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Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged
8/10

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Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged

Driven July 2009

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You could use this Range Rover all day - all year probably - and think it's a mighty impressive luxury saloon. That's certainly where I stood after a morning spent along streets and motorways and back roads. It had been all the things a limo needed to be: quiet, unruffled, smooth-riding, furnished with aching beauty and care. And it had also been perfectly complicit when I decided to get along at some mildly naughty speed or another. Point of fact some of its brand-new bits - a 510bhp supercharged V8 and adaptive dampers - made it more complicit than ever.

But then I drove up a cliff. This wasn't some unplanned slithering off the road and up the embankment. I mean I turned up a track and into some wilderness, then drove several hundred yards up a rock face too steep to walk on except on all fours. The view out of the windscreen was all sky. The crazy angles had the contents of our pockets cascading across the cabin. From the top we descended a dry riverbed of similar terrifying steepness, and crossed a field of boulders as big as my head. All this still dressed in the urban-streetwear 20-inch wheels and lo-pro tyres.

Once you've done that and you go back on the road, the Range Rover's abilities as a luxo-saloon are put into perspective. It's not just mighty impressive. It's borderline miraculous.

We already had Land Rover design overlord Gerry McGovern go through the design changes (TG191), but in sum their main aim is not so much to titivate the Range Rover in itself but to introduce a hierarchy across the range. As a f'rinstance, the indicators consist of a stack of three horizontal bars. In the Range Rover Sport, it's two bars. The Discovery meanwhile has to advertise its blue-collarness by carrying just the single bar. Oh God how wearisome. It's like fagging at Eton: I thought Britain was supposed to have got over this sort of thing.Never mind, a Range Rover is still a wonderful piece of design. Tall and remarkably elegant, it's largely without the pushy arrogance of its rivals. And the terrific cabin continues to evolve. For this year the switchgear has been tidied up again, and it says a lot that the least premium-feeling bit is the light switch, which of course is a BMW item left over from two owners ago.

The centrepiece of the cabin redesign, though - the bit the architects on a Kevin McCloud programme would call the ‘wow factor' - is a pair of big flat-screens. One, a 12-incher, makes up the entire instrument cluster. Yup, even the rev-counter and speedo are virtual items. (When you first climb in, all you see is a plank of virtual wood that continues the line of the main fascia strip.) This allows ad-hoc clock arrangements, so that when you're in one of the off-road terrain response modes the car assumes you don't need a speedo that reads to 160mph, so that dial glides off to the right to give more space in the middle of the screen for the status graphics for the chassis and 4WD hardware.

Besides that, the mid-fascia screen has a voodoo dual-view function. If you look at it from the driver's side it shows navigation or audio, but viewed from the passenger angle it'll show the telly or a DVD movie. Simultaneously. It works utterly seamlessly: no ghosting, no strange colour shifts. I can imagine lone drivers going along in traffic, hands on the wheel but body craning off into the passenger side, eyes glued to the closing stages of the cricket. Some inventive lies are going to be told on the resulting insurance claim forms.

The terrific V8 diesel stays on this year, and it's the one people will buy. But just so's you know, the petrol engine is the direct-injected 'charger V8 from the fastest Jags. And, oh my, it's a peach: sweet and torquey and urgent. The old supercharged RR was quickish but felt like it was working hard. The new one is fast rather than quick, yet it never breaks sweat.

Meanwhile the suspension now has electronic adaptive damping, to add to the existing variable-height air springs and variable stiffness anti-roll. Result is a breathtaking three-way compromise: ride comfort that even most 80-grand saloons can't match, plus staggering off-road ability, plus perfectly decent behaviour down twisting undulating tarmac. Given all that urge and the decent body control, you soon build up to a seriously improbable rate of knots. Then all at once the cavalry arrives - in the form of reason, two-and-three-quarters tonnes of physics, and drastic ESP intervention - to remind you this is a tall land-yacht. Thus chastened you back off, but only a bit because only a bit is necessary. The Range Rover can be swift, but it isn't trying to be sporty.

A Range Rover is about effortlessness. And the new one is the more so. Its design and refinement mean in normal conditions it's a lovely place to be. But when you use it to take you through extraordinary conditions, you find it's a remarkable bonding experience.

Paul Horrell

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