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Review: 2018 Range Rover

What is it?
Arguably the definitive big, luxury SUV. Frequently imitated, but rarely bettered or even equaled, the Range Rover has been around since the early Seventies. And even though that means it’s only a couple years shy of its fiftieth birthday, the Rangie is still only in its fourth generation. Admittedly the fact the first-gen (later known as the ‘Classic’) lasted for more than two decades skews that figure a bit. But still…

The current car was launched in 2012. It debuted a new aluminium monocoque that cost the company a billion quid or so to develop. So even though it’s bigger than the car it replaced, it’s lighter by in some cases almost half a tonne. That means it’s faster, tangibly better to drive and more efficient. And with the 2018 facelift comes even more efficiency, thanks to the introduction of the P400e plug-in hybrid, which pairs a 296bhp, four-cylinder petrol engine with an 114bhp electric motor. The P400e replaces the SDV6 Hybrid (a conventional, non-plug-in hybrid with the 3.0-litre V6 diesel and a small electric motor) in the line-up, but V6s and V8s in petrol and diesel (with up to 557bhp for the flagship, 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol) remain available. All are linked to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive with the deeply clever ‘Terrain Response’ technology that gives the Rangie its peerless off-road ability.

Nowadays the Rangie doesn’t just compete with other big SUVs, but conventional luxury saloons like the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8. It has to rival those cars – traditionally their makers’ technological flagships – on every level. Which is why the new car offers higher levels of luxury and cleverer tech than we’ve yet seen from JLR. For the facelift it’s added the dual-touchscreen infotainment setup as debuted in the Range Rover Velar, ‘Pixel’ headlamps with 144 LEDs and four laser diodes each for more than 500m of visibility and much besides. We’re promised a new seat design - adjustable up to 24 (!) ways - makes the Rangie “more comfortable than ever” in the front, and that the ‘Executive Class Seating’ option for rear-seat passengers gives “the impression of a luxurious wraparound lounge-like interior”.

Exterior changes include a new grille and bumper, with larger vent blades. At the side the lower accents and vents have been reworked, while at the rear the updated bumper features integrated tailpipes across all derivatives.

What is it like on the road?
Six different powertrains are available – although some are only available with certain trims or in certain specifications/configurations. The core engine range consists of two diesel engines (a 254bhp 3.0-litre V6 and 334bhp 4.4-litre V8) and three petrols (a 335bhp supercharged V6, the 2.0-litre PHEV and a 5.0-litre V8 with 518 or 557bhp). So far we’ve only sampled the facelifted Rangie as a P400e Hybrid, but past experience reveals there’s not a duffer among them.

It works like most other PHEVs on the market, in so far as it mates a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with an 85kW motor and 13.1kWh lithium-ion battery for 50km of all-electric range at speeds of up to 136kph. Total output is 398bhp and 640Nm, giving 0-96kph in 6.4 seconds and 219kph. This means it’s actually a little faster than the 3.0-litre V6 petrol-engined Range Rover, but all is not as it seems.

See, driving the P400e is an exercise is keeping the internal combustion engine as hushed as possible for two reasons. First is that the less often the petrol engine is forced to fire, the more economical you’re being, and second is that the drone of a four-cylinder engine is not a very – erm – ‘Range Rover-y’ noise. Ask the P400e to gird its loins and actually deliver a sub-7 second sprint to 96kph, and you’re greeted with an inexpensive, weedy noise that feels at odds with the interior in which you’re sitting. So in real terms, it’s a slower thing than other Range Rovers.

But that’s no problem, because the P400e encourages – as indeed do even the most powerful Range Rovers – a very relaxed, laid back driving style that doesn’t trouble the second-half of the rev counter. The steering, brakes and sheer mass make sure of it. When little is asked of the internal combustion engine, it’s whisper quiet. Even under moderate acceleration it’s pretty good, with any trace of four-cyl drone quelled as the car shifts into high-gear once you reach cruising speed. Not perfect, but acceptable given what’s being asked of it.

