Growing up in Haiti as the son of missionaries we had two Series II Land Rovers – one long-wheel base and one short. My earliest driving experience was in the army cadets as a teenager where I was taught car handling, double-declutching and general road skills in a SWB Series III.
Fast forward to the present and my current chariot is a Discovery and I happen to have just spent a few days (for fun) barrelling around in a 1996 Defender. So you might understand my wariness at being handed the keys to the flagship model from JLR – the Range Rover P565 SVAutobiography Dynamic with its 5-litre supercharged V8 and five times the horsepower of the aforementioned Defender. But I’m happy to give it a go, as you might imagine. It’s hardly a chore.
Drive down any given street in London’s posher neighbourhoods and the likelihood is that SUVs will be everywhere. Such has been the trend in recent years that it seems there’s no other vehicle that will do to take little Johnny or little Jenny to their primary school a couple of hundred yards up the road.
Manufacturers known for their speciality in other fields are now pushing out high-riding tanks at such a rate that you wonder where it will all end. Lamborghini, that bastion of low-riding, loud-growling supercars have recently given us the Urus even though they had already tried (and failed, somewhat) with the LM002 – the ‘Rambo Lambo’ – in the late 1980s, front-mounting a Countach V12 engine to the LM001 originator. Nuts, but that's Lamborghini for you.
Bentley, likewise brought us the uber-comfortable yet oddly styled Bentayga in 2016. Then there’s Rolls-Royce who blocked out the sun with the gigantically plain yet spectacularly luxurious Cullinan. All these heritage brands, among others, have weighed in to capture a slice of an increasingly profitable marketplace.
We have driven all the above-mentioned cars for Halcyon Lifestyle (apart from the LM002) but for this review we find ourselves sitting in the daddy of SUVs, the wellspring from which all other manufacturers take their cues – the Range Rover. A Range Rover is the one marque that might actually see mud rather than just lift its skirts to tiptoe through the pebbly off-wash from a grassy verge in a rainstorm. Is this true for the SVAutobiography Dynamic though?
The question posed brings to mind a phrase from Cicero’s essay – On Friendship – where the Roman statesman, scholar and philosopher declaimed: Esse quam videri. Translated, this means ‘Be rather than seem’ or, more bluntly, don’t be a phony. As the ultimate in utilitarian go-anywhere workhorses Land Rover’s offerings are generally wonderful. Throw in some luxury finishes et voila, the perfect vehicle in my mind. However, it would be easy to lean on the luxury to the detriment of the driving, something of which I think other marques are guilty.
Of course, the luxury is there and done well. As it should be at this price point in the marketplace. All the surfaces are plushly decked out in leather or with brushed metal trims or varnished wood finishes. The seats in the front have an astonishing 24-way electric adjustment which means I spent (wasted?) a good half hour minutely adjusting for the oh-so-perfect position from which to captain this boat.
In the back there are just two seats rather than the usual bench. There’s almost as much adjustability here too for the passenger but, creating the space for this does eat into the luggage area. There’s still room for four large suitcases or, in my case, a chocolate Labrador, but it’s noticeably not quite as capacious as my Discovery where my daft hound can stretch out like one of my metaphors.
It’s said that a dog comes to resemble its owner in time. Or maybe it’s the other way round? No matter. The point is that there’s a dog for everyone. Whether it’s an old lady slowly navigating a city street walking a Pekingese on a 60ft lead tripping up folks on both sides of the road or the West Country farmer whose speech, a combination of fricative consonants and glottal stops requires subtitles to everyone except his faithful collie, we can all find the perfect hound. My Labrador did fit in here but maybe I would want a bouncy, floppy-eared spaniel if I were to upgrade to the Range Rover.
Driving the Range Rover SVAutobiography is every bit as fun as you might imagine. It’s hardly parsimonious at the petrol pump but, if you can afford to buy and drive this three-tonne exemplar of motoring Britishness you’re not overly concerned with the price of fuel. On the road it is a beautiful place to sit. Cruising at motorway speeds there’s nary a whistle of wind nor an echo of tyres. You’ll arrive at your destination, whether 20 minutes or two hours away, as fresh as you began.
Off road it’s more fun than it has any right to be. I have a friend who has an off-road centre in Deepdale near Barnard Castle and, with JLR’s permission, I put it through some gentle tests. With Graeme alongside me we fiddled with the suspension settings and pointed the nose at the sky a few times. Whatever we tried it was apparent that we hadn’t scratched the performance surface of the Range Rover. It was a dry sunny day so no mud-wading was needed but the actual jungle rather than the urban version wouldn’t pose much in the way of hindrance.
However, this does actually bring me on to the one thing that disappointed me. I am so heavily right-side dominant that I could cut my left arm off with little to no loss of capacity save for the fact I’d fall over from lack of balance integrity. My left hand is useful only for waving in front of me in heavy fog to make sure I don’t bump my nose into a tree. I mention this so you can understand my discomfort with touchscreen infotainment systems from which you fiddle with the suspension settings.
My discomfort is only slightly mitigated when driving abroad and sitting on the other side of the car – I dislike touchscreens generally as I think they’re dangerous and impractical. They may look good (the one in the Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic looks spectacular, and in fact is pretty good in the general utility pantheon) and be becoming more user-friendly as the years go by (when stationary), but I yearn for the analogue days of buttons, switches and knobs that are navigable by touch while en route from A to B without taking your eyes from the road.
But enough of grumbles. There was only the one, which is not specific to this vehicle, and I write these articles from a ‘living-with-them’ perspective. And what a car this is to live with. In the week that I had it it didn’t fail to delight me at every turn. It is a proper driver’s car.
Over-indulging your right foot, there’s an injection of a double-dose of adrenaline into your veins. The V8 5-litre supercharged lump that lies acquiescently uncomplaining at the heart of this vehicle wakes up and becomes an entirely different beast. The tail end sinks. The engine that had, to this point, been docile, compliant and reasonably quiet rapidly (and I mean rapidly) has a volte face.
It has a remarkably stable platform for such a high-sided beast. The combination of speed and corners should make a vehicle of this size, height and power bounce around like a bathtub thrown onto a trampoline but it doesn’t.
Instead, in an eyebrow-raising display of controlled fury it hunkers down and kicks you in the back as it hunts the horizon amid a flurry of breathless epithets and adjectives which increase in volume as the tarmac disappears in the rear view mirror.
It goes from 0mph to ‘Oh, dear Lord …!!’ in less time than it took me to write that sentence. This, in and of itself, isn’t that amazing: there are many cars that accelerate with eye-popping rapidity. It’s when you contrast the acceleration with the weight, height and overall size of the Range Rover that your gast is flabbered.
A push of the throttle, drop a gear or two accompanied by Wagnerian farts from the exhaust, and you’re off into the far-beyond. It will pull and pull all the way to 155mph. The 0-60mph timed sprint is just 5.1 seconds in case you were wondering, and I know you were.
It won’t appeal to those folks who glue their hands to the M25 but no matter. If those bearded folks try and stop me I’ll just go around them. Even on road tires there’s nary a bog nor bush that could stop it.
You’re never guaranteed happiness in life; only the pursuit of it (to misquote Thomas Jefferson). It’s your responsibility as a human being to catch up with it yourself. With the Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic you’ve got a better chance than most to reach it.
I have driven many cars that are faster or that accelerate harder. The only one that comes close in the SUV category though is the Lamborghini Urus. I enjoyed that a lot but it’s really a road car following the trend for SUVs. The Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic is the real deal.
Esse quam videri indeed. Now all I have to do is find £146,000.