23 March 2013

Jeremy on: the Range Rover

It’s the favoured transport of dukes, footballers’ wives and drug dealers. But is the new model a step too far?

Jeremy Clarkson
Car image

Nobody is better qualified to comment on the new Range Rover than I am. I own the old model, and so do pretty much all my friends. I was at a party just last weekend, and there were 27 cars parked outside. All were Range Rovers.

It's the same story at work. When we go filming, we book the cameramen and the sound equipment after we've organised a fleet of Range Rovers to ferry them about in.

When we take the TopGear machine on tour, each of us has riders in our contract. James May insists that there is a plentiful supply of beef Hula Hoops. Richard insists on something I shan't mention here. And I insist that, wherever we are in the world, we are moved about in a Range Rover.

It is, far and away, the best car in the world. Hammond agrees. The entire TopGear production team agrees. Apart from the actual main producer, who has a Mini Countryman and is therefore mad.

It's the best because nothing else can do quite so much quite so well. Yes, a Rolls-Royce is a tad more opulent, but it won't work in a field. Yes, a Toyota Land Cruiser is more reliable, but it's much bumpier. Yes, a Ferrari is faster, but you can't put your muddy dogs in the back.

I know full well that most people hate it. Cyclists. Socialists. Ramblers. And even petrolheads. They tell jokes that involve hedgehogs and wonder out loud why anyone would want to drive about in a car that seems to revel in its size and its consumption. And it's true. When you are in a Range Rover, you can arrange your face with a great deal of care and attention to detail, but, no matter what expression you choose, you will appear to be sneering at people alongside you at the lights. You can't help it. They're the little people. And you're up there, with the gods.

There's more, too. Many different sorts of people buy Range Rovers. Footballers. Footballers' wives. Footballers' mistresses. Drug dealers. Farmers. Businessmen. Americans. And each will have their own reasons for doing so. But, deep down, there's just one: they all want to be the Duke of Marlborough.

It's the same story when you buy an Aston. You can tell yourself it's because of the styling or the engine or the haptic buttons, but the truth is that when you are driving about in it, you think you are James Bond.

That's what happens with a Range Rover. You can fill the boot with toner, kids' toys, drugs - anything you like - but, in your dreams, it's actually full of two handmade English shotguns and a daft old black lab.

Well, last weekend, I found myself in the company of various Range Rover drivers who really did have a boot full of barking dogs and dead birds. And all were very keen to see what the new model was like. "Disgusting" was the word they used most often.

The trouble is that Land Rover's head of styling is not a man who you can visualise in muddy wellies and a 40-year-old Barbour jacket. And that shows in the car he's created.

Let me give you an example. When you unlock the doors, lamps illuminate under the door mirrors to provide a puddle of light. Good idea. Means you won't accidentally step in one of the dog's turds.

However, I'm sad to report that picked out in the puddle of light was the motif ‘Range Rover'. And this, I'm afraid, is simply ghastly. It might as well say ‘I am a massive bellend'.

There's a similar problem with the lighting on the inside. There's too much of it. And there's a feature which allows you to choose what colour you'd like it to be. Red. Blue. Purple. Green. White. Gold. This list is endless. My daughter thought this was tremendous fun, and I don't doubt Abbey Clancy will love it too. But they're not the Duke of Marlborough.

There's more. On the most recent Range Rover, there were gills in the front wings which, you imagined, had something to do with heat extraction from the engine bay. Well, on the new model, they've been moved backwards onto the doors. Why? Why would a door need gills?

Plainly, someone has decided that these are now a traditional Range Rover feature and that they must be incorporated, even though they are obviously as fake as the pillars on the porches of the customers' Hello! magazine homes.

Behind the scenes, the new Range Rover is a masterpiece. It's a full half a tonne lighter than the last model, which means it's faster and more fuel-efficient. But despite the crash diet, it still feels solid and as heavy as a blue blood pudding. Also, I am assured that the battery no longer goes flat every time you want to go somewhere.

So it's a better-built, nicer to drive, updated version of a car I love. Which is then spoiled by trinketry. And a range of colours which may well look great outside the wine bars of Wilmslow. But which don't work at all in a Duke's wood.

I can understand why they've done this. Because it'll go down well with 99.9 per cent of their customers. Most rich people have no taste at all. But, as I said earlier, the rich people who buy Range Rovers are buying what they see as a passport to Toff Town. And the new model is so chintzy, the toffs will be buying something else.

Let me put it this way. I can see why the James Bond producers made Skyfall gritty and true to Fleming's books. They felt that's what the audience wanted, and box-office figures show they're right. It's a damn good film in the same way the new Range Rover is a damn good car. But it's not a Bond film.

And what's kept the 007 franchise going for so long is not gritty reality. It's not the books. It's the cuff-adjusting coolness of a man who doesn't bleed and sure as hell has never tried homosexuality.

If they keep on in that vein, the franchise will last as long as Bourne. And that's what worries me about the RR. It's a car for now, not forever.

Sadly, I am not allowed to work for a car firm. But if I were, I'd set up shop in a backroom at Solihull, and, whether they liked it or not, set to work on a model which retains the DNA. A Cotswold edition, if you will.

Job one: remove the Range Rover motif from the door-mirror lighting. Job two: remove the gills. Job three: take out the vodka-bar lighting from the interior. And job four: offer a range of colours from Barbour, not Versace's knicker drawer.

That's all it would take. Four small moves, and Land Rover would end up with a car that its crucial 0.1 per cent core audience wants to buy.

If LR doesn't, it will find the rest start to buy other things, in exactly the same way people stopped buying Astons when Bond bought a BMW.

Tags: range rover, land rover, jeremy clarkson, jlr, lr



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