Not exactly the natural setting for an £80,000+ luxury car but nonetheless one its perfectly at home in

Not exactly the natural setting for an £80,000+ luxury car but nonetheless one it's perfectly at home in

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Is the Range Rover worth the premium that Land Rover charges for it over the enormously capable Range Rover Sport? Or are these vehicles for two different kinds of buyer? Glenn Brooks decides.

I somehow managed to get myself invited on not one but two Range Rover Sport launches this year. The first was a two-day event to celebrate Land Rover’s 65th birthday, during which I got to see not only the first series production cars being manufactured in Solhull, but also drove various near-production examples at JLR’s test track.

Then came two days driving the RRS through the Cotswolds and up into Wales. The admiration I had had for this vehicle on the first event turned to near-awe by the time the media launch had ended. Whatever you threw at it - gravel roads, up and down severely steep and muddy inclines, tightly twisting B roads, motorways, stop-start town traffic, the Sport excelled. All the while, I knew this was a 2+tonne 4x4, yet it felt lithe and yes, ‘the most dynamic Land Rover ever’ - the declared goal of the team tasked with designing and engineering it.

The fourth generation Range Rover has been on UK streets coming up for almost a year now and yet it still turns heads, mine included. And I've been itching to drive one ever since I first saw it at the Paris motor show in September 2012. This model introduced Jaguar Land Rover's PLA platform, which some call D4u. Thanks to its aluminium construction, the vehicle is an average 420kg lighter than the third generation model.

Depending on the market, buyers have a choice of a 510PS supercharged 5.0-litre V8 ('LR-V8 Supercharged') and two diesels: 258PS 3.0-litre V6 ('TDV6') and 339PS 4.4-litre V8 ('SDV8'), each of which comes with a standard eight-speed automatic transmission. The V6 and V8 diesels are supplied by the PSA and Ford joint venture, while the petrol engines come from Ford's Bridgend plant in Wales. A 340hp supercharged 3.0-litre petrol V6 is also now available in many markets - yes, that’s the same engine as lurks beneath the bonnet of the lowest powered Jaguar F-TYPE. There had been a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 but this has now been phased out: this is one of the changes for North America’s 2014 model year Range Rover, the US being a very important market for the big SUV.

Despite this still being a model in its first year of production, yet more changes or additions continue to be announced. A new top trim level, Autobiography Black, had its world premiere earlier this month at the Dubai motor show. In a few weeks’ time, a long wheelbase ('L') body style will have its global debut at the LA auto show. This is claimed to have 140mm more rear legroom, with the car’s bodywork lengthened in front of the rear wheels. Unlike an earlier generation LWB, you can tell it was part of the original design and engineering briefs - the proportions are spot-on.

The L, which is mostly for the US and China, though we will get it here later in 2014, will be offered with Vogue, Vogue SE, Autobiography and Autobiography Black model grades. A Range Rover L Hybrid will also become available in the second half of next year. Extended wheelbase variants have an L badge behind each wheelarch.

Autobiography Black, which goes on sale in the UK in August 2014, brings with it seven-spoke 21" or 22" wheels with a high gloss polished finish. The rear centre console includes electrically deployable tables covered in black leather with integrated USB charging sockets and cup holders. The chiller compartment provides additional space for glasses and bottles, while the headphone stowage trim can be removed to reveal a ski hatch.

Before the L and Autobiography Black reach UK dealerships, we’ll see the first hybrid Range Rovers from Q1 (Jan/Feb) in Britain and other EU markets but for the moment, this one won’t be available in North America as the V6 diesel is not (yet) federalised. That should happen around 2015, and not just for the hybrid either - an updated version of the TDV6 that complies with California’s and by then Europe’s similar emissions norms should be launched at last.

After all that activity, which is an inspired way of keeping interest gathering and resale values high, a mid-life facelift should appear around 2016/2017 and at the same time, JLR’s forthcoming AJ200P four-cylinder petrol engine. Despite its svelte looks, I wouldn’t expect Land Rover will let this model live for the ten years that the previous model was built for, but there again, the way it looks inside and out, and the way it drives, even in 2023 it could well be competitive.

So what are the things that most appeal about this big SUV? The driving experience is the main one, and it comes as a surprise to discover just how different that is compared to the Range Rover Sport. The first thing you notice is the thin steering wheel. Is it meant to make you think of a Phantom? I’m struggling to recall any other luxury vehicle which doesn’t have a chunky wheel. So straight away the distinction is set between luxury and sports. Not that the Range Rover floats compared to an RSS. The ride is soft and for the total limo-like experience you can dial up a lowered setting for the suspension to save your passengers having to climb up into the cabin.

