Good: utterly, majestically brilliant. Transcends its price tag to the point where you could call it a bargain.
Not so good: people will hate you, doesn't feel quite rugged enough
The review of the Range Rover? Magnificent. Ah, that's coming up a bit short, isn't it? Let me try and expand on that. Toweringly magnificent. Nope, that doesn't quite cut it either, doubtless you want to know more. Alright then, more it shall be but, brace yourself, there are some criticisms...
The Range Rover, despite keeping the same name, has been steadily evolving since it was launched in 1970. Originally, it was a posh Land Rover, designed to be worked hard during the week, but capable of scrubbing up to be presentable in town or at social events over the weekend. Leapt upon from the start by the glitterati, it has become more and more luxurious over the years, culminating in this latest version.
Now the Range Rover bears no resemblance to a work horse. It may be tall, practical and spacious but it firmly occupies the territory of the luxury car these days. It is, in every possible way, as comfortable, as sybaritic and as refined as an S-Class, as an Audi A8 and in fact as a Rolls-Royce Phantom. And damned near as imperious as the Rolls too.
It's not quite as handsome as before though - to my eyes at least. While the L322 model Range Rover (the one launched in 2002 and which has now just been replaced) managed to survive successive updates and facelifts that brought with them more and more bling, this new one looks a tad too bling-y from the get-go. I suppose that's inevitable given that the Range Rover's primary markets are now somewhat brasher, but it's lacking that quiet handsomeness of the 2002 model. The fake air vents pressed into the doors are especially galling. No Land Rover should carry a fake air vent - function should define the form, not the other way around.
There's no getting away from the brilliance of the interior though. You sit high (of course) looking out over a vast expanse of bonnet and at a cabin strangely shorn of buttons. Almost all of the main controls and functions are managed by the big touchscreen in the centre of the dash. Yes, the graphics are a bit old-hat looking and some of the hot keys are too much of a stretch away, but it mostly works well and gives the cabin a cool, understated look. Settling into the wonderfully comfortable seats, gazing out over the digital instruments, it's easy to imagine whiling away many a painless hour of travel in here. Where once a fast Ferrari or Maserati would have been the tool of choice for crossing Europe in a day, now I think I'd definitely want to do it in a Range Rover. Much more relaxing.
And not, you might be surprised to learn, much of a let-down when it comes to a challenging road. The old Range Rover, even in its final, much-modified 4.4 V8 diesel form, was good to drive, within the limitations of an almost three-tonne behemoth, but on a twisty road it soon started to lurch and become uncomfortable. This new one though... It's odd, because of course there is body roll and of course the steering is quite light and a bit distant, so you start to tense slightly as a fast or sharp corner approaches, readying yourself for the inevitable sea-sickness... and then you're round, calmly and imperturbably sucking up tarmac under that bluff snout. It's little short of amazing how well this massive vehicle handles, and it rides beautifully too, shrugging off even the very worst surfaces with little more than a distant bobble from the huge 21-inch alloy wheels. You can thank the Range Rover's new all-aluminium construction for this. It now weighs around 400kg less than the old one, which brings huge benefits for the dynamic performance.
For the engine's performance too. With the old Rangie, it was only when the V8 diesel engine was introduced that the car got the straight-line pace it deserved. Now though, there seems little need to upgrade from the 255hp V6 diesel. No, it's not a sports car, but it surges off the line nicely, gets to 100km/h in the same time as a 150bhp 2.0 TDI Golf and never feels out of its depth or short of puff. A realistic fuel economy figure of 32mpg is a welcome sight, as is the fact that the emissions rating now means that, for the first time ever, here's a full-size Range Rover that won't push you into the top band for road tax. Add to that refinement that ensures the engine's note never rises above a distant rumble and the eight-speed automatic gearbox's habit of always being in the right ratio and you have a quite brilliant powertrain.
There are other improvements from the previous model too. Rear seat space is massively better. Adults could get comfy in the old Range Rover but now they will have stretching room, while the sense of quality and solidity has taken a massive step forward; essential if the Range Rover is to justify that colossal price tag.
However. There is something not quite right here; although you should probably bear in mind that this next criticism comes from the brain of a dyed-in-the-wool Land Rover fan who would rather be up to his knees in mud than lapping Silverstone. The Range Rover just doesn't feel quite rugged enough. Let me qualify that statement. The new SUV has moved so far into the sphere of pure luxury that it no longer feels like the vehicle of choice for tackling a shimmering desert or a water-logged rain forest or a snow-blown stretch of Connemara hillside. I've no doubt whatsoever that it can tackle such obstacles, and do so with aplomb. A quick jaunt across a stone-strewn beach near my house confirmed that the Range Rover shrugs off surfaces that would maroon a lesser vehicle. It's just that with this Range Rover, you have to look up its off-road prowess in a book, so refined and luxurious is it. With the old one, you could somehow sense the underlying ruggedness through the layers of sophistication. Maybe it's just me.
Whatever, there is no doubting Land Rover's achievement with this new Range Rover. It is just as luxurious and cosseting as its mainstream luxury saloon rivals, even if it has now caught up and passed them in terms of price. That said, even at the six-figure price level the Range Rover can still be considered something of a bargain, as the likes of a vastly more expensive Rolls-Royce or Bentley cannot convincingly defeat the RR's interior appointments or levels of comfort and refinement.
And, crucially, none of them can wade through a metre of water, climb a 45-degree slope or cross an entire continent without recourse to tarmac. Which may not be the most relevant set of talents, but which are central to the appeal of the big Range Rover. Now bigger, but conversely lighter, than ever before, the new Range Rover makes a convincing case for being named the best luxury car in the world.