First drive: Range Rover TDV8

As this year is Range Rover's 40th Anniversary, we decided to compare the very latest 4.4 litre diesel with one of the originals – in this case a 3.5 litre Vogue EFI from 1989.
Putting the two side-by-side, you immediately see how sympathetic BMW was when it came to designing the Mark 3 Range Rover (yes it was only eight years back, but that was two owners ago, before Ford and Tata bought Land Rover). Indeed BMW was positively deferential towards the Mark One, taking all its styling cues and gently updating them for the 21st century: the twin horizontal creases down the body sides, the vertical rear lights, the overall proportions.

In fact the current car looks like a Mark One that has been inflated with a bicycle pump – all the panels now curve gently outwards, whereas the original had easy-to-press flat panels. Of course, mechanically, the new car is in a different millennium. The one thing they have in common is a refined woofly V8 that ambles through town, rarely exceeding 2000 rpm in normal use.

The difference is that sedate refined progress is all the Mark One can do – it seems smooth and powerful to the passengers, but the driver knows that flooring the accelerator is going to make no discernable difference, with only 165 bhp on tap. Doing the same thing in the TD V8, with its 309 bhp and enough torque to drag an oil tanker out of port, threatens passengers with whiplash.
You get the impression that the reason Bentley does not make an SUV is that the Range Rover got there first. With its effortless performance (0-62 mph in 7.8 seconds for the diesel and 6.2 seconds for the petrol) and imperious styling that stays just on the right side of arrogant, the Range Rover has the market for SUVs to the aristocracy sewn up. In the richer areas of London, it is quite common to see a convoy of three dark-coloured Range Rovers conveying some Royal personage.

Some people scoff at the modern Range Rover on the grounds that no-one would take a £70K car off road. That is rather to miss the point.

As a luxury car, the Range Rover is arguably better than many conventional luxury saloons. There is lots of space (and the height means you sit in a more natural position), a far better view out, a decent ride and, unless you are doorhandling it down a B-road, handling that is almost entertaining, thanks to the ultra high-tech electronic dampers keeping full control of the admittedly obese 2800kg kerb weight.

The incredible gearing means it is doing about 1500 rpm at 70 mph, which makes it feel like your own private TGV train, rather than a mere car.
So is the Mark One an embarrassing old codger in such exalted company? Not at all. The concept is identical, showing just how brilliant was Spen King's original idea. This example was built in a far less advanced age, so it has none of the electronics, apart thankfully from having fuel injection instead of the earlier cars' stone-age SU carburettors.

Its simple beam axles squirm a bit over bumps and its performance is relaxed (0-62 mph in 14.3 seconds). However it is still a great cruiser (this example still drives to and from Italy every year) and it is pretty-well unstoppable off road.

The big difference is that the Mark Three is built as well as it is designed, whereas the Mark One had Austin Rover interior trim bits that were shocking even in the 80s. Oh, and it now does close to 30 mpg, about twice the figure of its hard-drinking grandfather.
Just one final thought in favour of the simple life, though: in principle this 1989 Rangie can carry on being fixed more or less indefinitely. In 2031, who would fancy repairing the electrics on the Starship-Enterprise TD V8.

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