King of the Hill(s)

Seeing as though it is my birthday it seems fitting that I review a car which has undoubtedly featured in many wishes as I’ve blown out candles; that’s right its the full size Range Rover! The Rangie is a car which has fascinated me for a long as I can remember and owning one is a dream which I intend to realize at some point in my lifetime…with any luck at some point before my 30th birthday, although I don’t like to think about such horrible things (turning 30, not owning a Range Rover although there are plenty of horror stories).

the ‘classic’ shape Range Rover

The history of the Range Rover is too long and interesting to compress into a post like this, but in essence the car was launched over 40 years as Land Rover decided to offer a model targeted more at on-road drivers as opposed to off-road ones. Although originally quite utilitarian the classic Range Rover gained a strong following and quickly became a luxurious model, lasting until 1995 pretty much unchanged, which is a feat not often matched by any vehicles. The car’s replacement was developed in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and it’s launch in 1994 coincided with BMW’s purchase of the company. Although not a bad car by any means, it lacked some of the charm of the original and as a result BMW set about creating a successor abit more worthy of the Range Rover title.

not bad…the second generation RR

Ironically the 3rd generation, my personal favourite, was launched just as BMW sold the company to Ford and so they didn’t really get to see their product bear fruit. But the 2002-2012 model was a triumph and an amazing example of BMW’s engineering might, as well as that of the British company itself who helped make the model into a strong competitor for even luxury saloons and essentially in a market all of it’s own (despite attempts by rivals). Over the course of it’s life, the ‘L322’ Range Rover underwent several overhauls and facelifts, but essentially the same strong design lasted a good run of 10 years.

the original L322 model

The design itself has many Range Rover styling cues, such as a ‘floating’ roof on black pillars, split rear tailgate and a strong horizontal character line which goes all the way around the car. Very square and unapologetically huge, the car’s bold styling won many fans and saw other models (both from Land Rover and other rivals) try to copy the iconic lines. Original models (2002-2005) had slightly different headlamps and grille which were arguably ‘cleaner’ in terms of design, but in 2005 a facelift saw a slight change which I feel looks more modern and suits the car more. In 2010 there were more substantial changes; a larger grille and more ornate headlamps with lots of LED’s were not as well received by some, but undoubtedly helped extend the car’s lifespan and kept it looking current as other models in the Land Rover line up were introduced or changed. When the latest changes were introduced I really did not like it, but the styling has grown on me and these last of the L322 shape Range were clearly the ultimate in terms of technology and performance.

pre facelift interior

The car’s interior saw less changes, but this was down to the fact that Land Rover got it pretty much 100% right first time, and even the car’s successor has been said to have lost some of its charm and bespoke-ness. The upright dashboard and ‘Command’ driving position gives drivers an excellent view of the road (especially for such a big car), with parking sensors and optional cameras making the massive car reasonably easy to park. Although the dashboard itself has quite a lot of buttons, each works with a solid touch and material choices rival that of Bentley in terms of quality and ambience. Equipment levels are high even in base HSE spec, and the vast majority of models come with navigation. This is an area where JLR products have traditionally been left behind abit, and whilst the Range Rover’s is by no means bad, the smallish screen and lack of extra features (like iDrive and MMI) meant that towards the end of it’s life the car was starting to lag behind a bit. Small changes over the years extended to the introduction of Land Rover’s ‘Terrain Response’ controller, with later models receiving Jaguar’s cylindrical gear selector instead of a traditional lever. The last facelift also brought a full TFT instrument panel, so rather than mechanical dials there was a configurable screen for drivers to change with the steering wheel controls. Out back the rear seat room is big, though not as big as one might expect, and entry can be difficult with the rear wheel arch intruding into door space. The boot was also not as huge as the car’s size would suggest, but the split tailgate is very easy to use and the rear wiper is hidden at the top-giving the rear a clean look to match the front.

the first facelift…note the slightly different lights and grille

You may be thinking I’ve had the pleasure of at least sitting in a Range Rover, but alas this is not the case. But I have read enough reviews to comment on the driving experience as well as the interior. In terms of handling the Range Rover appears to drive as you would expect…big. That’s not to say that it’s sloppy or anything other than fine for the vast majority of owners, but this clearly isn’t a sports car, and even the Supercharged version is ‘fast’ as opposed to a race car. All Range Rovers ride on air suspension which helps aid the regal driving style of the car, abit tippy maybe but this is a tall car, and I would much rather drive a Range Rover in style than bounce along in a harsh-riding SUV (I’m looking at you X5…though who am I kidding I want one of those too). Under the bonnet is probably the most interesting aspect of the Range Rover’s driving experience, as its here that choices make a significant difference to how the car is day-to-day. Original cars came with a choice of 2 BMW sourced engines; a 3L diesel with 174bhp or a 4.4L V8 petrol with 282bhp. Both engines were good performers and sold well (alot of used Range Rovers in the UK have the diesel, which gets 25mpg) but were also a bit underpowered for a car the size of the Rangie. With the 2005 facelift the V8 was replaced by a 300bhp Jaguar sourced engine of the same size, and a 400bhp 4.2L Supercharged model added at the top of the line up. The real change for most customers came in 2007 when a 272bhp 3.6L V8 diesel was brought in to replace the BMW unit; getting slightly better fuel economy and boosting performance massively. 2009 saw both petrol engines replaced by 5L V8’s, one supercharged and one not. The last engine change for the model came in 2010, when the TDV8 was upped to 4.4L and 309bhp. Notably this was the first Range Rover to achieve over 30mpg!

the last few years of the L322 had a glitzier grille and headlamps

So far so good, it isn’t hard to see why buyers love the Rangie and for such an expensive model I always see a lot on the roads. Imagine my joy then, when I was looking at cars to buy and stumbled across lots of Range Rovers which fell within my price range! Even comparably aged Discoverys and Range Rover Sports (both talented but ultimately inferior) appear to command higher prices than the original luxury SUV, but why is this? And why am I not planning to make my dreams come true? Well firstly we have to examine the quality of cars in this price bracket…2003-4 models are a little bit older than I’d ideally like, but mileages of 150k+? To me that’s too much even considering the longevity of modern cars. At this age of car we’ll be looking at 3L diesel examples, which are probably going to be too underpowered for my liking, and with fuel economy of just 25mpg my wallet would feel the pinch (even if insurance would be quite abit cheaper than rivals). But by far the biggest reason I won’t be taking the plunge on an older Range Rover is reliability; to be frank the firm’s reputation is shocking, and older Rangies are amongst the world culprits for big bills and constantly breaking down. I don’t fancy having to pay for a new air suspension system, navigation system or central locking mechanism…there are few Range Rovers who have not encountered big bills and on the older/high mileage models there are likely to be expensive faults existing or ready to develop.

similar, but I still prefer the older model to this new design

With the launch of a new Range Rover last year, the firm hopes that it will be able to banish its reputation of being unreliable (especially in the US) and arguably later models of the 3rd generation are probably alot more reliable than the originals were. Hopefully when I am looking at getting another car in a few years there will be some reasonable TDV8’s with prices that I am willing to pay…as at the moment I’d have to double my budget. Or maybe my birthday wish will come true this year!

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6 responses to “King of the Hill(s)

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