Range Rover comes for the luxury SUV crown with the 2019 PHEV and SVR
Range Rovers are finally reliable, capable and comfortable. Plus, there's one for everybody – provided they have deep enough pockets
In the crowded world of premium SUVs, Range Rover wants to be all things to all people – as long as you can pay for it.
Want the fastest, most powerful SUV on the road? The 575-horsepower SVR is right up there, attacking the highway with all the vigour of its 5.0-litre supercharged V-8 engine.
Want the most luxurious SUV in the mall parking lot? The long-wheelbase SVAutobiography is just dripping with all the chauffeured accoutrements that $233,000 can buy.
Want the most environmentally conscious SUV in town? The Range Rover PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) can drive up to 50 kilometres on electric power before it switches to gas.
And want the most capable vehicle off the road? Well, then there's all of them. Whether you need it or not, like Jeep, it's their schtick, except the Range Rover costs a fair bit more for its refined style.
Nobody's claiming Range Rovers are cheap, but they are finally calling them reliable (thanks to a massive investment by Indian owner Tata Motors), capable and comfortable.
Range Rovers are still unusual on Canadian roads, but here in Coventry, at the heart of Britain's car-building industry, you can barely move for the things. Every other vehicle seems to be some sort of Jaguar Land Rover product, jockeying for space on the narrow laneways. During yet another freak winter snowstorm in the British Midlands, when the country ground almost to a halt again thanks to five centimetres of snow and no snowplows, Range Rovers – and Land Rovers, their cheaper siblings – seemed to be the only vehicles still moving.
I drove both the SVR and the PHEV in the aftermath of the storm, with snow still beside the road. I took both of them off-road and set the hot-stone massage just so on the heated seat to make sure my back got as much of a workout as the drivetrain. And I fell asleep from jet lag in the rear of a chauffeured long-wheelbase Autobiography, as lesser cars parted away to let us through. In Britain, the Range Rover commands unique respect.
The drive in the PHEV was unremarkable, aside from fording a 60 cm-deep river and a deeply rutted, slippery trail. It's not supposed to be exciting on the road, but some of the features are astonishing. The internal computer, for example, knows from the GPS where the vehicle is, and will turn on or off the electric motor as needed to improve fuel consumption; it can also be turned off completely to conserve battery power for when you really need it, like when you get into the city from your commute from the suburbs.
The party trick for all Range Rovers is the black panelling that becomes fully-coloured touch screens as soon as the ignition is pressed. Sit in the dormant vehicle and there just looks to be a slab of black plastic in the centre of the dash, and another beneath it at the top of the centre console. The area where the gauges should be is similarly empty, and there are small areas of black plastic on each side of the steering wheel. It's not unattractive, but it's not inspiring.
Until the vehicle powers on, because this is not black plastic – far from it. These are high-definition touch screens that can even swipe their information from one screen to another, and they immediately elevate the Range Rover into an elegant and obviously highly advanced machine. This is a step beyond even Audi's Virtual Cockpit and it makes the interior a delightful – and functional – place to be. Just more stuff to potentially break, perhaps, but it creates a clean and spacious interior that's fully customizable.
I drove for a few hours in the PHEV, barely aware of whether it was in electric or gas-hybrid mode, and then swapped out for the smaller Range Rover Sport with the larger SVR engine. Its gutsy exhaust noise was more enjoyable, but its power was unusable on the crowded British roads, where speed cameras lurk around every corner.
Fortunately, I found my way onto Jaguar Land Rover's new test track at Fen End, where I let loose and hit 230 km/h at full chat just before the high-banked turn, which is still 50 km/h shy of its top speed. Few people have access to such places, though – even those who can afford the extra $50,000 above the base price for the $132,000 Sport SVR.
Range Rover is only just now establishing itself as a truly competitive brand in North America, which it's doing by launching new models designed to take on BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Whatever they offer, the Range Rover offers one better: heated armrests like the Mercedes S-Class, but also heated foot and calf rests in the rear. Gesture control by just waving a hand under the mirror like the BMW 7 Series, but for the rear sun blind. A massager in the seats with 25 different programs.
There's a ways to go before Jaguar Land Rover catches up to the Germans in sales, but there's no reason why it shouldn't. It's already there in its home country – now it just has to convince the rest of the world to pay the cost of admission.
Range Rover PHEV
- Price: $115,500
- Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 85 kW electric motor
- Transmission/Drive: 8-speed automatic /four-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 2.8 combined (claimed EU standard)
- Electric range: 51 km
- Alternatives: None – yet
Range Rover Sport SVR
- Price: $132,000
- Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V-8
- Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic/four-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): N/A
- Alternatives: BMW X5 M, BMW X6 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63S