Even after all these years, it's still the luxury off-road king
- 2009 Land Rover Range Rover Vogue; 5.0-litre, V8, petrol; six speed automatic; SUV - $158,000*
- Metallic Paint $1,800
Words by Karl Peskett Pics by www.ozcarsightings.com
Much has been published about the very impressive supercharged 5.0-litre V8 that is shoehorned into the top-of-the-line Vogue, the Autobiography. Its instant throttle response and earth-moving power and torque are something to experience, no doubt.
But we decided that rather than always opting for the highest spec available, why not try the entry level petrol version? There’s nothing cheap about this 5.0-litre naturally aspirated base model, though. Sure, it costs $158,900, but in comparison to some other luxury brands you get a lot for your money.
The exterior is sprayed in what Land Rover calls "Perfect Paint" – a ridiculously durable and diamond-tough coating that resists scratches and chips – perfect for those with a bent for bush bashing. The big, black beast also has a redesigned grille; an imposing and intimidating pattern when it fills your rear view mirror. Subtle changes to the tail-lights and headlights, with LED rings for daytime running, imbue a modern twist while the whole exterior still features the famous “Rangie” shape.
But it’s the interior that blows you away. Fitted with cream leather and black accents, our test car’s build quality and tactility superseded that of cars costing double. The metal surrounding the rear-passenger’s ventilation is chunky and with similar pieces surrounding the glovebox and start-stop button, mounted on the gearstick, and on the steering wheel, the theme of industrial strength flows through the cabin.
Space is huge, as expected, and with armrests on the driver and front passenger's chairs, uncomfortable isn't even a word in Land Rover's vocabulary - even if you're leaning at 45 degrees. Rear passengers are also catered for with brilliant leg and head room. The boot is particularly useful, with its box-like shape, split tailgate for easy loading, and excellent depth and height. There are generous storage spaces everywhere, and despite a few hard plastics on the centre console face, nothing looks cheap or out of place. Child seats are also easily fitted, and the whole interior is easy to wipe clean and vacuum.
We absolutely love the new instrumentation. Instead of analogue dials, there's now a new TFT-LCD screen that displays a virtual speedo and tacho. Why not stick with the traditional method? Versatility. The screen is able to display a myriad of other information, and even shift the dials around to fit it in. Future iterations, we're told, could potentially display anything a driver could ever call to mind. But as it stands, it's particularly useful for showing wheel articulation, angle and torque direction for when you're off road.
A standout feature is the particularly brilliant headlights - pun intended. From dusk till dawn, there's no getting around how bright and keenly focussed they are, illuminating your path in almost all light conditions. Yet the projection is never too high, blinding oncoming cars, or those looking in their mirrors; there's a horizontal plane where they cut off at the perfect level. No need to fit driving lights on this car.
The 5.0-litre V8 is a completely new engine, and was designed from the ground up to suit both Jaguar and Land Rover applications. However, Land Rover insisted on alterations to ensure the car would still perform as expected while off road. For example, there's a deeper sump to help lubrication even when the car sits at extreme tilting angles, as well as working around the front differential. Drive belts are also waterproofed, along with various other underbonnet essentials.
It's beautifully smooth and quiet, but when pressing on, there's a satisfying V8 growl that emerges, and with its low down torque, but top end power, it's the best of both worlds. That is, until you have to visit the petrol bowser. Yes, it is very thirsty; during the course of this test we filled up three times. Working out the usage, we ended up with near on 20 litres per 100km. Based on that, and the fact that the turbo-diesel V8 is three thousand dollars less to purchase outright plus having more torque, that would be the engine to have in this car.
That doesn't stop the petrol V8 from being nice to drive, and with the ubiquitous ZF six-speed auto keeping things as smooth as silk while changing gears, the drivetrain is just faultless. There's no denying, of course, that this is a heavy beast, and takes a lot of effort to move off the line (it's the better part of 2.6 tonnes) but the weight serves to highlight one of the best things about the Range Rover Vogue - the suspension.
