As you’ll doubtless recall, we’ve already driven the new L460 in California. But a quick spin in wine country pales in comparison to a six-hour tour of The Trossachs. With the exception of motorways, the Scottish test route had it all: sweeping As, roller-coaster Bs, patience-wearing single lanes - all of it tied together with an obligatory gallop back down the Glencoe stretch of the A82, a section of lonely road very high on the shortlist for Britain’s most scenic. In fact, the only thing missing from the day was PH snapper Harry, a packing oversight your correspondent spent six hours kicking himself about. So apologies for the press pics, which were taken elsewhere.
Still, the lack of company made for an unprecedented amount of quiet contemplation - and Land Rover’s latest flagship is worth contemplating at length. Is it the most important car Britain currently makes? If we assume ‘important’ to mean profit-making and reputation-meriting and endowed with idiosyncrasies that no other nation could replicate (try as they might), then probably the answer is yes. Sure, the headline products of Bentley and Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin and McLaren are absolutely in the mix - but none can claim to definitively outsell or out muscle the Range Rover’s influential place on the world stage.
We know this because, as Mike reflected on when meeting the L460 for the first time, the world has been furiously copying the Range Rover recipe virtually since it was conceived. Many have done so successfully and often more affordably, but no rival has triumphantly bettered Land Rover’s majestic bruiser. This fact is so self evident, that the manufacturer long ago opted to jump on its own bandwagon, and adopt a strict policy of continually remaking the Range Rover without seeking to fundamentally alter it. Hence the way the car looks, and, tellingly, the way it drives.
On the first count, you can dismiss any misgivings about that slightly awkward rear end in the real world. Granted, we drove one in a dark colour which helps no end, but even presented with lighter shades it takes no time at all for your brain to simply regard it as a Range Rover, and draw no additional conclusions whatsoever. The quintessential proportions are just too familiar, and too well struck for the model to be compromised by spindly lights. Honestly, Land Rover’s continuing obsession with pop-out door handles seemed like more of a duff note on the day; we’re all for seamless design, but when the unfurled solution looks like the opener for a walk-in freezer, you do wonder if the firm is striving too hard for sleekness on a car which, let’s face it, is no aerodynamicists’ dream.
It’s a relief then to discover that the new interior is, generally speaking, a masterclass in styling restraint. Again, the theme, and many of the basic touch points, are carried over. Anyone coming to the latest version from its well-appointed predecessor will feel instantly at home. Unsurprisingly, it is the much larger touchscreen and new gear lever (replacing the now-retired wheel selector) that standout. If you stated an aesthetic preference for the previous versions of either item, it would be understandable - both were arguably better integrated into their respective fascias - but in a functional sense their replacements are superior control surfaces. Compared to its decrepit and much-maligned ancestor, the latest Pivo Pro system easily qualifies as cutting edge. And while there’s no particular joy associated with the operating a shifter that might have been pinched from any number of rivals, it’s hard to miss dialling up reverse when manoeuvring.
Some of the other alterations seem a touch arbitrary (why the starter button needed relocating from the dashboard to the centre console is a mystery) but the decision to retain physical HVAC controls is spot on; ditto correcting the previous cupholder snafu by moving the allotted cubbyhole through 90 degrees and locating it forward of the gear lever. There’s even a proper shelf for your phone now. Most importantly, Land Rover has done nothing whatsoever to subvert the car’s impeccable driving position. Expect to slip into the captain’s chair like Picard himself, and save for the inconvenience of finding the lumber support assigned to an infotainment sub menu, you’ll likely find visibility, plushness, light, space and a kingly sense of comfort off the chart.
The act of actually driving the new Range Rover does nothing to undo the spell. By rights, the D350, with its carried-over 3.0-litre straight six diesel motor, ought to seem impossibly old hat in 2022 - like riding a laggardly steam engine in the jet age. But of course it doesn’t. Instead it seems like a totally apt way to ghost a two-and-a-half tonne luxury SUV forward. There’s a distant background whirr at low revs, though it is no more irksome on the bridge than the hum of dilithium crystals would be to Jean-Luc. What you notice instead is 516lb ft of torque from 1,500rpm, and the almost complete lack of anything that could be classed as an unwanted vibration.
