IT’S 5.13am on Wednesday 22nd January. It’s been snowing all night and I’m driving a VW Amarok from Sevenoaks in Kent up to the Cotswolds for the launch of the new 2013 Range Rover.
I’m grinning all the way up here because I’m going to be driving it in in the snow. God, what brilliant weather to test it out in. The Cotswolds is already beautiful, but today, well it looks magical.
I park the Amarok outside the butchers in Chipping Camden. Should be ok there for the night, I hope. I walk along the old high street, slip on the snow because I’m overloaded with my overnight bag and macbook and camera and jacket. I reach the square and there’s ten pristine Range Rovers, parked smartly outside the Cotswolds House Hotel. I’m late. Well at least I think I’m late, but Land Rover’s Lucy Reynolds, meets me in the reception and assures me I’m not at all and that another journalist is stranded in the snow. She’s being rescued as we speak…
I smell coffee wafting through the hotel, and the smoke from the fireplace in the hotel’s reception. It’s warm and luxurious. I walk into to the breakfast room, where about 15 other journalists are sat talking and eating bacon butties and pouring coffee from silver jugs.
“Hard to resist these pastries eh?” says James Selby from News International, who’s wearing a beige Belstaff biking jacket, just like the one I keep dreaming about buying on the internet. The well-known TV presenter/car journo Quentin Wilson, is here too. So is George Lamb.
The Jaguar Land Rover PR team welcomes us to the launch and tells us what we’re doing. The plan is to drive on the backroads to try out the car, we’ll stop for lunch at Daylesford Farm, jump into a different model of the new Range Rover (there’s three different engine choices) and then on to the Land Rover Experience Centre at Eastnor Castle to drive the Rangie off-road and see how it does at that. We’ll then come back here for a drinks reception and dinner.
“Dan, you’re with Taryn in the Autobiography one first, the reg ends in VUM.”
I don’t know who Taryn is. Turns out she’s the editor of Urban Junkies, a cool weekly email that’s sent to people who want to know about exciting/fun/arty/boozy things to do in London.
“You drive first,” she tells me. “It looks really big!”
We walk round and admire the lines of this blue SDV6 Range Rover in Autobiography trim. I open up the back doors and this has the executive seats. The carpet is an inch thick and the middle seat is replaced by a centre console.
I jump in the driver’s seat. My feet sink into the carpets and my nostrils fill with the smell of leather and wood. Land Rover has put two water bottles and a packet of fruit pastille sweets in for us.I connect up my iPod and press the starter button. The Rangie purrs.
“Wow, look at this,” says Taryn as the digital display comes to life.
I give it some revs and there’s a lovely V8 gurgle. I rotate the silver cylinder around from P to D, the satnav is set to Daylesford Farm, and I pull out onto the high street, with the nervousness that you get when you drive a new car for the first time – except I’m even more nervous because this car is pure luxury. Steering the new Range Rover out of the square for those first few moments felt like the same sensation of setting sail in a superyacht. It feels incredible.
We drive out of Chipping Camden, everywhere is covered in snow and the sky is pressing in like an old mattress. There’s usually great views of the countryside on this road, but today there’s just mist and white out. Taryn sets to work adjusting the climate control, it’s bloody cold, and she finds the switch for the heated seats and moments later we both yelp with joy when she turns the massage function on.
We gain height. The mist clears and we break out into sunshine and blue sky. We start talking about the cars we own or would like to own, and being in this has made us both wonder just what it must be like to drive something like this day in day out. Turns out Taryn sold her car, a Saab, because she moved to London. Me? Well I drive an 18-year-old Honda Civic, but tell her I grew up with Range Rovers because my dad had a sympathetic boss and gave him a Range Rover as a company car when he was 30. The poor old boy had four kids to carry around and there were no people carriers back then. Taryn then talks about her Dad and that he flies.
“What plane has he got?” I ask.
“A Beech Bonanza.”
