THANKFULLY, when it comes
to choosing and buying a car, we still have freedom of choice just so long as one has the wherewithal to buy or lease it. And to pay the running costs.
With the Government's tax gatherers and the eco-police targeting the car industry trying to force us to buy smaller, less CO2-polluting cars, we can still for the moment choose to buy what we want. The same cannot be said about choosing the school for our children or choosing a doctor, dentist or hospital. Unless, that is, you can afford to go private. So the real freedom of choice for anything important in our lives is definitely becoming more and more restricted.
We all know how four-by-fours are being targeted as anti-social gas-guzzlers. But in reality, the tax gatherers love them because they can penalise the owners with a modern interpretation of highway robbery so boosting their coffers to spend on other things. and that is certainly not the roads or the motorists.
So for those people who can still afford to make the most of their options, what 4x4 stands out as the 'must have' vehicle? One marque standing head and shoulders above all others is Land Rover's Range Rover. And as Land Rover has recently adopted an innovative CO2 Offset Programme, it means that the first 45,000 miles of Land Rover/Range Rover ownership is carbon neutral for the customer.
Royalty, landed gentry, celebrities, Premiership footballers (and their WAGS), country folk and even certain Police Forces continue to opt for the British-built Range Rover. Although sold all over the world, Range Rover epitomises 'Britishness' at its best and the brand continues to enjoy record sales year after year.
Range Rover the first luxury sports utility vehicle was launched
in 1970 and since that time there have been three generations. The latest was introduced in 2002. However nothing in the car industry stands still and the current Range Rover has been constantly updated and revised since its launch.
Recent changes included the introduction, in 2006, of two new petrol engines. But with the pressure to reduce CO2 emissions, the most significant change recently happened for the 2007 model year with the introduction of a new 3.6-litre TDV8 diesel engine.
The new turbocharged V8 engine delivers 272bhp and a huge 472lb ft of torque, maintained constantly between 2,000 to 2,500rpm with over 295lb ft available from just 1,250rpm.
Compared with the straight-six cylinder turbodiesel engine it replaced, the new power unit gives 54 per cent more power, 64 per cent more torque and it is up to 75 per cent quieter as well. Fuel economy is the same, with a combined average of 25.1mpg. This, incidentally, is comparable to that of many petrol-engined saloon cars; but it is also a vehicle that, along with the capability to cruise motorways serenely, can climb mountains, cross rivers and carry five adults in ultimate comfort. It can also carry an enormous amount of luggage and it has one of the highest permissible towing weights of any vehicle.
Top speed is limited to 124mph, whilst the 0-62mph acceleration time has been lowered by a substantial four seconds to a brisk 9.2 seconds. CO2 emissions are 299g/km, which earns it a high Band G vehicle excise duty rating of £215 per annum. The insurance group is 17E.
Three range Rover variants are available with this new engine: the TDV8 HSE priced at £53,995, the TD Vogue at £61,825 and the TDV8 Vogue SE at a significant £68,825. All have a 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual override mode, permanent four-wheel drive, terrain response, hill descent control, electronic traction control, electronic air suspension ABS braking and stability control as standard.
For very serious off-roading, an active rear differential lock is an option at an extra £446. Other 2007 model year specification improvements include an electronic parking brake. Terrain Response is now standard for all models and includes an electronic centre differential. There's
also improved cabin stowage space, a more effective air conditioning system and the option of cooled seats.
For the record, Range Rover customers can also choose V8 petrol-engined models with the same four-wheel drive system at prices ranging from £55,075 for a normally-aspirated V8 right up to £74,795 for the 396bhp supercharged V8 version favoured by an image con-scious few who would never buy a diesel vehicle.
Make no mistake, the Range Rover in any form is a luxury five-seat limousine with performance, refinement and equipment levels to match. It maybe a 'hated' 4x4 but in fact it is no bigger or more polluting than any large luxurious saloon or estate car; yet it does so much more with its all-wheel drive capabilities, from cruising through mud to crossing rivers.
Talking of limousine status, most Range Rover models have alloy wheels, nine airbags, central locking, electrically-operated windows, climate control air conditioning, alarm, powered leather seating, 7-inch touch screen with 4x4 information and satellite navigation with per-sonal telephone integration and a superior multi-speaker sound system.
Go for Vogue and Vogue SE specification versions and items such as television, surround sound, more wood trim, heated steering wheel, cooled front seats and rear screen entertainment are, depending upon the model, fitted as standard. As always there is a huge, extra cost options list enabling individualists to set their Range Rover apart from somebody else's.
The general improvements in the Range Rover's specification, the upgrading and redesigned interior and attention to detail (items such as acoustic laminated glass to reduce noise intrusion; the new facia and layout of controls; and the general improvement in quality) are all welcome and were needed to keep it rated as the world's Number One 4x4. Just for the record, the boot seems larger as well, and the useful Range Rover split rear tailgate is retained.
The new Ford-designed and produced lightweight 3.6-litre, V8 turbo-diesel engine is a revelation. One of the world's most advanced engines, it is responsive, pulls strongly and thanks to the huge amount of torque it produces is ultra flexible. It's also likely to appeal to many customers who've never before considered a diesel. The 23.2mpg returned by my test vehicle is not brilliant for a modern diesel but, bearing in mind both the weight it has to propel and the
4x4 system, it is very acceptable. The refinement and low noise levels are, however, pretty much as good as it gets.
The Terrain Response all-wheel drive system has been modified and,
I think, in conjunction with the display screen, made simpler to use. There are five settings: general driving; grass/gravel/snow (for slippery conditions on-road as well as off); sand; mud and ruts; and rock crawl. Simply dial in the mode you need and off you go. There is absolutely no doubt no other production 4x4, other than the stablemate Land Rover Discovery, Defender or Freelander, comes close to out-performing this vehicle off-road. Factor in the 3,500kg braked towing capacity and you have a world-beater.
On-road, bearing in mind this is a big and heavy 4x4, the Range Rover TDV8 handles pretty well. Body roll is limited, and you waft along on the air suspension feeling somewhat detached. The high up, throne-like driving position provides good visibility, so vehicle size is not an issue on narrower roads or indeed in town traffic. Thanks to the powered seat and steering wheel, the driver can optimise his or her driving position exceedingly well.
Big in size, yes, but there is plenty of interior space and headroom and only the high level side sills will make it difficult for some people to get in and out of the vehicle elegantly. Big on costs, yes, and it will almost certainly be hit by higher taxes in the future. If you can live with that a long list of people happily could! then you get limousine status and quality, clever technology that really works in the real 4x4 world, excellent safety features and superb off road and towing capabilities. In short, you get the world's most complete luxury 4x4. David Miles
Range Rover TDV8 Vogue SE | £68,825
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Overall test MPG: 23.3mpg | Power: 272bhp | Torque: 472lb ft
Visit Range Rover's website