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New Range Rover - Ring leader

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Land Rover is on a roll — the envy of its rivals and a case study for MBA students. It’s a turnaround story that was scripted over a decade ago by the predecessor of the very car you can see on these pages — the third-generation Range Rover. It rewrote the rule book of the luxury SUV, packed with features, sumptuous interiors with fine fittings and the legendary off-road capability that makes it a Land Rover product. And even as it headed into the sunset, customers across various markets lapped it up like nothing else, to the effect that the company could move them out with little or no discounts. For a product over a decade old, that’s truly amazing. Clearly, the fourth-generation has its task cut out, with mighty footsteps to follow.

On the face of it, Land Rover has pulled off a coup with the new Range Rover. Unlike its predecessor which was largely aluminium with some steel panels, the new one has gone completely aluminium. Net result is a car that is about 350 kg lighter than the outgoing one. Land Rover claims a minimum kerb weight of 2360 kg for the base Vogue trim, but our bells and whistles version, the top-of-the-line Autobiography trim, tips the scales at 2.6 tonnes. Clearly, it’s not as light as it seems. Still, the overall stiffness and rigidity is substantially greater than the last car. Since the construction is all-aluminium, all the pillars on the car have been made thicker and wider to ensure the vehicle can withstand a rollover impact. But it’s how the car looks on the outside that makes the Range Rover a complete head turner. Lots of lovely details, like the all-LED treatment for the daytime running lights, the lovely digital camera like treatment for the headlamps, the stepped front-grille, the pseudo air vents on the front doors, the sloping roof and the amoeba-like tail-lamps lend the vehicle an air of premiumness that most of its rivals can’t seem to match. Nor can they match the price tag of Rs 2.2 crore, on-road Mumbai, taking it perilously close to the likes of the Rolls-Royce Ghost and Porsche Panamera Turbo.

But it has interiors to match the price tag too. While the predecessor did start to show its age in its final years, the new one feels completely fresh, drawn from a clean sheet of paper. Getting in and out requires some effort, given the massive ground clearance, but once you are in, you will be amazed by the level of detailing and fine touches. On the Autobiography, all four seats get individual adjustments in practically all directions, the front seats coming with massage, heating and cooling functions as well. A new touchscreen infotainment unit lacks the sensitivity of, say, an Apple product, but it is loaded with features like a Meridian audio unit with two and a half dozen speakers (gulp!), a GPS unit, TV tuner and many other features. The Range Rover also comes with a second-generation, selectable Terrain Response unit that has an auto mode, allowing the vehicle to take over command when the going gets tough. Fit and finish are of a really high order and is a full leg up on the third-gen. Wide seats, commanding view and acres of interior room mean you can spend an entire day here in absolute comfort, as your chauffeur crosses not just countries, but continents. The large boot continues to get a split tailgate, but it’s now an all-electric function.

Since India continues to be a diesel-centric country even in the luxury car space, we tested the V8 diesel for this story. The 4.4-litre V8 diesel produces 334 bhp and a phenomenal 71 plus kg of torque. And it can hit 100 kmph in a scant 6.5 seconds from a standing start and go on to a top speed just past 210 kmph. But it’s not the numbers alone that matter, it’s also the way in which your senses react to it. What will stun you is the sheer refinement of not just the motor, but also the cabin that feels eerily silent as it continues to head for the double tonne. The eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts with no hints of jerks or lag, given that it isn’t a dual-clutch unit that has become the benchmark for shift times. It just cycles through gears like one may flip through the pages of a paperback. And because it produces most of its torque low down, it’s also quick to change pace at the mere dab of a throttle, crucial when you want to overtake slow moving vehicles.

Even as you go around crushing continents, the new Range Rover feels surprisingly composed. Unlike the last one that had a tendency to pitch from side to side, even around fast corners, this one corners flatter and feels more poised. So as you take decreasing radius turns at high speeds, your occupants won’t necessarily be perturbed by the movements of a heavy, tall SUV. Sure enough, some of its smaller, lighter rivals can tackle the same corners better, but given its size and weight, it’s rather impressive. Steering has decent amounts of feel too, though some German competitors are better in that regard. It’s also got a ride that not only shames its rivals, but can shame proper luxury sedans too. Compliant, with well-controlled vertical movements, it not only isolates occupants from harsh road conditions, but even transmits very little road noise on the inside. Where the Range Rover continues to shine though, is when you place all four of those 22-inch wheels off-road. Do that and you will find a vehicle that can literally carve its own path out of nothing. With a wading depth of 900 mm, it’s capable of not just tackling Mumbai or New Delhi floods, but rivers and streams too. With an intelligent four-wheel drive gear setup, put the Terrain Response in auto mode and leave it to the vehicle to take you across the worst off-road sections out there. Few SUVs can match its ability to tackle slush, sand and rocky terrain, such is its range of capabilities.

You may feel disheartened by the price tag, for you could buy two luxury SUVs for the same money and still be left with some change. But no SUV manages to marry the luxury and opulence of a Rolls-Royce and go-anywhere capability that the Range Rover manages. Clearly, it’s not a car that’s bought with the head, but the heart.

To read our ultimate SUV battle between the new Range Rover and Porsche Cayenne, grab the upcoming March issue of Business Standard Motoring!