It’s hard to know where to start with the new Range Rover. After all, this is only the 5th all-new one in more than 50 years. This is a big deal.
The new Range Rover continues a march upmarket that began shortly after the original arrived—it doesn’t really compete with, say, the BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS so much as it does the S-Class and 7-Series. Especially now, given Jaguar Land Rover has killed the Jag XJ sedan. And with the top-level SV model, the Range Rover competes with more niche offerings like the Bentley Bentayga and Aston Martin DBX.
Land Rover invited us to Northern California to sample three new Range Rovers—a short-wheelbase V-8 First Edition, a long-wheelbase six-cylinder, and an SV.
Many will focus on the Range Rover’s gorgeous new exterior and plush interior, though those shouldn’t take the spotlight away from the SUV’s many mechanical changes. Unlike the last Range Rover, the new platform incorporates more high strength steel to create a more rigid structure, and in addition to height-adjustable air springs, there’s also new adaptive dampers, a 48-volt active anti-roll system, and a rear- wheel steering. And though the vast majority of Range Rovers won’t ever see an unpaved road, the SUV still has off-road chops, thanks to locking center and rear differentials, a low-range gearbox, and Land Rover’s Active Terrain Response system, which uses the car’s electronics to maximize available traction.
The base engine is JLR’s mild-hybrid 3.0-liter straight-six, here making 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. A BMW-sourced V-8 is optional. JLR is winding down production of its long-running V-8, so it’s turned to BMW for a supply of 4.4-liter twin-turbo units. Though it makes the same 523 hp and 553 lb-ft as it does in many BMW applications, Land Rover says its engine is calibrated its own specifications. The V-8 also has an intake mounted higher up than its BMW equivalent and a new oil sump to increase off-road performance. Both engines are paired with ZF’s ubiquitous eight-speed automatic, while a plug-in hybrid six-cylinder is on its way, and an all-electric version set for 2024.
It’s an excellent car… though there’s a big problem with V-8 versions. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the V-8 itself. It’s an excellent engine, smooth, responsive, with broad, linear power delivery, and it has a perfect partner in the eight-speed auto. It’s just that the Range Rover feels uncomfortable with the larger engine.
A vehicle’s ride characteristics are best explained by two terms: Primary ride is how it handles itself through undulations or corners, and while secondary ride describes how it deals with smaller surface imperfections like potholes, cracks, bumps, and broken road surfaces. The primary ride of all the new Range Rovers on hand was superb. Especially in long-wheelbase form, the Range Rover floats up and down the road in a wonderfully smooth manner. It’s relaxing to experience the way the car makes short work of the dips, crests and cambers of a road.
But in the V-8 cars, the secondary ride felt unacceptably harsh. The Range Rover made every road imperfection very well known, and considering that these things will be driven largely in places with poorly maintained roads—you know, New York, Los Angeles, the entirety of Great Britain—this feels like a huge misstep. Surely the wheels take a large part of the blame as all the testers were fit on 23s, though the secondary ride harshness was pretty much nonexistent in the six-cylinder cars. When asked about this discrepancy, a Land Rover spokesperson forwarded this response from the product team: “Yes, the V-8 is definitely heavier and the weight [is] in the front. Yes, [it’s] noticeable to us as well when we drive.” Per Land Rover’s figures, a V-8 Range Rover is 290 pounds heavier than an I-6 model.
Though you sacrifice outright pace with the straight-six, it’s still a fabulous engine, with more than enough grunt to move the 5240-pound rig. This JLR-designed unit is quite high-tech, with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that consists of an integrated starter-generator and an electric compressor that spools up almost instantly before a twin-scroll turbocharger takes over at higher revs. The refinement is excellent. Never is a vibration allowed into the cabin—just a pleasant, but distant, straight-six sound.
Nick Collins, JLR’s head engineer, worked for Ford in a previous life where, among many other things, he was responsible for the first two generations of Fiesta ST. That makes him one of us, and he’s a big part of why the new Range Rover is surprisingly attractive to drive. The combination of active anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering give the impression of a much smaller, lower vehicle. You can hustle the Range Rover easily, and it’s legitimately fun, if partly for the incongruousness of the experience—”Try doing that in an Escalade,” Collins says.
The steering is a particular highlight, with perfect calibration providing a meaningful connection between your hands and the front wheels. Body control is excellent, and even when put in Dynamic mode, the car is still very comfortable (excepting the secondary-ride issues of V-8 cars). The only issue that comes up when hustling the Range Rover is the brake pedal. While the brakes themselves seem up to the task of ripping up and down mountain roads, the pedal offers very little in the way of feel. It’s fine when driving normally, but in heavy braking scenarios, when you need the pedal to communicate the most, the absence of feedback is a little spooky.
