6 Sept 2012

Land Rover's current line-up tested

I was recently given the opportunity to drive all of Land Rover's current line-up.  I spent an hour in each and drove the same route which was a combination of fast A-roads and country lanes.  Here's what I thought of each:

Range Rover Evoque 

Prestige CoupĂ© - 2.2SD4 

I drove the four wheel drive, 2 door version of the Evoque.  I have to admit I am not a fan of the Evoque's looks.  I've spent a long time trying to appreciate it but ultimately I do think it's a case of the emperor's new clothes.  Below the (high) waistline is classic Land Rover but the top half just looks squashed.

Once inside several things struck me.  The first being that the Evoque's interior is a thing of beauty.  Range Rover have done a great job.  The dials and knobs just feel luxurious - sturdy and weighted.  The seats in particular are wonderfully formed and the stitching is perfect.  The dash is laid out well and the materials used in it's construction look and feel just right.

The high waistline causes visibility problems.  As well as the fact shorter occupants will struggle to see out, the small rear window is just a strip in the rear view mirror.  The monitor in the centre console aids reversing but it can't make up for the massive blind spot caused by the A pillar and the Evoque's humungous wing mirrors.

All Land Rovers (except the Defender) feature electrically adjustable seats and steering wheel so it is easy to find the perfect driving position in the Evoque but what struck me as odd was the position of the steering wheel.  In most older Land Rovers the steering column comes up through quite a low position so the steering wheel itself is quite low and angled up towards the driver but in the Evoque it sticks out of the dashboard at a relatively high point so sits flat onto the driver.

On the test drive I was surprised at how fast it is.  The 2.2 litre diesel has plenty of poke and revved cleanly throughout the whole range.  I was also pretty surprised with the handling.  The Evoque really does handle like a car.  Through B-roads it felt pretty nimble and on fast, sweeping A-roads it felt safe and, if I'm honest, fun.  The suspension soaked up all the lumps and bumps that Warwickshire's roads could throw at it and never once did it understeer, or oversteer, despite my best efforts to induce it.

In summary the Evoque is a great car worthy of the Range Rover name although it's looks do divide opinion.  It's only serious failing is the blind spot caused by the vast wing mirrors.

Range Rover

Autobiography - 4.4 litre V8 diesel - 8 speed automatic 

The Range Rover, in this iteration, has been around since 2002 so is by no means a new car.  I have only ever driven the petrol version so this was an opportunity to try out the V8 diesel.  In fact I've driven every model of Range Rover before but only ever petrol V8s.  Once inside everything felt familiar.  Nobody builds a car quite like Land Rover.  The luxury, the feel, the vastness.

I had forgotten just how huge the Range Rover is - the edges of the bonnet just seem to far away - but to drive it feels like driving something much smaller.  This isn't meant as a criticism.  Sure, you are aware of the bulk but the steering, chassis and suspension cosset the driver so well it is possible to thread the Range Rover through narrow country lanes without any problem at all.

And so to the engine.  To be honest, aside from the diesel clatter - which pretty much disappears at speed, it just feels like any other smooth, powerful V8.  The 8 speed gearbox works well.  In fact you would be hard pressed to know it was an 8 speed.  It seamlessly flows though the gears as you plant the accelerator and doesn't get tied up when hovering between slow cruising and hard acceleration - as many automatics are wont to do.

In summary the V8 diesel Range Rover makes absolute sense.  In a vehicle of it's vast size and weight a petrol V8, doing 10mpg, would get rather tiresome after a while

Range Rover Sport

5 litre petrol V8

The Range Rover Sport I drove was the supercharged V8.  Not long beforehand I had taken the Jaguar XKR-S for a spin, also with a 5 litre supercharged V8.  The only letdown with the engine in the Range Rover Sport is that most of the noise has been silenced.  Yes, you get the V8 roar but in the Jag it really is a roar, a thunderous cacophony, but in the Sport it is a muted, burbling roar.

