Sand, sea or snow? No problem. Mark Hedges marvels at the enduring brilliance of the Range Rover.
Whether it be a shoot in the Welsh hills, a Scottish river bank, the opera at Garsington or racing at Goodwood, one vehicle stands out in the car parks in terms of size and numbers: the Range Rover. Why is it so popular? It costs the best part of £100,000 and, despite an ever-increasing number of competitors, remains a market leader, but that’s only extraordinary if you’ve never driven one.
I have never sat behind the wheel of a better all-round car. I’ve driven elegant Rolls-Royces, extraordinary Bentleys, a tricky Ferrari and a marvellous Porsche, as well as many less glamorous makes, but if I were given the chance to own one of them, it would be no contest: the Range Rover would win every time.
What’s so good about it? Technically, it’s remarkable. Some of the recent advances, such as the cruise control with its automatic braking and acceleration, or the touch-screen satnav, work better than on any other car I’ve driven. Throw in its off-road capabilities and its ability to take you effortlessly on long journeys, and you find yourself inside a pinnacle of motor engineering.
It’s a huge car. The seats are high up, providing a privileged viewpoint from which to admire the countryside over hedges and walls. The rear seats fold down at the push of a button to provide a cavern of space for purchases at the garden centre and the children can be kept amused on long journeys by the excellent in-car entertainment systems.
Its size did, at first, make me feel uncomfortable in a multi-storey car park, but its plethora of extra cameras, in addition to the reverse viewer, allowed me to check exactly where I was at the push of the button. Despite its size, it achieves about 40 miles per gallon on long journeys. The three-litre TDV6 engine makes overtaking effortless and can easily whizz the car up to 130mph.
Two journeys exemplified the special properties of the Range Rover. The first was from Hampshire to North Uist via Lindisfarne on the Northumbrian coast where I was to be filmed by the BBC for the forthcoming three-part series on Country Life. The on-road miles were effortless. I didn’t touch a pedal for scores of miles on the motorway thanks to the cruise control, instead indulging myself with back massages and David Bowie albums.
On Uist, after a ferry crossing from Skye, I drove across bogs and broken ground to get to the soggy realms of the snipe and, most memorably, crossed a mile of exposed golden sand during low tide to reach a little island off which I caught the sea trout of a lifetime. Without this car, this would not have happened.
The second journey was to the Alps just after Christmas, when our journey coincided with a famously huge dump of snow. As we passed through one tiny village, every car was being pulled over by the gendarmes to check for snow chains, which we didn’t have. It looked as if we were going to be turned back with the other culprits, but, when it came to our turn, the gendarme simply tapped the bonnet, smiled and said: ‘C’est formidable, n’est ce pas?’ I nodded, and he waved us on, allowing us to get safely to Morzine. Many other people were left stranded for the night.
Whether on snow or sand, the car’s off-road capabilities are amazing, but, to get a real feel for the car’s abilities, I visited Land Rover’s off-road headquarters at Eastnor Castle. Here, I drove through mud, rivers and up and down hills so steep that a person would have been on their hands and knees crawling. It was unbelievable what the car could do and where it could go, yet after a quick hose down, it looked totally brand new. You can take a Range Rover anywhere and, if you get the chance, you should. There is no other car to match it.
To book the Land Rover Experience at Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire, telephone 01531 638779 or visit www.eastnor.landroverexperience.co.uk. A half day costs £225.