Naturally there are driving modes. Parallel Hybrid mode is default, and deploys both power sources as the car sees fit (have a destination programmed into the nav, and it’ll take that into account, too). There’s an EV button on the dash that forces the P400e into, you guessed it, EV mode, and a ‘Save’ option in the computer that preserves battery charge for later. Like, say, if the start of your journey is all motorway, but it ends in a city and you want to be able to glide through it silently. Nothing massively new or inventive here, but all good stuff. Charging takes 7.5 hours from a standard household socket, or under 3 if you have access to a 32 amp plug.

This powertrain’s character is actually not dissimilar to a big diesel. Floor it and you can tell the 2.0-litre – an engine now available in every JLR product bar the XJ and I-Pace – is having to work pretty hard to move the Rangie’s substantial weight, but the torque fill of the e-motor makes it feel brawnier than its capacity would have you believe. Avoid hard acceleration and the P400e does a good job of isolating you from the many things going on underneath, and all the transitions are smooth and for the most part seamless. But what it really does is expose what a joyous thing an all-electric Range Rover would be. Some day, maybe.

More generally, the Range Rover steers with fluidity (although response just off-centre is a bit too sudden), controls its body well via standard air suspension and ‘active lean’ software and for the most part rides with the competence of a limousine. It feels built to take care of everything – whether it’s the King’s Road or a rutted farm track – with the minimum of fuss.

It is also faintly startling to drive off-road for what is still a relatively large and heavy car; this thing will get to places you wouldn’t believe. It’s easy, too. Just leave the Terrain Response II off-road software in auto, and you can cross rivers (up to 900mm), climb mountains and traverse the most treacherous surfaces. Progress and settings can be monitored via one of the many screens, should you so wish.

Land Rover even claims the new hybrid powertrain takes the Range Rover’s “legendary off-road capability…to new heights”, and it has a point. The e-motor works with the low-range gearbox and has no creep speed, allowing precise control of the throttle in sticky situations. And for all the high-voltage stuff going on underneath, the 900mm wading depth is unaffected. But LR does ask you turn the engine on when you’re wading through deep water, just in case…

On the inside

Do you really need an S-Class or BMW 7 Series? Not anymore. In fact, you might not even need that Flying Spur (the Bentayga, on the other hand…). Land Rover has noted how many Range Rovers are used as transport for the chauffeured rich and famous, and designed this new one to suit. And with this year’s facelift, it’s added much tech and upped the glam.

The biggest change is the addition of the ‘Touch Pro Duo’ infotainment system that debuted in the Range Rover Velar. This means you get two, 10-inch touchscreens – one on top of the other, like Audi’s latest system as fitted to the A8 and A7 – and very few buttons. The top one does navigation, entertainment, comms and lots of configurable car features, whereas the bottom one handles climate (but can also do media, Terrain Response and so on) and carries two context-dependant knobs that control temperature seat heating/massage among other functions.

In summary, while flash, this is not as slick, swift or user-friendly a system as Audi’s effort. Which is a shame. Its UI doesn’t feel as rich or intelligent, the screens reflect and are slower to respond than they ought to be. Some form of haptic feedback wouldn’t go amiss.

Elsewhere there are new seats front and rear (an Executive Class Seating option for rear-seat passengers gives 40 degrees of recline and a powered rear centre console that, when stowed, gives a third, middle seat), a gimmicky and pointless gesture-controlled sunblind, three-zone ambient lighting and a new air purification system. Various multimedia options (including a 1,700w 29-speaker Meridian stereo), top-quality materials and impeccable fit’n’finish make the Range Rover feel every inch the Bentayga competitor. As, indeed, it ought to.

Final thoughts

The facelifted Range Rover is a wonderfully appealing thing. As good as it’s ever been, thanks to an update that does a good job of masking the fact this particular model has been around for six years now.

Upgrades to the interior and exterior reinforce its place as a viable competitor to traditional luxury saloons like the Mercedes S-Class and Audi A8, while the introduction of a plug-in hybrid version makes it more appealing to those buying one as their next company car, or merely those who spend a lot of time driving in town, and fancy doing so in tranquil silence.

The PHEV is a good effort from Land Rover – it fits with the Rangie’s mannerisms and suits the way it goes about its business. Its greatest achievement is that it still feels like a Range Rover to drive. The brawny diesels or 5.0-litre V8 remain choice because ultimately they’re more satisfying to pilot, but for many the financial benefits of the hybrid will be tricky to dismiss without trying one. And when they do, they might just be surprised.

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