Range Rover LWB 32b

Range Rover Autobiography Long Wheelbase Review

Rating: 9.0
$99,440 $118,250 Dealer
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For some people, it seems, a regular Range Rover just isn’t enough Range Rover.

Enter the Long Wheelbase version you see here, which has the gap between its front and rear wheels stretched by 200mm to a gargantuan 3122mm and a humungous set of rear doors closing on an absurdly cushy pair of rear armchairs with 140mm more legroom than the regular model.

That’s right: a regular Range Rover seats five, a smaller Range Rover Sport and the forthcoming Discovery Sport (Freelander replacement) seat up to seven, yet this mammoth - tested in Autobiography specification - seats only four. In sublime comfort, we might add.

What we appear to have here is a chauffeur-special, a veritable Mercedes-Benz S-Class limo or Bentley Mulsanne on stilts, a high-riding executive and old-money express with the potential to plug some mud and tower over the other members of one’s multi-car air-conditioned garage.

Unsurprisingly, in some Asian markets such as South Korea with a proliferation of chauffeur-driven executives, the LWB is Range Rover’s top seller.

Reviewing a car like this, a vehicle that turns a trip to the shops into an experience and an occasion, is an unusual proposition. It’s one of those rare vehicles where you’ll fight your friends and colleagues for the back seat, and he who calls shotgun misses out on the party.

The Autobiography gracing our garage is the supercharged V8 version, which sits at the very top of the Range Rover tree. The list price is a lazy $261,600, though our optioned-up model tipped in at $279,070 — $5000 less than a Mercedes-Benz S500.

By comparison, this also $14,500 more expensive than the regular SWB Autobiography V8, meaning each extra inch of legroom will cost you about a grand.

Under the clamshell bonnet sits a longitudinally-mounted 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol V8 with 375kW of power from 6000-6500rpm and 625Nm of torque from 2500-5500rpm.

Despite weighing a heady 2413 kilograms despite its large-scale aluminium construction, the house-shaped Rangie can lap from 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds, a figure we nailed first try, that is 0.4s slower than the SWB version (which weighs 83kg less).

As with all Range Rovers, this power is channelled through four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission calibrated to rival the smoothness of melted butter, fitted with supremely pointless paddles and operated via a circular dial that rises from the transmission tunnel like a phoenix on start-up.

Quite simply, this thing absolutely hammers. The engine's response is disarmingly immediate - do so much as breathe on the throttle and you will hurtle towards the horizon.

Range Rover claims combined-cycle fuel consumption of 13.8 litres per 100 kilometres. We conducted a round trip of largely highway and backroad driving at 110km/h, mixed with about 40km of inner-city stop-start driving, averaging 12.5L/100km al up. On highways this figure regularly dropped below 10s — commendable for a car of this size with a petrol engine.

Even more remarkable is the ride quality on its 21-inch Style 5 wheels (with a regular spare). The adjustable air suspension and the car’s massive weight essentially iron out corrugations and round off any nasty bumps, and the acoustic glass and insulation keeps proceedings uncannily hushed (unless you plant your right foot).

Despite its generous wheel travel, it never feels overly floaty on the road thanks to its adaptive dampers, and remains planted hurtling over pockmarked back roads that should really throw something like this all a-kilter. If a ‘roo leaps out, the 380mm front/365mm rear ventilated anchors bring proceedings to an abrupt, but not unseemly, stop.

We’re not going to go so far as to say this thing feels nimble — no car that is 5.2 metres long, 2.2m wide and 1.85m tall ever will be. Its steering is a little detached and aloof and its ride is too plush to keep body-roll entirely in check, but it’s lighter on its feet and keener to turn in than you might think.

Where you’re more likely to notice those gargantuan proportions is in a car-park or performing a U-turn. Its turning circle is 13.4 metres, and that light electric steering takes some serious twirling to complete a 180-degree manoeuvre.

Like all Range Rovers, the LWB can actually go off-road, if you dare. The air suspension can increase the ride height, and the off-road system has various torque-allocating modes for a multitude of surfaces and the wading depth remains 900mm. An S-Class won’t take you across a river.

Of course, inside, there’s also a spec sheet that rivals War and Peace for brevity. Convenience features include a fridge up front, radar-guided cruise (hilariously only on option on other Rangies), reverse traffic detection with blind-spot monitors, a wade-sensing system and surround-view cameras that peep out at intersections.

We’ve criticised Range Rover for not offering preventative safety tech before, so driving one with the requisite tech that the Germans have made de rigeur is welcome.

Like the rest of the family, entertainment up front is covered by an 8.0-inch touch-screen with on- and off-road navigation, a two-way screen that projects different images to driver and passenger (so the front passenger can make the most of the digital TV reception, while the driver is show a touchscreen menu), a TFT/LCD instrument cluster and 10 different interior lighting options concentrated on the door handles and stowage compartments, in the footwells, and following the lines of the centre console’s veneer surfaces.

We liked the pimped-out purple setting, and the start-up routine that sees the instruments light up and test the ‘gauges’, and the Bluetooth connection pair up instantaneously.

Ours also had a 1700W 28-speaker Meridian Signature Reference Audio system worth $7790 with DAB+ reception (ludicrously, JLR charges $730 for this), a cooler box between the rear seats ($580) and Style 26 Rear Executive Class Seats.

This package brings semi-aniline leather 18-way adjustable front seats, heated/cooled seats front and rear, and adjustable and massaging electric reclining seats all round. The regular LWB models have a three-seat rear bench with a load-through facility, but the pair of seats in ours don’t flip down, though there’s till about 900 litres of space in the back for the polo gear.

The 3D sound system is tremendous. Almost everywhere you turn there are speakers — next to and behind your head, and buried in the back of the seats — though they lack the theatre of an Audi in that none rise out of the dash or anywhere else.

The front captain’s chairs are soft and the headrests could not belong to anything but a Range Rover, and touches such as the heated steering wheel; leather headlining, door linings, grab handles and pillars; flip-down leather-faced folding cubby holders in the doors and felt inserts in various storage compartments help the ambience.

The woodgrain finish is tacky for our taste though — a new Mercedes-Benz C-Class does it much better — and some of the silver finishes do not match up: the fascia frames are brushed and the gear level surround is polished, for instance. Small potatoes, but you have to find fault somewhere.

Rear entertainment is handled with a remote control, wireless headphones, specific USB and auxiliary inputs and a pair of 10.2-inch screens. These screens can play Blu-Ray, digital TV or USB content, or display the sat-nav feed.

The back seats really are the place to be. The divider has a cooler for that bottle of Bollinger and you can have fold-out tables, there are various storage spots throughout and ambient lights. Oh yes, and the giant memory seats also heat, cool and massage. You can move the front passenger seat from the rear as well, and operate the sun shades.

It really was all we could do not to recline the seats their full 17 degrees, set the back-kneading function to full pelt, put some whale-song on the surround-sound and drift off for a nap.

Just be careful opening those giant rear doors in a car park or garage, they have the wingspan of a small commercial jet. Well, figuratively speaking.

Our time with the LWB Range Rover was unfortunately brief, but we walked away wondering why a chauffeur-driven executive with about 300 large to spend wouldn’t buy one. An S-Class is near-flawless, but the Range Rover has the kind of comfort, presence and riding height nothing much else can match, at least until Bentley’s SUV arrives in 2016.

Calling it the world’s ultimate SUV is a cliche, but as is often the case, it’s one with the ring of truth about it.