspending each wheel on a coil-spring. Although his colleagues at Land Rover were (highly) sceptical of replacing rugged leaf springs with coils, Spencer King’s logic was quickly vindicated.
His wheel attachment solution assured ample wheel travel (and ride comfort), thereby ensuring that the Range Rover would keeps its tyres in contact with an obstacle even in extremely broken terrain – guaranteeing traction and forward progress.
Four decades later the original Range Rover’s solid-axles have been replaced by fully independent suspension and, thanks to air-bellows, you’re able to raise it to a maximum ride height where the Vogue’s got 283mm of ground clearance and plainly, off-road ability remains peerless.
The only weakness, really, is its tyres. Configured for high-speed on-road, cruising the Vogue's Continentals feature low noise-signature treads that’s not quite the last word in self-cleaning rolling dynamics. Suffice to say, in mud the Vogue’s at its most vulnerable not for lack of fundamental design as much as tyre choice. Despite this, it’s crushingly easy to drive over broken terrain.
Land Rover’s terrain response system managed to merge the mechanical fundamentals crucial to hard-core off-roading (a locking rear differential and two-speed transfer case) in a foolproof package where to simply look outside at the environment you are about to navigate, then select the appropriate terrain setting (general driving; grass, gravel, snow; mud and ruts; sand; and rock crawl).
A range of clever electronics harmonise the interplay between engine and drivetrain, and with some obligatory grinding noises from the ABS (as it intervenes by braking wheels that have lost traction, transferring drive to wheels still in contact with Mother Earth), it’s virtually unstoppable.
The terrain response is generally impeccable in its control of the drivetrain, yet you still see it (via the TFT display) locking and unlocking the rear differential at odd times. Perhaps the engineering algorithms governing this behaviour are beyond the cognitive ability of mere journalists like me, which is quite likely. For the most part, though, it works flawlessly and thanks to the all-round-viewi cameras, you are very unlikely to scratch it in rocky terrain - giving Vogue owners even less of an excuse not to venture off-road.
THE ORIGINAL - AND THE BEST?
REGAL ROVER: Classic styling. Luxury-car comfort. Go-anywhere capability. It’s the ultimate aristocratic landowner’s conveyance…
All things being equal, there is little difference in the off-road ability of the big-three low-range luxury 4x4 wagons available locally.
Merc’s GL (307mm) and Range Rover (280mm) have superior air suspension-buoyed ground clearance and electro-mechanical intervention systems guaranteed to ensure grip while the G-Wagon (213mm) and VX200 (230mm) have less outright clearance.
The real difference, though, is the sheer aplomb of the Vogue. Its cabin is by far the best place to be, especially when you head back on the tar again, for some high-speed cruising home after a weekend at your mountain top or coastal getaway spot.
I loved the captain's chair driving position, where you’re able to rest both elbows comfortably; the left on a fold-down armrest, the right on the generously wide driver's door window sill – a driving posture impossible to replicate in any other luxury 4x4. I loved the lack of carpeting and presence of hugely practical rubber mats. Yes, the lack of a powered tailgate is an oversight, but it’s due to be addressed by the 2012 model year upgrade.
Overall, the Vogue’s appeal is greatly enhanced by the fact that’s it’s a genuine original. There has been no brand dilution with a superfast version, honed on a race track somewhere in Germany. The styling is elegant. Cabin ambience unrivalled. Off-road ability prodigious.
Charles Spencer King harshly judged Range Rover owners who used their vehicles exclusively as an urban transport solution. Having experienced how capable the Vogue is, I can see his point, but also having experienced its vastly relaxing cruising ability, I have sympathy for those who buy them and never even fiddle with the terrain response setting,
If you cover a substantial distance in a Vogue for just one weekend on a getaway jaunt it's so good I guarantee you’ll understand (and have sympathy for) Jellybean's trust fund requirements.