As Mike discovered in the States, this combination, mated to an exemplary eight-speed ZF automatic, is a splendid fit for the L460. There’s none of the witless, anodyne acceleration that a brace of electric motors would generate, nor the ‘brace yourselves’ lunge of the (briefly sampled) BMW-supplied 4.4-litre V8; the oil burner seems neither effortless nor overburdened. What it does is underwrite the new-age, no-expense-spared surroundings with just the right amount of old-world burliness. Sure, in theory it’ll knock off 60mph in 5.8 seconds thanks to a rhythmic flurry of ratios, and crack 145mph - but in practice it is the range and sheer presence of the lump that reassures you that were the going about to get very tough indeed, the D350 would not flinch. In the best possible, go-anywhere way, it makes the new Range Rover feel hugely capable.
Which is the all the more impressive when you consider that the L460 is simultaneously building a case for being the world’s best luxury car. Its predecessor had a fair crack at this title. And for a number of years during its lengthy lifecycle, the L405 probably had a decent claim. But the increasingly venerable model was eventually steamrollered by a much more sophisticated generation of high-end saloons that made its concessions to physics and wade depth look unnecessary. Now, with four-wheel steering and active roll bars added to the technical armoury, alongside a 50 per cent gain in torsional stiffness courtesy of the new MLA-Flex platform, Land Rover has rocketed its flagship back to the forefront of what is achievable.
The result is absurdly sumptuous. But better than that, it is very pleasant to drive, too, in a way that it never has been before. It is likely you will notice one before the other. Truth be told, a Nissan Qashqai could make a fair fist of Scotland’s sublime A roads, so wide and smooth and sighted are they. The D350’s half-fast amble is predictably gratifying. The electric steering resistance is oily to the point of effortless, yet is wonderfully dialled into the car’s front end (its comparative lack of heft ought to be counter-intuitive when a Range Rover’s big nose is nothing but heft - so it says something that you can aim it with dead-eyed confidence using two digits on one hand). Like its predecessor, the L460 will make an aristocrat of the lowliest driver. Perched high above the road, mostly invulnerable to surface conditions, there’s a tendency to stare out of the window and let the apparently bottomless air suspension worry about what’s going on in steerage.
The L405 would mete out this absorbent ride quality, too, but the D350’s rolling refinement is so mesmeric it’s like being suspended in amber. If you’re buying the most expensive Land Rover chiefly to soak up miles - which emphatically people do - then expect to like it very much indeed. But that isn’t the best bit. The best bit is how cleverly all that new hardware has been integrated into the Range Rover way. The improvements in body control and directional stability - and even straight-up drivability - delivered by the umpteen circuit boards beavering away are so cohesive that for many miles of unbroken Scottish A road they were hardly discernible.
There is no absurdist, physic-defying death grip on lateral movement, or any sense at all that the L460 is suddenly diving for apexes like a returning boomerang. But as you encounter winding B roads or any single lane stretch that has you sprinting for a passing place, it slowly dawns on you that the new Range Rover requires a lot less braking than its predecessor did for it to be appropriately well-organised for a corner. Then you start to realise that in some places it doesn’t need slowing down at all. Once you’ve reached the point where you’ve linked a few bends together at speeds that would’ve had the L405 working your neck muscles, you realise the extent to which Land Rover has cracked the formula for new Coke.
Plainly it isn’t the only manufacturer to get its head persuasively around all-wheel steering or active roll bars - the recently tested Bentley Bentayga S was certainly an object lesson in how to do the latter - but the extent to which all the tech has been made to coalesce with your expectations rather than strive meaninglessly for an additional performance metric, is quite something. Not least because it is quicker and more wieldy, and appreciatively nicer to drive briskly, too. It is plausible that some repeat customers might not be able to put their finger on precisely why the L460 seems superior to their old car, given the new model’s obvious determination to not fall far from the tree. But they will almost certainly find themselves happier behind the wheel, and arriving at destinations ahead of time. Once again, it is a Range Rover. Only better.
Specification | Range Rover D350 HSE
Engine: 2997cc, straight six, diesel, turbocharged
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 350@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@1,500rpm
0-60mph: 5.8 seconds
Top speed: 145mph
Price: £108,775 (as tested: £122,360)
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