The ride is probably the best of any four-wheel-drive on the market today, even including the car-like SUVs running around. Its ability to absorb even the slightest imperfections and to thumb its nose at earthquake-sized cracks in the asphalt is testament to Land Rover's suspension engineers. Some air suspension units cannot act quickly enough to cope with sudden jolts from broken tarmac, but this car plays out like a magic-carpet ride, regardless of velocity. There is a fair bit of roll, and it will understeer when really pushed - if you want handling, you'll opt for the Range Rover Sport - but it's also able to lift the entire body, ready for heading off road, and still keep the same level of comfort.
So that's what we thought we'd do. With Land Rover Australia insisting that "that's what it's built for", we knew that tackling some rock climbing would be a perfect test of its reputation. Having previously taken several four-wheel-drives to this same location, it was a sure bet that the Vogue would stamp its authority on the conditions.
With a mixture of marble-shaped gravel scattered over clay and chunky rock faces, as well as mud pits, there was several layers to work through and see the effectiveness of the Terrain Response dial, which selects the optimum suspension and ESC settings dependent on the ground type you have chosen. In this case, we selected "Rock Crawl", which lifted the suspension to off-road mode, and kept the traction control on high alert for slippage, as well as activating hill descent control. You also have to put it into low range.
On the initial run up to the hills, there's little that will challenge even soft roaders, but because we knew we'd be encountering rough patches as well as rutted, washed away sections of ground, there's a fair chance that rock faces could be exposed, with the risk of slashing your tyre sidewalls at normal pressure. The best bet is to let some air out so the tyres can mould around the jutted areas, rather than push against them and end up with a punctured tyre. We chose 25psi, as road pressures were 40psi, so it would stil give plenty of grip, but keep flexibility.
Once we had traversed the tracks leading to the rocks and ruts, we slowed right down and carefully crawled. On cleared sections where there was an incline, you could creep up to the base, and then gently apply accelerator pressure. The Vogue then moved forward and upward, with any wheelspin quickly grabbed by the brakes to divert torque elsewhere. The effect was not unlike using the ABS, as it clicked and scrabbled at the gravel below, never once slipping backwards; then you were up and over.
The top-of-the-range Vogue comes with a five camera surround system, which gives you an almost 360-degree view around the car. As this is the entry level spec, we had to make do with the standard parking sensors to ensure we didn't scratch the wheels or paintwork. They gave us a highly accurate judge of how far we were away from rock walls, or the ground when the car was tilted. You could listen out for how close you were getting, and with a little bit of left-foot braking, inching your way along was no problem.
This was rather helpful, too, when Jan Glovac, our photographer, started requesting we halt our travel when a wheel hung in the air. You could hold the "pose" and after he took a few snaps, we kept going and pushing through. One particular section of rock revealed an important function which you can't access normally.
After inching through a very rutted and rocky area, the front right wheel lifted further and further to the point where it seemed no more grip was available from the back wheels to keep moving forward. The Vogue was tiled back and to the left, and with the stability program and engine both fighting each other, they reached a stalemate. My foot was flat to the floor expecting one of them to give up and let the other do its thing. What was needed was more height to help the balance of the car move forward slightly. And that's exactly what we got.
A message came up on the dash screen - "Depress the brake pedal, and hold the suspension lift button for three seconds". We obeyed, and the car acknowledged, saying we had accessed "Extended Height Mode". This takes the ground clearance to over 300mm for stopping the car being grounded during ramp over or in very deep ruts - the photo above shows its height. The extra lift allowed the wheels more grip, and off we went, with the stability control working with the engine to get us up and over.
It didn't matter which terrain we were faced with, the Range Rover Vogue just walked all over it. It has the ESC, the power, the articulation, the height and the control to conquer almost anything. For a stock standard luxury car, that is a massive feat. To be able to cruise the city streets in complete comfort and perfect ride, and then go up in to the hills, jack up the suspension and scale rock walls, all while keeping its passengers coccooned in acres of soft leather and cool climate control, and with a four star safety rating - this is one tough package to beat.
Make no mistake - there are excellent four-wheel-drives out there, and there are fantastic luxury vehicles, but none of them cross the two categories like the Vogue. And then, there's the supercharged 375kW version....
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