We’ve come a long way since the hose-out interior but, along the way, lost nothing of the Range Rover’s original intention.
The first thing I wanted to know was why I should have to slow down to the same stumbling shuffle as the plebs.
They might have been doing their damnedest to keep up with the Joneses but the Joneses couldn’t see me for dust. I was, after all, driving a Range Rover Vogue Autobiography and yes, I virtually did own the road.
I must admit, I did get a bit of a shock moments earlier when I looked at the speedo. The track was narrow, winding, sandy and interrupted by frequent low dune crests, so I really didn’t expect to be doing the speed I was. Especially towing a camper trailer.
Honestly, officer, I didn’t mean it. The Range Rover is just so good. So easy. But I stopped for a while to wait for them to catch up. The sweaty dust-monkeys were ploughing along behind, eating my dirt, getting smellier and grittier in their pointless exertions, at half my pace.
I was still fresh and rosy, with dry armpits and a subtle aroma of Davidoff Adventure, thanks to the awesome climate-control air conditioning in the Vogue and, joy of joys, its air conditioned seats which kept my back and crack free of dampness through 40-degree days.
Girls of both sexes eventually rolled up to where the Rangie was waiting. They whined about the dust and heat that I’d failed to experience before I’d left the comfort of the cabin to wait for them.
Listening to them, you’d think the outback was harsh and unforgiving. It was only that way occasionally, when I was out in the worst of it for temporary bursts; the rest of the time – there was the Range Rover.
Don’t scoff. Entire pods of whales might have been skinned to fit out its interior with leather, the shag-pile floor mats probably cost as much as the average bogan’s bathroom fit-out, and there are so many creature comforts that there are 89 fuses in the vehicle, but the Range Rover Vogue is not soft. It kicks botty off road, always having the last laugh.
As it did on Big Red. When we reached the iconic dune on the edge of Australia’s central sandpit, there was one route to the top which no vehicle could conquer. They tried. They failed. While the lesser fourbies stuck to digging holes in the sand, the Vogue let its twin-turbo diesel V8 roar and charged up and over the top, proving that it is the king of the biggest sand castle. But then it is the vehicle of choice by appointment to Her Majesty.
Mind you, we’re talking more than 2.7 tonnes lumbering through the desert here, and when you’re lazy it can dig itself in, sit on its belly and demand you do some work for a change. Proper recovery points front and rear enable a lackey, such as a LandCruiser, to snatch the Brit out of trouble.
There’s always a bit of comedy to be had by unwittingly leaving the stability control switched on, allowing the Vogue to think it’s bogged when it’s not, resulting in it refusing to drive any of its wheels. Great excuse to bag a shot of the girls trying to dig the big girl out…
The Terrain Response system, (which does not include the new Dynamic setting available in 2010 Range Rover Sport), is well documented, so let’s just agree that it’s one of the key parts of the Vogue’s superb off-road ability. So too, is the excellent Hill Descent Control, put to good use on this trip on gnarly slopes in the foothills of the Great Divide. Add variable ride height control and, of course, both low and high range, all backed by momentous V8 grunt and you have a seriously capable machine.
So for all its upper-crust luxury, the Vogue has not abandoned its off-road roots. Except, perhaps, in its wheel size and lightweight tyres. Twenty-inch rims in the outback? Luckly the aftermarket is now getting purpose-built alternatives onto the shelves.
On the stock 20s, you’ll want to pay attention to maintaining appropriate pressures in different terrain, to reduce the chances of damaging the rubber. As it was, we simultaneously staked and tore one tyre. Then there’s the risk of cracking a rim because the low-profile rubber doesn’t provide nearly the protection of proper 4X4 tyres.
There is another issue to consider, one that’s much harder to figure out. Electronics. I don’t know anyone – we here at 4X4 included – who is convinced electronics are entirely trustworthy.
Sure, we want to trust them implicitly because 4X4s are so much better off with them, but vehicles like the Vogue are computers with a mobility system and computers do funny things.
Our Vogue’s right rear window sometimes went up and down of its own accord. Maybe only dust on a switch or something, but worrying. It was perhaps a small sign that this Range Rover may have been possessed by something that escaped from the (Bill) Gates of Hell. More serious evidence came when the battery drained itself overnight – down to six volts. Roadside Assistance fixed it, but were a bit too far away when, again, the Rangie didn’t have the volts to start at Coongie Lake…
Our very practical and ever cheerful mate John Christian sidled up in his LandCruiser and proffered jumper leads. He had to leave his Tojo fast-idling patiently for some time with the leads connected, until the Rangie’s monster 950CCA battery had regained its oomph. But what is a Toyota for, if not for the convenience of Range Rovers?
