By Jonathan Crouch
So many cars claim to be unique but the Range Rover really is, continuing to set the standard in the super-luxury SUV sector. Larger, lighter, more economical, smarter looking and even better off road, the aluminium-bodied fourth generation version is finally good enough to properly combine the imperious qualities of a top luxury saloon with off piste abilities that would be limited only by the skills of its driver. A Rolls Royce in the rough, there's nothing quite like it.
Sometimes, being the best just isn't good enough. Take the Range Rover. With a pedigree over four distinct generations going all the way back to 1970, it's always been, without question, the 'finest 4x4xfar'. Yet when the time came for the Solihull maker to develop this fourth generation model for launch back in 2012, the challenges remained. How to remain the world's leading luxury SUV while appearing credibly eco-centric? How to make further forays into the market for super luxury saloons against rivals that don't have to be able cross the Congo or see you through Siberia? And how to reach out to a whole new group of buyers from both segments who would never previously have considered a Range Rover? This 'L405'-series MK4 model had to do all this - and much more.
An extreme challenge certainly - but then this car is well used to those. We've driven them all over the world, from Icelandic glaciers to the Australian wilderness, from up in the Colorado Rockies to downtown in Beverly Hills. But back in 2012, even we were wondering how on earth the brand might meet the fresh and testing demands of a very different era. After all, the previous MK3 model had had a difficult life, first designed by BMW but then expensively re-engineered by Ford when the company was sold to the Blue Oval. The rise in post-Millenium SUV sales ensured its position as the most successful Range Rover in history, but customer interest had very much faded by the time this replacement fourth generation model was launched.
Like the Seventies original, it was clearly revolutionary - and for very much the same reason. A lightweight aluminium body structure set Spencer King's very first Range Rover apart nearly half a century ago and here, the SUV market's first adoption of much the same thing gave this car a credible shot at all its stated goals. The much lighter bodyweight meant it could be larger, faster and more responsive at the same time as being more efficient, cheaper to run and better equipped. It could claim a lighter eco-footprint, a properly limousine-like rear cabin and performance approaching that of a super-saloon. And yes, it could suit you even better if you happened to be setting off across the Serengeti or exploring the Amazon. It was, more than ever, one of a kind. An upgrade in 2015 saw the addition of a long wheelbase body style and a V6 Hybrid diesel model. In 2018, this car got another major upgrade, but it's the earlier 2012-2017-era models we look at here as a used buy.
What You Pay
What You Get
This is every inch a Range Rover. You'd know it as such even without a glance at the elegant badgework. Which is as it should be. Gerry McGovern's design team committed early on to protect the visual characteristics that have always made this car what it is: the wrap-around clamshell bonnet; the deep glass area; the low waist and straight side feature line with no wedge or step up in side styling; the close wheel arch cuts; and the two-piece tailgate.
But if much about this car is familiar, much too about this smoother, more contemporary fourth generation design is very different - as it must be to win over a whole new generation of customers. There's a deep imposing front grille and a more rakish lean to a front A-pillar that, like B and C pillars further back, has a premium gloss black finish. It's there to emphasise the so-called 'floating roof' that sits above near-flush side glazing. The side fender graphics on the front doors also look neat and further back at the rear, another lovely styling touch is the 'hidden until lit' high-mounted LED stop lamp, positioned under the roof spoiler where it illuminates across the full width of the tailgate.
More important though is what lies beneath this slippery shape. Essentially, a £1 billion investment in aluminium technology. At launch, this was the world's first SUV to boast a lightweight all-aluminium monocoque body structure. A structure that saw this car up weigh in at up to 420kgs lighter than its direct steel-bodied predecessor, a weight equivalent to a full complement of passengers. And that's despite the fact that this model was designed to be slightly longer and wider than before for one reason - and one reason only: to offer more space in the rear.
Without that, Land Rover knew it could never credibly pretend this car to be as much a luxury saloon as luxury SUV. And sure enough, an extra 42mm in the wheelbase made all the difference to this MK4 design. For those who thought that wasn't enough, a long wheelbase model with an extra 200mm of body length was offered from 2015. Either way, a wider door aperture and a lower 'Access' ride height on the air suspension means that it's much easier to get in and once seated, also much easier to get comfortable, with over a metre of leg-stretching room and a backrest reclining option for longer journeys. In the back, there's room for three but original buyers could also specify their cars with the 'Executive Class' twin seating option that'll see the two fortunate occupants separated by a veneered centre console and enjoying extra seat adjustment and a massaging function.
This car's slightly larger size wasn't enough to permit the fitment of the couple of occasional rear boot-mounted seats you'll find in a Land Rover Discovery - or indeed the two cars that from the 2012-2017 era are perhaps closest to this one in concept, Toyota's Land Cruiser V8 and the Mercedes GL/GLS. Still, Range Rover buyers have never seemed to want boot-mounted fold-out seats. Luggage room has always been a greater priority, so we should point out that thanks to all the attention given to those on the rear seat, there's a little less of it with this MK4 model than you got with the previous MK3, the 909-litre figure down around 10%. Should more room be required, dropping the rear backrest frees up as much as 2060-litres.