“Great plane,” I say. “That’s one of the best touring aircraft around.” I can’t help but think the Range Rover is like the Bonanza, gets you and your passengers to places fast and in comfort.
But flying is expensive. And so is this Range Rover. The base model (that’s the 3.0-litre TDV one) costs £71,295 and you could buy an aeroplane for that kind of money. The other two models are a diesel 4.4-litre SDV8 and a petrol 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged one.
I take a swig of water. I’m gulping at the prices in the brochure too. There’s even a small fridge in the centre console and a button to switch it on and off so you can have cool drinks. What we both really want is a coffee though.
“Let’s try out this Meridian sound system that they’ve banged on about,” I suggest.
Taryn is mega trendy and I think I shock her with my awful taste in movie soundtracks on my iPod. But the sound coming out of the speakers is incredible.
It’s not much further to Daylesford now, so I say to Taryn that she should drive now. We pull over and she’s nervous but then a mile down the road she’s smiling at how easy and lovely it is to drive.
“Typical isn’t it,” she says. “My turn to drive and we’re back in the fog.”
I enjoy sitting as passenger just as much as I do driving it. I watch the world go by and pop fruit pastilles in my mouth to perk me up after the early start I had. We’re driving on some of Cotswolds best roads, we feel rich, comfortable.
“Have you ever been to Daylesford before?” I ask Taryn, making conversation and thinking about food because my stomach is growling at me. It only turns out that she used to do the PR for them. Our satnav screen announces we’re close to Daylesford and we see other Rangies all pulling in the car park. There’s a Range Rover from the seventies parked right next to the new model, a nice little touch showing how the car has changed over the past 30 years and more.
Daylesford is a huge converted barn which has been giving lashings of interior-design attention (below). It’s run by J C Bamford’s wife. The rumour is it doesn’t really make much profit, but is more of a ‘thing’ for her to do to keep busy. Everyone has their own adventure, right? The food smells delicious, but we have a short press presentation before we can eat, and we’re led through to a separate room where there’s a new Rangie on show and amazing Land Rover related canvas prints on the walls along with wheels and engines on display like modern art. Oh and there’s the coffee we’ve been craving too.
As the canapés come round, I speak to Lily Cox who works for the Polo Times. We talk about the Range Rover. She tells me that a lot of people in Polo want one so they can tow horseboxes. I tell her that I want one fully kitted out for the mountains. A mountain edition. Please Range Rover, can you make me one please?
We then have talks by the Range Rover’s engineers and designers. One of them started by telling us that the first car he bought after leaving university was a first generation Range Rover.
“It crippled me financially,” he said, “But I felt so elated to drive it every day.”
It helps having someone so passionate about the Range Rover, designing it. The new model’s internal codename is L405 (the previous generation was called L322) and they say the design strategy was to keep the same volume and proportion of metal to glass.
“The shape of the Range Rover is deceptively simple. But the lines have changed between generations,” says the designer.
The first generation had an upswept tail which almost gave it the elegance of a yacht. The second generation had the same proportion and big windows but it doesn’t have the upswept tail, so it looks more blocky and it lost its lightness of touch. It was the third generation model in 1991 where the designers really went for it. And it paid off.
So what is new on this forth generation Range Rover then? Well, it is made entirely out of aluminium; the panels are glued and riveted together instead of being welded. This has reduced the weight by 420kg (sadly the weight’s down but the there’s a £10,000 hike in price over the outgoing model). This weight saving is really noticeable, and the Rangie actually feels half the weight of its 2,625kg bulk. It may also feel a lot lighter than it is because of its re-engineered suspension, which in my view, is the unsung hero in this new Range Rover. Sure, lots has been said about it shedding a lot of weight and being made of aluminium, but you would not believe how much development and engineering has gone into the suspension, and that’s the biggest influence on how this new Rangie now rides and handles.
I found out about the immense effort that went into the suspension design during lunch at Daylesford Farm (the chefs cook the food in front of you) where I spoke with the engineers that came up with it. Turns out that they learnt a lot about ride and handling from the Range Rover Sport, so some of that know-how has then gone into the new Rangie and into the Evoque too.
