Test Drive: Five minutes with a Range Rover Autobiography

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What is it?

A Range Rover Autobiography, which means a very high specification of a very high-end SUV.

The Range Rover initiated the luxury off-roader world almost 50 years ago and it’s still going strong today; unbelievably, it’s currently only midway through its fourth generation (mainly because the original ‘Classic’ Range Rover soldiered on in production for fully 25 years).

Without needlessly abusing the i-word, this is an iconic car – the shape of the vehicle has remained roughly the same for fully 47 years. And, for the 2017MY, parent company Land Rover decided to facelift its totemic flagship to keep it fresh.

Why are you driving it?

Well, because things are a little more difficult for the Range Rover nowadays. Operating in its own niche for many decades, critics often struggled to compare the British great with any other 4x4s, mainly because they were simply not as advanced or comfortable.

It’s therefore spent most of its lengthy lifetime duelling with the saloon-shaped Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

But it’s a much more complex SUV marketplace today. For starters, the Range Rover has several in-house rivals – the Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Velar and Range Rover Sport being the main alternatives.

Then there’s the rise and rise of vehicles like the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLS, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo XC90, which would have once never got close to the RR – but which nowadays seem to be getting on a par, in some disciplines, with the golden oldie.

However, by far the biggest threat to the Range Rover’s premier SUV status is the emergence of genuinely opulent off-roaders from exotic marques; existing vehicles like the Bentley Bentayga and the Maserati Levante, as well as forthcoming ones such as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Lamborghini Urus. As you can see, where once it sat in splendid isolation, nowadays the Range Rover is swamped by a whole horde of pretenders to its glittering crown.

What do you like about it?

It’s a Range Rover, therefore it is pure class. Even in the somewhat gaudy exterior colour scheme of our test car, with its £6,000 (yes, six thousand pounds!) gold paint teamed to black detailing.

Don’t buy it if you want to go barrelling into corners at any great pace, but do sign on the dotted line if you want to experience one of the most sumptuous machines available at any level of the automotive world.

On its all-corners, constantly variable air suspension, the Range Rover is a proper glider, easing its occupants over the very worst of road surfaces without any sort of discombobulation within the cabin.

The level of noise suppression is also remarkable, because if you decide to drive it sedately, you won’t hear that V8 diesel powerplant from within the vehicle. And no matter what road you’re on, you’ll never hear the tyres nor wind rushing round the passenger compartment; it’s eerily quiet.

Everything it does is silky smooth and urbane, so it’s a simply wonderful conveyance to be in. And while we can question the quality of the infotainment system and the layout of the dash – are they worthy of a six-figure car like this? – what you can’t argue with is the sheer magnificence of the fixtures and fittings, or the dominant seating position you can attain, or the beautiful TFT display in the instrument cluster, nor the simply seamless and enormous surge of acceleration that hugely torquey 4.4-litre turbodiesel provides.

With an imperceptible eight-speed automatic also fitted, this Range Rover is just sublime in every respect bar handling – and even then, it’s hardly appalling.

Any issues?

That paintjob, which is called Rio Gold Ultra Metallic Satin, really isn’t going to be to the taste of many, but that’s something easily avoided when it comes to ticking the boxes on the Range Rover order form.

While it’s by no means a slouch in the corners, the Rangie still feels like a softer, old-school SUV for handling and would be embarrassed by the likes of a Porsche Cayenne, Audi SQ7 or, most pertinently, the Bentley Bentayga. If you want the more cosseting rear seats with the entertainment package, it means sacrificing the middle chair, meaning this £122,000 example is actually only a four-seater, in a world where seven-seat SUVs are prevalent at vastly lower prices. And £122,000, while a huge pile of cash, is nowhere near the maximum you can spend on a Range Rover – and that’s for a car that has very similar switchgear and infotainment to Land Rovers that are less than half the cost.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

You might be tempted to think that going for the turbodiesel SDV8 engine, instead of the almighty supercharged 5.0-litre petrol V8, will bring some fiscal rewards. But it doesn’t; well, not many, at any rate. The diesel Rangie is bought primarily to offer longer cruising range on a tank, as its 33.6mpg combined figure and colossal 89-litre reservoir (19.6 gallons) means it can theoretically go 660 miles, or thereabouts, on one fill-up. We actually saw 29.7mpg indicated on the trip computer across 470 miles of mixed motoring, so that’s not bad at all.

But it’s in the highest BIK bracket going, its colossal asking price means it’ll be a huge tax burden both as a company car and in terms of the first six years of VED, and if you use the V8’s undeniable charms, you’ll be getting petrol-like fuel consumption out of it; the Autobiography is 2.4 tonnes of leather-lined luxury, you know.

Where does it rank in class right now?

It’s still up there at, or near, the top. Driving a Range Rover bestows an imperiousness upon you that’s impossible to match with anything German or Swedish, no matter how good they are and how many options boxes you fill in while in the showroom.

It also has the measure of the so-so Maserati Levante, the Lamborghini Urus is bound to be far sportier in outlook than it is focused on comfort and we sincerely doubt the Cullinan will cost anything less than £250,000.

All of which leaves the Bentayga, the major headache for Range Rover in terms of holding onto its loyal customers. The Benters is uglier than the Rangie, but it has the superior cabin. The Bentayga is more money than even this optioned-up Autobiography, but it’s also better to drive and has, incredibly, some genuinely brutal powerplants at its disposal – those being a 435hp/900Nm V8 turbodiesel borrowed from the Audi SQ7, or a simply ridiculous 608hp/900Nm W12 6.0-litre nuclear weapon of a motor.

While they are both about comparable on comfort and refinement levels – the Range Rover possibly juuuust shading it on this score – the Bentley is by far the more fun to drive quickly on a winding road. And while Range Rover is undoubtedly a motoring badge with enormous street cred, you have to admit Bentley is another level of prestige again.

Which would we have? For our money, the Range Rover just looks wonderful and undercuts an equivalent Bentayga by enough to make it our narrow choice for class honours – but, when you’re talking about people spending the sort of money on an SUV that would otherwise secure a decent rental property across our fine county, then saving a couple of grand probably isn’t going to sway them from the allure of the Bentley.

And that’s the significant problem the venerable, fabulous and exceptional Range Rover now faces. That, though, doesn’t detract from the fact that this SDV8 Autobiography is a proper living legend.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Range Rover SDV8 Autobiography
  • Price: Range Rover range starts from £76,705; SDV8 Autobiography from £100,950, car as tested £121,975
  • Drivetrain: 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 diesel, eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
  • Economy: 33.6mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 219g/km – £1,200 VED first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter; 37% benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 135mph
  • 0-62mph: 6.9 seconds
  • Power: 340hp at 4,000rpm
  • Torque: 740Nm at 1,750- to 2,250rpm