Another morning, near White Cliffs, the Vogue didn’t want to play again. This time it still had just over 12V in the battery so I cursed the thing for not starting. It must have realised I’d called its bluff, because two prods of the button later, it fired up. Possessed, I tell you.
With so many systems to run, there can be huge demands on the battery. After you kill the ignition, the Vogue spends ages quietly shutting them all down, but it’s okay to walk away and leave it to it.
Apart from the colossal infotainment system, climate control, blind-spot sensors, five external cameras, stability control, ABS, cruise control, distance control, self-levelling when hitched to a trailer and so much more that I would run out of space if I listed it, there’s all the cleverness in the engine.
The twin-turbo, 5.0-litre V8 diesel. If I said it was worth its weight in gold, I’d probably be underselling it – literally and figuratively. Along with the gem of an auto gearbox, it’s a truly royal experience with one glorious exception – the rather truck-like soundtrack. I like this. It is a subtle reminder of the performance of this machine. Besides, it’s the sound of a very dignified truck, idling smoothly and growling menacingly when you plant your foot.
The gearbox obeys with the instant and unquestioning loyalty of one appointed by their Majesties. There’s no long pause before it launches the revs to the roof like in so many ordinary 4X4s. It senses your need for power, whether it be small or large, and slides into another ratio so efficiently you barely notice, allowing the monster engine to do its work unhindered. Its 200kW of power and 640Nm of torque are almost identical to the figures from the 200 Series LandCruiser 4.7L TDV8 but the Brit ponies seem a little more accessible and responsive.
Probably a bit more efficient, too, although without a back-to-back comparison it’s difficult to prove the Range Rover really does use less fuel. You can achieve as good as 11.5L/100km when touring on a decent road. This test, however, saw the Vogue pulling a trailer almost all the time, and it was only freed from haulage duties on sandy tracks that raise fuel consumption.
Anyway, what’s a few litres either way when you can afford a $200,000 car? The Rangie copped trailer duties so often because it was very good at it. The engine didn’t notice the extra weight of the 600kg-odd Cub camper we took, and handling was still perfect. It dragged a Stockman Pod trailer loaded with kayaks through dunes and didn’t look like getting stuck.
Trailer or not, the ride was completely unfazed by anything except the nastiest corrugations. And this is as it should be, along with the serenity provided inside the cabin. Even when the worst of the engine’s roar is filtering in, you only talk quietly to be heard and don’t need to turn up the volume on the radio, CD, DVD or television to hear them. Oh yes, it has a television. You can tune in to free-to-air channels as you would with the radio.
The dual-view screen in the centre of the dashboard shows the driver, say, their map and navigation details while the passenger watches telly on the same unit. Amazing? No, old chap, just something you’d expect in the best.
Meanwhile, the kids can watch the screens in the back of the front head rests, each with its own headset and remote control. This is a family car, after all. It has a family-sized boot, too – a cavernous area uncluttered by fold-away seats, and covered by a folding cargo lid solid enough to support gear on top, with a retractable cargo net for when it’s needed.
Would you really opt for white leather if you’re taking the kids outback? Or anywhere, for that matter? Having seen the kids use it, seen the red sand all over it, smudged it myself with a greasy hand and then cleaned it, I’d be fine with white, although there are many options.
The leather and its finish are very high quality, resisting stains and cleaning up easily. And dust, dirt and rubbish vacuums out of that lovely, plush carpet effortlessly, really making you aware of how crappy the short nylon stuff in other wagons is. Things like this help you see where your money went.
I haven’t covered everything about the Vogue in this test. But you get the gist. The only concerns are the 20-inch wheels – and I’d be nervous without a lower-class rig to act as jumper-toting foot servant – but the top-shelf Range Rover cannot, I believe, be over-rated, only under-estimated by those who can’t understand its $208,000 price tag.
No, I can’t afford it, and will never have any real idea what it’s like to go shopping for a 200-grand vehicle, but I can say that those who do buy one are getting everything a 4X4 wagon can give, from blue-blooded luxury to earthy off-road prowess.