That aside the Sport is properly fast.  0-60 in 5.9 seconds in a car this big is testament to that.  Like the gearbox in the Range Rover you would never notice it has 8 ratios - it just flicks through the gears.

So the Sport is fast.  And it handles well - everywhere.  The wizards at Land Rover somehow manage to make their huge cars go round corners well.  No slips, no skids, no wheelspin.  Just firm, safe handling.  The only let down is in the brakes.  Stamp your foot hard on the pedal and it does take a while to come to a stop.  Do so whilst the car is light, over a crest, or on slippery ground and the massive tyres do tend to lose some grip and the ABS has to weigh in and disrupt proceedings.

Inside the Sport is the usual leather and wood luxury.  Gadgets and gizmos dominate.  Switches and dials, lovely to touch, do this that and the other.  I felt, as I was driving the beast that I wasn't king of the road but that the car I was driving definitely felt that IT was.

In summary the Range Rover Sport does it all.  Fast, luxurious, expensive and massively ostentatious.  It is the equivalent of a chunky gold medallion or a peacock's tail-feathers.  It is a symbol of wealth and, whilst I would quite like some of that wealth, I felt quite uncomfortable at just how ostentatious this car tried its hardest to make me feel.

Land Rover Discovery 4

3 litre SDV6

I have to state an interest at this point.  I own a Series II V8 Discovery.  It is a creaky, thirsty, unreliable old thing that my family and I love.

The Discovery 4, whilst of a different shape to the Series II, has much the same feel inside.  The materials used, the gadgets on offer (electrically adjustable seats and steering wheel, premium stereo system, reversing monitor etc) are much the same as in the Range Rover and Sport but in the Discovery 4 they feel like they have a practical purpose.  It is an expensive car, at £51,220, but also a very practical one.

The engine has 255bhp and it will do 0-60mph in 8.8 seconds so is no slouch either.  It drove well.  No creaks and rattles like older Discoverys - everything felt solid and well placed.  Handling is good but unremarkable.  Corners can be taken with a certain amount of gusto and, like the cars above, never once felt like it was going to under or oversteer.

Farmers like Discovery 4s and it is precisely this blend of practicality and the frugality of the thing which is attractive.  That and the quality feel it radiates.  I was hugely impressed with it.

Land Rover Defender

90 Hard Top 2.2 diesel

As with the Discovery, the Defender and I have history.  I used to own a 1989 90 Station Wagon.  And you know what, the 2012 version is 99% the same.  The modern version a few niceties such as electric windows, although the buttons are exactly the same as in a 1998 Discovery.

The modern version has a 2.2 litre diesel which has 122bhp and, frankly, it felt just as slow as my old one.  I was hoping the modern Defender would have improved somewhat but it hasn't at all.  The steering is heavy (and the wheel is too large and too close to the door), the gearbox is a bit lumpy, the engine feels weak and the the gearbox and clutch were dire.  The clutch pedal felt like it was attached to the clutch itself with a bit of old spring.  It was impossible to change gear smoothly.  And you change gear lots of times.  The gear ratios were ridiculously close together.  Pulling out of junctions ended up being a rather frightening affair with the kangarooing clutch and first and second so close together.  I didn't enjoy driving the Defender at all.

But it still retains its charms.  The shape, the feel, the sound of the iconic Defender are all huge positives.  If Land Rover would just fit a decent engine and gearbox - and a smaller steering wheel - I would have enjoyed my drive in it.

Unfortunately I ran out of time and didn't get a chance to drive the Freelander.  I spent a day driving Land Rovers and found it a most interesting, and enjoyable, experience.  These are British cars at their best.  Some readers will disagree with my view of various cars.  You may not find the Evoque's looks unappealing and you may not agree with my thoughts on the Sport but, were you to drive all the above cars back-to-back, I'm sure you would agree when I say Land Rover deserves it position as the best maker of luxury SUVs in the world.

And, if it was my money, I'd buy a Discovery 4.