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Friday 22nd September 2006


ARMOURED RANGE ROVER

If you think SUVs are bad news, wait till you try an armoured Rangie. Nathan Millward did.

Armoured Range Rover
Armoured Range Rover

It can be a dangerous life for a 4x4 driver. As well as the Chancellor’s best efforts to tax you off the road, you also have to contend with an environmental debate driven by dodgy facts and a misguided view that 4x4 drivers are single-handedly responsible for the imminent death of mankind.

In fact you’re probably safer on the front line in Iraq than behind the wheel of the latest ‘Chelsea Tractor’. Fortunately for embattled farmers, premiership footballers and school run mums alike, there’s now a solution.

And last week I got to drive it.

Battle cruiser

Weighing in at four tonnes, the Armoured Range Rover is the closest thing you can get to a road-going tank. From the outside it looks like any other Range Rover, but beneath the skin it’s a very different story. Fitted with armoured steel and reinforced glass, the £165,000 battle cruiser can take a bullet from an elephant gun and still keep on coming. Though don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a standard Range Rover in a bulletproof vest.

With a reinforced floor plan and its own oxygen supply, this thing has can withstand grenades, gas attacks and anything else Swampy and his team of eco-warriors have got to throw at it.

The biggest challenge however is getting in. With lumps of industrial steel lining each door, it takes a two handed tug and a puff of the lungs to make an opening. Once inside, the Armoured Range Rover continues the illusion of normality with little to suggest you were in James Bond’s 4x4 of choice.

It’s only then that I noticed a pair of aftermarket buttons that would look more at home on a pub fruit machine. Resisting the childish urge to give them a nudge I first ask what they’re for. “One’s for the ejector seat and the other’s for the side rockets,” comes the response from the PR man. I’m not convinced -- but why spoil the fantasy?

Fettled by Prodrive

On the move, the additional weight does little to detract from the typically svelte Range Rover experience. Thanks to the reworked chassis and air suspension, it certainly feels no more cumbersome or flat-footed than any other 4x4 I’ve driven. The chaps at vehicle development expert Prodrive have a large part to play in this, and if any vehicle was capable of wrong-footing Ken Livingstone as he tries to tag you with his proposed £25 congestion charge, this is it. With fuel consumption of less than 10mpg however, you just have to hope any chase is short-lived.

Power comes from a 4.4-litre V8 producing 281bhp, and while acceleration is no more than brisk, it does possess a turn of speed that would have members of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s chocking on their lentils. More impressive still are the brakes. With this much weight I expected braking distance to be measured in miles not metres, yet with disc brakes the size of dustbin lids, the Armoured Range Rover stops just as well as it goes.

Stunning

With our tour of the Buckinghamshire countryside complete, it’s easy to see why this motoring armadillo has emerged as the vehicle of choice for D-list celebrities, failed monarchs and pursued religious authors the world over.

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a dinner jacket, the Armoured Range Rover looks like any other guest at the party. Fire a rocket at his chest however and you’ll soon realise you’ve messed with the wrong guy.

All in all, the Armoured Range Rover is a stunning piece of kit. It may weigh as much as dumper truck and be as kind on the environment as a nuclear winter, but for concerned parents there really isn’t any better way of getting the kids to school in one piece. For those who value the environment above self-preservation, you’ll probably see the Armoured Range Rover as a vulgar, ostentatious drain on the world’s resources.

You may have a point, but you try convincing me that given half the chance you wouldn’t see if that big red button really did fire your passenger into orbit.