After bangers and mash I couldn’t leave without buying some vanilla-infused jam from the shop. Taryn and I jumped into a different version of the Rangie, this time a champagne-coloured 3.0-litre TDV6 Vogue version registered OV62 OBD. This TDV6 version will make up the majority of UK’s sales.
We make our way to Eastnor Castle, about 20 minutes away. And the light is fading. We have our first taste of driving the Rangie on a snow-covered track and after a short brief by Land Rover Experience instructors, we’re given a walkie talkie and told to “follow that Defender” in convoy up into the woodland where the very first Range Rover was put through its paces. I feel like I’m part of a chain of mountaineers in the Himalayas with an imaginary rope linking our Range Rovers together as we crawl up Eastnor’s steep, muddy and tree root lined tracks.
Taryn’s at the helm but I can see the nerves are showing. She’s never driven off road before and we’re on some pretty steep terrain for a first timer. Trees are inches from each door mirror (wouldn’t it be awful if one of us pranged it?) and we’re slipping and sliding sideways. I’ve not driven loads off-road either but the one thing I have learnt is to make sure you know where your wheels are pointing. In the Rangie it’s made easy for you as there’s an LCD diagram in the dash that shows you where they are.
“See, you’ve got it now,” I say to Taryn. She’s half smiling. “Are you enjoying it?”
Taryn grimaces. She doesn’t take her eyes off the track. I take that as I’m-concentrating-too-hard-to-talk-to-you-Dan.
Even for novice drivers, the beauty of this new Range Rover is that it will automatically adjust everything so you don’t have to worry a darn thing. It has a second generation version of TerrainResponse, called TerrainResponse 2. What this new version does is automatically sense whether you’re on mud ruts, on sand, on gravel or on snow be measuring how the wheels are reacting. The car now actually senses what kind of terrain it’s on and then adjust to the right setting by itself. Best of all, if you’re not an off-road legend, it will sense if you’re trying to drive up something too tricky for the automatic mode and tell you that you should actually be pressing the low-range button. Selecting low range is easy enough anyway. Stop the car, twist the silver dial round to N, press ‘Extra features’ on the screen, then press ‘4x4i’ and press and hold the low range button which is on the centre console and has a mountain range icon on it. Watch the bonnet and you’ll see it rise up – that’s the air suspension increasing the ride height. How cool is that?
We spend the next two hours driving through the snow-encrusted woodland on the hill at Eastnor, in the dark. It was minus five degrees outside but inside my backside and my hands were cosy warm as I drove through the deepest and iciest water I have ever driven through. We stop for tea and a sausage roll. And we’re given Barbour deerstalker hats. Just as well, because it ‘s pitch black, cold and my ‘spock’ ears are freezing.
After an hour of leaning the Rangie over mud ruts and wading through deep water, we drive back on the main roads to the Cotswolds House Hotel for dinner.
Now I’m feeling more confident with the Rangie I start giving it a bit more gas. I try accelerating it hard out of a roundabout exits and I tip into corners with more aggression; now you couldn’t do that in the previous year’s model with quite as much confidence. The A-pillars are thin too, giving good visibility of the road either side and you can position the bonnet exactly where you want it, just like a fighter jet. This 3.0-litre version shifts along beautifully, just as nicely as the 4.4-litre from the morning in fact.
Back in Chipping Camden, I park up, clamber out and smile satisfied that the Rangie is muddier than when it was at the start of the day. Later that evening I sip on a Chilean Merlot in the bar, and I see through the window that the snow is falling down again. Ten pristine Range Rovers sit out in the square and they look like sled dogs, hunkering down for the night, while the snow settles on their fur. Come the next day, you know these dogs will just shake off the snow and be more than ready for another day of mushing.
A bit like the Range Rover will.
With thanks to the Land Rover PR team.www.landrover.com