Seated up-front amongst the beautiful leathers, polished metal and hand-crafted veneers, you'll find yourself in a cabin that looks as classy and cosseting as ever, with its clean, elegant controls and a notable absence of button clutter, with most functions relocated to the eight-inch colour touchscreen that dominates the centre of the dash and which, by voice, touch or steering wheel button, marshals everything from sat nav to seat heating, stereo sound to surround cameras. For this screen, Land Rover's engineers developed clever optional Dual View technology, enabling it to simultaneously display a different image to driver and passenger. So at the wheel, you can, say, view the navigation display while your passenger watches a video. Neat.
Ahead of you at the wheel, the instruments are in the usual place but they aren't real instruments in the manner you might be used to. This Range Rover replaces the traditional speedo and rev-counter clocks with digital facsimiles projected on a 12.3" wide TFT screen. In normal mode, you'd have to look twice to verify that anything was amiss as the display looks conventional but off road, the rev counter moves aside in favour of a graphical drivetrain that shows which wheels are being driven, which diffs are locked and much more. In fact, the virtual screen can be customised to show anything from the outside temperature to navigation information, telephone system settings or wheel articulation.
What to Look For
Land Rover products have been featuring much improved build quality in recent years but our owner survey revealed that the brand still has a little way to go to match its German rivals in this regard. We came across several owners who'd had suspension/ride issues and one said that he got exhaust fumes inside the car when he set the climate system to 'auto'. Another experienced random warning lights illuminating on the dash. And another had a fuel tank sensor fault. We also came across an infotainment screen failure. And a broken crankshaft on a V6 hybrid model.
Otherwise, the issues tend to be niggly little things. Poor bonnet and boot alignment for example; alignment issues with the rear doors; poorly fitted rubber trim around the doors; and leather on the seats being loose and ill-fitted. Don't believe misleading reports suggesting that things like brake discs, brake pads and wiper blades wear quickly: they're actually pretty durable.
What else? Well check if a tow bar has been fitted and also check the tyres for odd wear patterns. Although the Range Rover Sport is very capable off road, there are limits to its ground clearance, so inspect the underside for signs of damage to the suspension, exhaust and front valance. The volume TDV6 diesel engine is a tough unit and if you're test driving the car on a cold day, don't be worried if the Stop/Start system fails to kick in. The engine is programmed to keep running at temperatures below three degrees Celsius.
(based on 2014 Range Rover 3.0 TDV6 - approx excl. VAT) A fuel filter costs in the £27 to £46 bracket and an air filter will cost around £26. An oil filter will be in the £8-£15 bracket. Front brake pads sit in the £33 to £44 bracket for a set, though you could pay up to around £76 to £88 for a pricier brand. For rear brake pads, think £31-£55. Front brake discs are around £102-£155. For rear discs, think £120-£170, though you could pay up to around £120 to £170 for a pricier brand. A timing belt will be around £68-£77.
On the Road
Everything changed about this fourth generation Range Rover. Yet in many ways, nothing was different. Step up into the famous 'Command' driving position and you find yourself sitting throne-like in a beautifully appointed cabin that positions you around 90mm higher than you would be in other premium SUVs. A place from which you look out across the hedgerows and to life beyond the urban sprawl. There's nothing quite like it.
Fire the engine and the rotary gear selector glides up into the palm of your hand. Twist it to Drive and the car glides away, luxury, comfort, refinement, craftsmanship and outright performance all fusing together in its imperious progress, whether that be on-turf or on-tarmac. The silence is truly impressive, making this a superb long distance cruiser. Under the bonnet, very little changed in the conventional engine line-up with this MK4 model: why would it have? The freshly developed aluminium underpinnings created a weight saving roughly equivalent to a full complement of passengers. Which made the car faster and more efficient without any need for oily tweaking.
It also meant that the car could be light enough to accommodate something less than a hulking great V8 engine. In this case, the six cylinder TDV6 borrowed from the Range Rover Sport, here developing 258bhp and a hefty 600NM of torque, good enough to send you to sixty in 7.4s on the way to 130mph to the accompaniment of a growly but rather appealing engine note. It's all quite satisfying, until of course you try something better - in this case the 4.4-litre SDV8 diesel. With 339bhp and 700Nm of torque, this is one of the most powerful diesel engines of its era, here dispatching the sixty sprint in 6.5s on the way to a top speed of 135mph, should your private drive be long enough to accommodate it. Those in such a position will also be able to shoulder the running costs of the minority interest petrol model which, with a supercharged 5.0-litre 510bhp, demolishes sixty from rest in 5.1 and has to be restrained at 140mph. At the other end of the scale, there's a frugally focused 333bhp V6 diesel-electric hybrid variant able to put out under 170g/km of CO2 while still sprinting to sixty in not much more than seven seconds.
