I took a trip to California to get a first taste of the new fifth-generation Range Rover. The event got me behind the wheels of both the short and long wheelbase variants, three powertrains and included the First Edition, HSE and SV models - luxury four, five or seven seat combinations.
Fifty years of evolution and five years of development have culminated in this fifth-generation 'flagship model' Range Rover.
With a 'modernity and reductive' approach, the outward design is softer and more flowing, but it's also the most capable and refined Range Rover yet.
The review was held on the Northern California roads that surround the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, including the Pacific-hugging Highway 1 and some off-road tracks that highlighted the Range Rover's all-terrain prowess.
For my first stint (Charles M Schulz–Sonoma County Airport towards Santa Rosa and Dillion Bay), I opted for the HSE D350 MHEV Diesel (257kW/700 Nm) - arguably at the lower end of the range, but not that I'd notice.
Behind the scenes is a new MLA-Flex body architecture which is not only lighter, firmer and more rigid than before, but it reduces vibration and noise by 24 percent - plus, it opens up a myriad of model options such as short and long wheelbases (for luxurious four, five or seven-seat arrangements). It also makes way for PHEV and EV electrified powertrains to follow.
It comes with intelligent AWD and intelligent driveline dynamics systems that work seamlessly with the integrated chassis control, electronic active diff and Terrain Response 2, meaning that regardless of what terrain you find yourself on, the new Range Rover will automatically adapt to suit. What's more, when on 'regular roads' it uses GPS to monitor up to 3km ahead, setting the optimum ride level and firmness for what you are about to experience. It also has all-wheel steering as standard, so is more sure-footed at speed and offers a tighter turning circle (just under 11m), which is ideal for negotiating downtown malls.
Short overhangs front and rear and a gentle sloping roofline gives the new Range Rover instant roadside recognition but from there on in, it's an all-new design. The front is now split into two elements, with the upper including a new grille and freshly designed LED headlights featuring over 1.2 million optical mirrors that can mask up to 16 objects and still leave your way ahead perfectly illuminated.
The Range's silhouette is the epitome of design restraint with near seamless panel gaps and flush door handles, giving it a 'best in class' drag coefficient of 0.30. It has a specially crafted waist line and a hidden waist finisher that virtually moulds to the Range Rover's glass, while the rear boasts a world's first 'hidden until lit' lighting scheme that switches the tail lights from a gloss black graphic to vivid red.
The interior is incredibly refined with materials that range from ultrafabrics and wool-bends to leather and ceramics - the choice is ultimately yours. And when it comes to the SV models, it's estimated that the personalisable configurations exceed 1.6 million. However, the cabin itself is ultimately an uncluttered and serene place to be.
The 13.7-inch digital instrument cluster is highly configurable, while the infotainment comes by way of a 13.1-inch Pivi Pro system with integrated Spotify, Alexa, wireless Carplay and Android Auto, and (model dependant) a 1600-watt Meridian sound system that includes active noise cancellation and boasts 35 speakers.
Outside pollution in terms of noise or particles are kept at bay thanks to a cabin air purification system and next generation noise cancelling technology, which improves noise transmission by 24 percent. And to top it off, the new Range Rover's list of safety and driver's aids is seemingly endless (too many to mention here).
Getting comfortable in the D350 was simple with 24-way adjustable, heated and ventilated seats. Visibility all around is great thanks to an elevated ride height and big windows - I opted for the 'clearview' image (rear camera projection) in the rearview mirror as it offered perfect rear vision.
The 3L 6-pot diesel engine is full of torque from low revs and it changed up its gears between 4-4500 rpm, depending on how heavy my foot was. Its 0-100km/h time of 6.1 seconds makes this 2.5-tonne SUV quick enough off the mark, but the speed is delivered elegantly. Being the SWB its overall length was a shade over 5.05m and there was plenty of cabin space for all five seats.
On the highway, the biggest thing to notice was the lack of exterior noise. The engine is muffled even under revs and wind noise is at a minimum, just a little input from the wing mirrors - it's a very respectable place to be.
Next up was my first off-road segment in the farmlands around Bodega Bay. Usually these segments are rather tame and in all fairness could be handled in a saloon, but I have to say, the tight dirt tracks required me engaging the elevated ride height and mud settings from the Terrain 2 system. Of course the new Range Rover handled it with ease, even displaying the SUV's wheels and terrain below on the colour infotainment screen.
From there we headed north to a lunch venue set amongst the redwoods near Guerneville, where we switched vehicles to the SWB Range Rover First Edition P530, boasting a 4.4L V8 twin-turbo (390kW/750 Nm) under its clamshell bonnet. It's a step up in refinement, with things like hot stone massage seats, Perlino leather furniture and a powertrain that will get you from 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds.
It was also the perfect new Range Rover to test out the suspension upgrades, as it's been remarked that Range Rovers have a tendency to excessively pitch during acceleration and braking. Not so with the 2022 model: physics would dictate there has to be some movement, but the new Bilstein twin-tube continuously variable dampers removed any potential sea-sickness.
The ride north to Boonville brought with it views of the stormy seas of the Pacific to our left and the forests and greenery of the wine valleys to our right, plus ample time to stretch the Range Rover's legs. Regardless of the road ahead, the luxurious SUV felt well-settled and even playful when challenged by a local in a coupe. Soft and smooth in the straights and taut in the corners.
Next stop, more food on top of a hill on the edge of Orrs springs. Although the elevation was high and the vast views across the sprawling Californian valleys were breathtaking, the track both up and down offered very little difficulty for the new Rover.
Following a night's accommodation at the Montage Hotel in Healdsburg, I grabbed the keys to the first seven-seater Range Rover. The extra 200mm in the wheelbase (LWB) meant its exterior also extended out 200mm in overall length. Much of this added room is around the B-Pillar in the centre, so there's more space in the rear and the rear doors are a little bigger too. Access to the third row is a one button push affair and cleverly, the second row seats don't fold during this process either - meaning a child seat can remain in place.
Despite the extra length, extra 100kg and (smaller) 3L MHEV engine (294kW/550 Nm), the bigger Range Rover rides along nicely, boasting a 0-100km/h time of 6.1 seconds and in fact, feels very much the same as its SWB siblings. It's hard to spot the difference in all honesty, apart from when there are extra kids in the rear, I guess.
Once we arrived at Robert Young Estate winery (for a little more food), we were given the chance to drive the LWB SV - and that was an experience all by itself. As a driver, you are bombarded with a sublime tactile overload. For example, the gear stick and seat arm adjusters were in 'luxury watch' ceramic and there was mosaic marquetry in the centre console. But it's those that prefer to be driven that get the real treats.
The SV is a Range Rover limousine that takes decadence to the next level. Should you require leg room, the front passenger seat moves forward and the rear seat extends and reclines. There's a cooler in the armrest to chill your favourite beverage. A table pops up from somewhere near the transmission tunnel and the drink holders only appear when summoned. Both rear passengers get large 13.1-inch entertainment screens and there's an unmistakable air of 'having made it'.
Why you should: Range Rover is a 50-year iconic nameplate that just gets better with each and every iteration. If you are looking for a luxurious SUV that will handle the rough stuff when required, look no further.
Why you shouldn't: Emissions are not the lowest (but there is a PHEV on the way); it's not cheap (nor should it be); and your neighbours may think you're an East End gangster.
What else to consider: In terms of luxury SUVs there are several, from the Germans (Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and VW) to the Brits (Bentley and Rolls), but when you throw in off-road capabilities, this new Range is a standout.