Home James – the cross country route if you please! Meet the first go-anywhere limo. Chauffeurs will never have had so much fun…
It’s a Range Rover, of course, and it’s the company’s first concerted effort to join the largely chauffeur-driven super-luxury class.
The world is well used to the idea of bigger, ever more luxurious, powerful and expensive versions of the British 4×4 icon; Land Rover has had to develop new models, each more ‘ultimate’ than the last, in order just to keep pace with buyers’ ever-more extravagant aspirations.
So don’t be surprised at this, the most ultimate Range Rover yet: the SVAutobiography (or SVA for short). It’s a long-wheelbase machine with Champagne chiller, massaging rear seats, electrically deployable rear tables – and a £164,500 price tag (plus options).
Is that price – £2,500 more than the imminent new Bentley Bentayga – significant? The SVA and Bentayga promise to be rather different machines but the fact remains that for Range Rover the SVA is a line in the mud ahead of a host of super-sports and super-luxury new SUVs to come – from Maserati, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and of course Rolls-Royce.
It’s big money for a Range Rover (the entry model starts at ‘just’ £75,000) but private owners (not all of them Premier League footballers) have been spending far more than that customising their own Range Rovers for decades now. This is Land Rover’s attempt at joining that club, all done in impeccable Range Rover taste and exquisitely put together by JLR’s Special Vehicles Operation – the outfit responsible for making that run of Lightweight E-types most recently.
The result is a sensationally capable luxury car, a true Range Rover with knobs on – hand-finished knurled alloy knobs no less – plus all the power (542bhp) you could wish for and a rear compartment that wouldn’t shame a first-class aircraft cabin. And – perfect for Goodwood! – there’s the option of rear-facing ‘event seating’.
GRR has had a good go in the new model, both in the front and the back seats. Here are our five highlights…
1. It looks the business
The new Duotone paint finish (black top half, a choice of nine different colours bottom half, £9000 extra) makes the Range Rover look lower, longer and sleeker. We like it, along with the graphite finish for grille and badging. Quad exhausts and some very fancy wheels (20, 21 or 22s) add to it as well. It’s all just special enough without going overboard. Ditto inside, where there is lots of sparkly knurled aluminium finishes (pedals, coat hooks, knobs) along with the expected veneer and leather.
2. It’s made for business in the back
You can get an SVA in either standard or long wheelbase forms, but orders are currently nine out of 10 for the long one. Understandably so. For a car this size the standard model’s rear kneeroom is no more than average, though the cabin height, light and general airiness provide as much of an advantage over conventional, much lower luxury saloons as ever. The LWB adds to that with space to stretch out more room, says L-R, than anything else in the class apart from a Cadillac Escalade. The space is put to good use with lots of comfort and convenience toys: great seats with electric calf rests so you can get your feet up, integrated entertainment and information systems, and a beautiful new centre console comprising all the rear switchgear, a chiller cabinet (for a full size bottle of Champers!) and tables that smoothly appear at the press of a button.
3. It’s the business to drive
It might be a car to be chauffeured in but make no mistake the SVA is, like any Range Rover, a wonderful beast to drive. L-R believes that owners will drive it as much as they are driven in it, one reason so many of them (90pc) are taking the high performance power option over other engine choices (which include six-pot, diesel and hybrid units). The engine of choice? The familiar supercharged V8, but available here in 550PS (542bhp) trim for the first time, making this the most powerful Range Rover ever. Performance is in the order of 0-62mph is 5.5secs and a top speed limited to either 140 or 155mph, depending on how much of a top end you need. Not record-breaking then, but it is entirely satisfactory performance and most importantly perfectly matched to the rest of the car, whose on-road dynamics are as assured as ever. It’s all accompanied by a superb V8 roar when you want it (and refined V8 hush when you don’t), a generally good ride (it’s as much SUV as luxury saloon in this department though) and that supreme feeling of being in command that Range Rovers give you.
4. It’ll go places other luxury cars won’t
Even allowing for the longer wheelbase, the SVA is said to be as accomplished in any given off-road sticky situation as any other Range Rover, which makes it, well, we all know how good they are. Wade through water 900mm deep? Not a problem sir. All we did was level off the (very mild) muddy dips and humps of Sir Edward Dashwood’s West Wycombe Estate in Buckinghamshire, but the taster was enough to provoke the thought: in extreme going surely no other car ever made could provide the same astonishing juxtaposition of muck and bullets outside with such refined isolation inside. And, yes, with the Champagne chilled to just the right temperature…
5. It’s perfect for picnics at Goodwood!
One thing everyone has always loved about the Range Rover: the split tailgate and impromptu rear-facing picnic seat. A new option for the SVA is a rear seat that is rather less impromptu (as you would expect for £5,500 extra) and rather more bespoke in leather and aluminium. Alas it wasn’t available for our drive so we cannot comment on how comfortable or otherwise it is. But you can see it being the talk of the town (or circuit, or race course…). There’s plenty of space for the picnic in the boot too of course, but now it’s all rather easier to get at with the (optional) wooden slide-out floor so you don’t have to reach inside.
There’s not much space for gripes at this price range, and we only have a few. On the biggest 22-inch wheels available the car falls into potholes rather heavily, and noisily from inside. The 22s are a bit bling anyway so we’d give those a miss. Tall passengers won’t approve of the way the front seat’s travel and recline are restricted (to save collisions with tables and leg rests in the rear compartment). The fan is noisy if you want max ventilation in the back. Plus the test car had a bit of wind rustle from the back windows at 70mph.
But overall? As the CEO’s luxury go-anywhere machine to drive and be driven in the SVAutobiography is formidable. Very British, as iconic as ever and complete with that palpable sense of Range Rover well-being for driver and passengers. It is not (or soon won’t be…) the fastest, most powerful, most expensive or even most luxurious SUV in the world, but it will be still be a Range Rover – and for many, we suspect, that will count for a great deal.
So, is this the ultimate Range Rover? Certainly not! There’s loads more to come yet as JLR’s Special Vehicles Operations director Paul Newsome has told us – GRR exclusive interview coming soon.