Exiting this car at night is a special experience: puddle lamps we’ve seen on so many vehicles but on this one, they project a circle of light from the bottom of each door mirror, and in the middle of that circle are the words RANGE ROVER. You can tell that Land Rover really understands the kinds of things that impress luxury car buyers as the font exactly matches the letters on the edge of the bonnet. Nice.

The fancy lighting is standard but another option that looks cool in the dark when you approach the car from behind is the rear seat entertainment. Blip to unlock and the screens in the backs of the front occupants’ head restraints illuminate with the Land Rover logo. Do these kinds of small things matter? Indeed they do when you’re charging a lot of money and buyers at this level are obviously fare more discerning that most. Would they be willing to pay GBP1,900 for a sliding panoramic roof? For that money you get a large glass panel and, thankfully, a proper shade to protect you and your passengers from the sun. I should also mention something that comes for free - little additional sunvisors that pivot so you can have protection for your eyes from the sides as well as through the windscreen.

Still with options that were on the test vehicle, a detachable tow bar is an extra GBP810, a full sized spare wheel is GBP200 and at least you still get an enormous boot as it’s well integrated, and something I wouldn’t be without now that I have tried them - front and rear ‘wing head rests’ for an additional GBP400. These are like those bendy bits on an airline seat that you can adjust to stop your neck getting sore. In the Range Rover they were covered in super-soft leather and felt heavenly.

If you think the Range Rover might be too big for you - it made an outgoing shape X5 I parked beside in the supermarket look small - you might be surprised by how easy it is to drive. The turning circle isn’t too big and it’s dead easy to park and you can easily see all corners.

The RR shares a wheelbase with the Sport but whereas the RSS can be ordered as a 5+2-seater, the Range Rover is strictly five seats only, even in forthcoming LWB form. There’s a lot of space inside this vehicle, Land Rover no doubt having been stung by the comments of how cosy the old RR (and RRS) were inside. In the front, you also sit quite a way apart from your passenger and if you need to open the door by reaching across, you can’t, it’s that wide. Some of that is down to the centre console but the seats are clearly made for those who might be potentially wide in the posterior area.

As you would expect, the tailgate is the traditional Range Rover split design, whereas the RRS has a hatchback, and both top and lower elements open and close with electric assistance.

Much as I loved my temporary ownership experience, there were some things that I wasn’t mad on. JLR would do well to specify a finish other than shiny black plastic for the column stalks in not just this car but almost all of its models. Maybe a real owner would quickly get used to this but even though I’ve driven other Land Rover models, the positioning of the electric window switches on the top of the driver’s door’s shoulder still takes time to get used to. One last niggle - for almost eighty grand I’d want automatically folding mirrors. You have to remember to press not one but two buttons to do this every time you exit or enter the car. It wouldn’t be cheap to replace one of those mirrors and this vehicle is so wide, you would be doing it often if you have the on-street parking typical of most English cities’ posh postcodes.

Let’s not end this review on a negative note. Apart from the looks, the supreme all-weather ability, the silence and the performance/economy mix, I also loved the thick carpets that were the opposite of some of the shiny stuff you get in certain so-called luxury vehicles, and one last thing: the heavy doors. These are aluminium but that’s a big, thick pane of glass in each. It made me wonder why Mercedes-Benz ever surrendered this once-distinctive feature that people will usually associate with high quality and ‘solidity’. In a big 4x4 it certainly adds to the sense of take-it-anywhere that Land Rover is so clever at selling softly.

Excluding options, but including VAT, the Vogue SE with the 190kW (258hp) 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine costs GBP77,910. Urban economy is 33.2mpg and I saw just less than that. On the EC’s official Extra urban cycle, the figure is 40.4mpg, with Combined of 37.7mpg. CO2? That’s 196g/km.

So the question remains: Range Rover or Sport? I’m not sure that the target buyer would even consider one seriously over the other. As I’m writing this review at Hong Kong airport I’m going to use an airline comparison. If the RRS is Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class, then the Range Rover would be like First Class on Emirates - friendly-funky and unstuffy prestige, versus the almost last word in luxury. Almost? Well there’s a long wheelbase Range Rover to come, isn’t there? I will save two words for my expectations of that one. Private, and jet.

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