Does that matter to Range Rover buyers? Probably not. Will any of them hustle their cars? Maybe someone who wants to mess with hot-hatch drivers on Welsh B-Roads, but most owners will drive Range Rovers sedately around town, country, and interstate. The rig is excellent in these settings too, the sort of car that makes you want to hold the steering wheel with fingertips and try to be as smooth as possible. You could cover large swaths of this huge country with utter ease, especially if your Range Rover has massage seats.
The interior is gorgeous. There’s plush leather pretty much everywhere—though a leather-free interior is available on some trims—and the matte wood trim is artfully finished. Naturally, you get JLR’s latest infotainment system, which is very user friendly and looks fabulous on the large floating touch screen. Land Rover also got rid of the secondary lower touch screen for HVAC controls, which is welcome, as that felt like technology simply for the sake of itself. The digital gauge cluster is slick too, and far easier to configure than previous JLR setups. And perhaps most importantly, you get that “command” driving position that’s sold so many Range Rovers before this. The view is generally excellent, though the B-Pillars are quite thick, creating occasional blind spots when pulling out at a junction. I’m only 5′ 7″, yet even with the seat set to its lowest position, you can see the hood in its entirety. As this is JLR’s flagship, there are rear seat setups easily as fancy as those offered in big luxury sedans The Jaguar XJ may be gone, but JLR is not lacking in the “coddling executives” department.
My biggest gripe with the interior is that as you climb up the range—no pun intended—the quality doesn’t seem to match the price. At least from the driver’s seat, the cabin in the SE LWB six-cylinder is damn near as nice as the First Edition’s, with the only apparent exceptions being the full executive rear seating setup and a heated steering wheel, both of which are available as options on the lower trim, plus a leather headliner, which isn’t. The SV testers were all equipped with an even fancier rear seat setup, with individual chairs rather than a bench, a gorgeous center console, and a fold-out tray table. Great, but that package costs nearly $20,000.
I have a hard time seeing the appeal of the SV beyond being a status symbol. It costs nearly $50,000 more than a First Edition model, and what you really get is some (admittedly neat) trim features, including ceramic controls like those you find on high-end watches. To drive, it is totally identical to the First Edition, and thus, not as sweet as the six-cylinder SE. Plus, the example I drove had noticeable leather-on leather squeaks and rattles in addition to the poor secondary ride. It’s an early build example, and the Meridian Surround Sound System can drown out a lot of bad noise, but it’s not what you’d expect from a car that costs nearly $220,000. Land Rover probably won’t be thrilled with my saying that the cheapest Range Rover tester it provided was by far the best, though I suspect it won’t matter much. The upper spec cars will appeal to those who just want what appears to be the best.
We took the SE LWB up some muddy trails that likely wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for a Subaru Outback, and it made quick work of them, even on road-biased 285/40R23 Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires. I’m sure the Range Rover is still the most capable large luxury 4×4, and I can’t wait to verify that for certain.
I’m still not sold on those 23-inch wheels, though they do look amazing. Collins says they’re his pick—unusual, given engineers often favor smaller wheels than designers—and argues that because the tires maintain the aspect ratio of the old Range Rover’s 22-inch tires, ride quality doesn’t suffer. But, the whole package is surely heavier, and that has an effect. Twenty-twos would surely pack enough visual punch and cut down on unsprung mass.
So, the new Range Rover is generally excellent, as long as there’s a six-cylinder under the hood. Collins says his favorite current engine is the straight-six diesel we don’t get in the US, and says the soon-arriving plug-in hybrid has a big appeal. The PHEV combines the inline-six with a 141-hp electric motor powered by a 38.2-kWh lithium-ion battery integrated in the floor. It can cruise on electric power only for an estimated 62 miles. Collins says the best Range Rover will be the full-electric version, which will offer smooth, quiet motoring.
Smart money should buy the six-cylinder SE, one of the finest luxury SUVs on sale today. It might not be the flashiest, but you’ll feel good knowing that you bought the best version of the car as it exists today. That you only really need the base model speaks to the fundamental excellence of the new Range Rover.
We look forward to driving more iterations of the Range Rover. Perhaps the V-8 on its standard 21-inch wheels is far more comfortable, The last Range Rover PHEV was a compromised thing, with a four-cylinder engine and trunk space taken up by batteries, but this one seems to have righted those wrongs . The EV just seems plain cool. In time, we’ll have a more complete verdict on this fifth-generation Range Rover, though all we can say for now is that it’s an excellent luxury 4×4… if you stick with the base model.
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