Speed of course is one thing. Control is another. Previous Range Rovers have conquered the toughest terrain known on this planet, but prior to this MK4 model's arrival, they'd never fully mastered the rather difficult art of making something that weighs as much as two family cars corner on tarmac in a way that could be described enjoyable. Is this fourth generation car different? You could say that. We're not going to pretend that it rivals the class-leading Porsche Cayenne but it's very close for a car that has far greater reserves of all-round capability. Or at least the SDV8 variant is. Unlike the entry-level TDV6, this model comes as standard with the Dynamic Response active lean control system that we reckon is pretty central to the driving experience that this car can offer.
With this in place, cornering speeds that would either have confounded the old MK3 model or had its occupants reaching for the nearest sick bag are completed without passenger comment. Combine this with the great view out you get from the commanding driving position and you'll be amazed at how easy it is to thread this five metre-long and two metre-wide luxury conveyance down a narrow British country lane. Some cars of this sort feel too big for this kind of route. This one doesn't.
Which means that when you're not driving in your wellies, but instead you're in the mood and want to click the 8-speed gearbox's rotary controller to 'S' and flick about with the wheel-mounted change paddles, this car can be a surprising enjoyable secondary road companion. The air suspension system helps, particularly on off-camber roads that dip and crest, showing off this car's generous maximum wheel travel and its other standard feature - the Adaptive Dynamics system. This offers continuously variable dampers, programmable to infinitely variable settings between soft and hard extremes. The system will even sense off road conditions and optimise damping accordingly.
Ah yes, off road conditions: we should get to those. The Range Rover has long been a master when it comes to getting its occupants across their chosen terrain with consummate assurance and comfort. As before, there's a full time 'Intelligent 4WD system' with a two-speed transfer 'box (that you can shift down into on the move at up to 37mph) providing a low range option for difficult conditions or for when towing. The cleverest aspect of this car though, is arguably its Terrain Response off-road driving system, selectable via a control just in front of the rotary gear knob.
Using this, you simply select the setting for the terrain you're covering: 'Sand' perhaps, for those days on the beach. 'Mud/Ruts' should get you across your local ploughed field. And 'Grass/Gravel/Snow' will be perfect for visiting your folks in the country during the next frosty snap. All this is as it was on the old MK3 model but what's new for this MK4 version was a further developed 'Terrain Response 2' package including an 'Auto' setting that could also do it all for you, even advising you of any need to switch into low range - or raise the suspension up to its highest 'off-road' setting'. In other words, all you really need to do is to select 'Auto', crank up the stereo and glide over terrain you wouldn't even walk across: it's brilliant. 'Terrain Response 2' also included an extra 'Rock Crawl' Program for use should you find yourself tackling boulder-strewn river beds.
Really gnarly terrain can be tackled with a bit more peace of mind in this MK4 model thanks to increased ride height (17mm higher at 303mm) and a 900mm wading depth (200mm more than before thanks to an innovative air intake system). You'll need to set the air suspension in its highest 'off road' setting to achieve both figures of course - at which point in this mode the system can automatically vary its height a little up or down to suit to suit long, rutted dirt roads. In that off road setting, there's an approach angle of 34.7-degrees, a departure angle of 29.6-degrees and a ramp breakover angle of 28.3-degrees.
Otherwise, things are almost exactly as before for those brave enough to subject such an expensive vehicle to life beyond the paved highway. So there's Hill Start Assist to stop you lurching backwards on a slope as your foot moves from brake to throttle. And Gradient Acceleration Control to automatically maintain safe and dignified progress down steep hills, even if you forget to select the Hill Descent Control. There's also a Gradient Release Control function for the Hill Descent Control System that will lower your Range Rover over precipitous descents in a more careful fashion that passengers will appreciate. No other vehicle takes this much pride in going where it probably shouldn't.
From princes to politicians, from rock gods to rock climbers, from footballers to farmers, the Range Rover has always appealed to a more diverse group of customers than any other car. As you'd expect it would. This is, after all, far more than just the world's finest luxury SUV, instead unchallenged as four vehicles within one - an everyday luxury saloon, a weekend leisure vehicle, a high-performance long distance private jet and a working cross-country conveyance.
Such perfection doesn't come without a price, in origin or in ownership. Or without compromise - in poorer handling for example against, say, a super saloon. And in tighter rear cabin space against, say, a luxury limousine. Perhaps that's why you've never considered one of these. And if so, consider this. Thanks to its revolutionary aluminium underpinnings, this fourth generation version is sharper to drive, ravishing in the rear and vastly more efficient and affordable to run. It is, in short, a very different proposition.
Drive it through a river, drive it to the opera: it's as happy either way, beautifully built, gorgeously finished and astonishingly quick. True, this car is never quite going to be all things to all people but it has perhaps moved as close to fulfilling that remit as any modern car is ever likely to get. Makes you proud to be British doesn't it.