The latest generation Range Rover makes the biggest changes in all the right places.
And so to the serious stuff. After months of anticipation, a circus of static launches and an elaborate US-based international drive programme, we’re at last able to properly test the 2023 Range Rover in right-hand drive, albeit in the UK rather than Australia – yet.
This week, we’ve driven Land Rover’s brand-new flagship on the ancient, pockmarked roads of Britain, widely acknowledged as the most difficult in Europe; and on the steep, rutted, muddy slopes of the Eastnor Castle estate where both this latest Range Rover and every one of its four predecessors, reaching back to 1970, was developed. It’s the essential evaluation.
Happily, we have the right Range Rover for the job. Our test car is a standard-wheelbase D350 HSE diesel, a version selected several weeks ago by us as potentially the most capable and most practical model of a complicated line-up after we drove no fewer than five petrol and diesel, standard and long-wheelbase versions in the US.
Ours is an uncomplicated mission: to drive a day-long route involving 240km on the roads around southern England, punctuated by about 90 minutes’ much tougher testing at Eastnor, in the same vehicle, wearing the same tyres as it tackled A-roads and motorways.
Demonstrating road-tyred vehicles on a wide variety of terrain at speeds from mud crawl to motorway cruise has always been Land Rover’s special way of demonstrating their versatility.
To recap, the new Range Rover, codenamed L460, sits on a new-design, mostly aluminium chassis called MLA Flex (curious name for a structure “up to 50 per cent stiffer”). It’s strengthened by strategically placed steel components, notably across the front bulkhead and in the body pillars.
At 5052mm overall, the standard-wheelbase model is 75mm longer than before but still around 90mm shorter than the Bentley Bentayga. Its 2209mm maximum width makes it one of the widest cars on the road.
There’s a slightly bewildering array of 3.0-litre straight-six diesel and petrol engine options. All are turbocharged Ingenium units, but only some are mild hybrids. Also offered is a pair of six-cylinder petrol-electric plug-in hybrids, plus a big-power version featuring a 4.4-litre V8 that JLR now buys in from BMW.
Like every other L460, our 258kW diesel puts its power through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, has Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response 2 stability/traction control system and rides on height-adjustable air suspension that works in four modes over a range of 135mm, lowering the car at speed to cut drag and raising it for off-roading. It rides on 22-inch wheels, although a 23-inch set is optional.
At first, this Range Rover looks quite similar in size and proportions to its predecessor, but you soon come to appreciate its smoother, more cleverly integrated features (which deliver an impressive 0.30Cd drag factor), such as flush glazing, a lowered roofline, the tiny, technical headlights, the smoothly integrated front grille and especially the elegant rear, whose beautiful, vertical lights neatly frame the traditional horizontally split, two-piece tailgate.
Our D350 HSE costs $241,400 plus on-road costs (not including random trim options). While by most measures it’s luxurious (lustrously painted, beautifully assembled and lined with quality materials, mostly wood and leather), there’s a pleasant, day-to-day practicality about it that aligns well with its simple-looking controls and its ultra-clear and well-integrated 13.1-inch central touchscreen, from which most non-driving functions (at least those not controlled by Amazon Alexa voice activation) seem to emanate.
When you start to drive, the L460 feels at first like Range Rovers have always felt: big, tall, quiet, soft-riding and (on these British roads) very wide.
It’s fast, too: our D350 soon proved it could dispatch a 0-100km/h sprint in 6.1sec yet then cruised at 110km/h with well under 2000rpm on the tachometer.
However, it only takes a mile or two to appreciate the fact that this car’s dynamics have progressed every bit as far as its sophisticated interior and exterior styling.
First, it’s extremely quiet on nearly all of Britain’s multifarious road surfaces – quite a feat. The ride is soft but always controlled. The suspension bristles with electronic gadgetry (traction, ride, ride-height and stability controls that can reconfigure 100 times per second if they have to), but the upshot is a soft-riding car that meets any obstacle, from a fast crest to crawling a rutted railway crossing, with the same quiet competence.
Nothing can cause this Range Rover to lose its composure and there’s no facility (or need) for the driver to change the suspension rates. No Sport setting. You get what the engineers know is right, and this new Range Rover is all the better for that.
Cornering is deeply impressive. Transitioning from a left to a right-hand corner has always been problematic in SUVs, because you sit high and they’ve always been prone to body roll. The Range Rover’s 48V active roll-control system (which instantly deploys or decouples the anti-roll bars depending on conditions) copes brilliantly with this, aided by a gizmo in the sat-nav system that literally looks down the road, sees a corner coming and warns the suspension to adapt.
The steering is simply the best I’ve encountered in any SUV. It’s good enough to allow you direct this big, soft-suspended car within inches of verges and apexes with consummate accuracy and unaffected by any need to make corrections to cope with bumps or body movements. Its lightness and accuracy (working with the new four-wheel steering that allows this big SUV the turning circle of a Volkswagen Golf) let you forget all about the 2.2-metre body width that seemed a concern an hour earlier.
Off-road, the Range Rover is as impressive as ever, delivering impossible traction and steering authority on road tyres in mud and on nastly, slippery little slopes. It also cossets the occupants all the way, minimising the effects of all the wheel-action occurring underneath.
Like its brethren, this Range Rover can deliver much more off-road capability than any owner, barring a Land Rover test engineer, will ever require.
It’s the versatility that impresses us most. On our day’s acquaintance with this D350, we experienced near-Rolls Royce luxury and Land Rover Defender off-road ability within 15 minutes of one another. Chuck in much-improved rear space, the practicality of a huge boot, a tailgate you can sit on and a new level of city manoeuvrability via the four-wheel steering and you have one of the most versatile cars on the planet.
Small wonder Range Rover has had so many serial owners in its 52-year history. Small wonder, especially, that JLR already has 10,000 orders from owners keen to switch to the new model. They’re making a good decision.