For a couple of days back in April, I really felt like a multi-millionaire.
I was at Sonoma County Airport, which is a gateway of sorts to northern California’s famous wineries, and I have just disembarked from a private jet. Parked nearby was a row of spanking-new Range Rover First Edition P530 luxury SUVs, and one of them had my name written on it. Or more accurately, my name was on a placard displayed on the dashboard.
I was invited to Range Rover’s global media event, and for two days, I drove Land Rover’s latest flagship across highways, country roads and picturesque off-road trails. The total distance covered was around 400km, so I can safely say that I got to know the vehicle quite intimately.
Is it still the standard bearer for all luxury SUVs? Most definitely, yes.
There may be many alternatives, but the Range Rover pioneered the luxury SUV market. Introduced in 1970, it is still the benchmark even though it has a huge target on its back with Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Lamborghini setting their sights on this category.
LOOKING THE PART
Land Rover uses the phrase “modern luxury” a lot in its press and marketing materials, and I can see why. Modern certainly applies to the Range Rover’s exterior design, which features a gorgeous blend of proportion, precise lines and sleek surfaces. In fact, when I first saw the Range Rover First Edition P530 and touched it in the flesh, outdoors on a lusciously trimmed lawn at the press event’s first evening, it looked much more mesmerising than it did captive in a showroom in Seoul last December when I was invited to its preview.
One thing that really stood out for me – the entire vehicle looked like it was hewn from a solid aluminium block, as such was the smoothness of its body and the super tight shut lines. The hidden-until-lit rear tail lights are also critical to the success of the design.
The Range Rover demonstrates how an SUV can have a confident design yet is still cleverly restrained to stop just short of being flashy. Even with the humongous 23-inch wheels in shiny gloss black and the Sunset Gold Satin colourway, the First Edition P530 variant I drove is a fine example of commanding a presence without being OTT.
Open the doors via the flush deployable handles, step inside and you’ll notice that, like the exterior, the cabin is really modern and the design has been pared back to leave a clean, calming ambience. However, it is in this wonderful place where the luxury begins to shine. I don’t fancy touchscreens (I detest how they look after there are fingerprints all over) and while I know that day will come when all vehicles will be fitted with them, I am immensely grateful (and relieved) that the Range Rover still has knobs and switches so I can swiftly access features like the drive modes and climate control system. If you fancy talking, Amazon Alexa offers intuitive voice control to manage everything from navigation or phone contacts to infotainment features. There is also wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity too.
Having given my take on touchscreens, I have to say that the gently curved 13.1-inch Pivi Pro infotainment screen, which mimics the contour of the dashboard, is simply beautiful. I do miss the conventional tachometer and speedometer, but the 13.7-inch instrument display behind the steering wheel is also wonderfully sharp and clear, always displaying just the right amount of information at any time.
GLIDING IN COMFORT
The Range Rover is available in standard and long wheelbases, and while the First Edition P530 I drove is the former, there is ample space at the back for three. Two, however, is the magic number, thanks to the Executive Class Comfort Plus seats. At the push of a button, the powered centre console slides effortlessly into position as the centre rear seatback separates the two outer seats. It also houses an 8-inch touchscreen that allows passengers to fine-tune the rear cabin environment. There are even calf rests for truly first-class travel.
Despite its large wheels, shod with equally prodigious 285/40 R23 Pirelli tyres, the Range Rover’s fully independent air suspension system underpins its fabulous ride comfort. It also showcases the brand’s first five-link rear axle with air springs, which isolates the cabin from surface imperfections more effectively than ever before. Time and again, I was stunned by the magic carpet quality of the ride as I traversed myriad bumps, humps and holes – at all kinds of speeds.
The cabin remained noticeably quiet too and this is in part due to the Meridian Signature sound system’s 35 speakers scattered throughout the cabin. Crucially, two of these are in each headrest and they are part of the latest Active Noise Cancellation system that monitors wheel vibrations, tyre noise and engine sounds, and generates a cancelling signal through all the speakers.
The test drive routes took me all over Napa Valley as well as along some scenic coastal roads flanking the Pacific Ocean. Quite a few stretches of asphalt are of the seriously snaking sort and more suitable for a sports car than a luxury SUV, but the First Edition P530 took them in its (immense) stride. Its steering is precise, body roll was well-controlled, and there wasn’t any reluctance during directional changes from what is undeniably a heavy 2.6-tonne vehicle. I braked earlier as I entered sharper corners, then applied the throttle as the road straightened, and I found that the SUV could hustle, with speed and control.
This composure boils down to a combination of a 50 per cent stiffer body structure (compared to its predecessor), and the new rear-wheel steering system. These make the Range Rover immensely satisfying to drive swiftly, and smoothly, while maintaining a sense of peace and comfort.
Speaking of swiftness, the First Edition P530 is the most powerful variant available. Propelled by a BMW-sourced 4.4-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine with 530PS and 750Nm on tap as well as a rumbling soundtrack, this SUV accelerates from 0 to 100km/h in a ridiculously scant 4.6 seconds. To put things into perspective, a Porsche 718 Cayman tips the scales at almost half the Range Rover’s weight yet it takes half-a-second more to complete the same sprint.
The uneventful way the SUV devours asphalt borders on the absurd. In one instance, I found myself overtaking a row of cars travelling at around 80km/h, in a flash, with two flicks of the paddle shifter to drop a couple of gears, followed by a firm prod of the loud pedal. The enjoyment I got for doing this is quite intoxicating and I really had to reign in my enthusiasm for fear of losing my licence.
As part of the test drive, there were a few, short off-road jaunts but these were dry trails with mild terrain that didn’t really test the Range Rover’s consummate all-terrain capabilities. There is one thing these tight roads aptly demonstrated – the amazing 11m turning circle diameter, courtesy of the above-mentioned rear-wheel steering. This is about the same as a Honda Civic or Mini One 5-Door, and I am sure it will reduce a little of the stress of manoeuvring around tight spaces.
Overall, my first impressions of the new Range Rover First Edition P530 are that it affords a heady mix of calm, comfort and luxury that few of its competitors can come close to at the moment. This SUV is extremely impressive, and it makes any journey, short or long, feel less stressful than just about any other vehicle I can think of – including the previous-generation Range Rover, which by today’s standards is still extremely good.
When the new Range Rover is officially launched in Singapore (around the time this story is published), two petrol engine variants will be available – the P530 and lesser powered P400 (3-litre, in-line 6 cylinders with 400PS and 550Nm). There will also be the option to purchase a seven-seat version with three rows of seats, a first for the Range Rover. While I cannot wait for these SUVs to appear on our shores, the ones that I am extremely excited about are the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants that will give up to 113km of electric-only running. Then, in 2024, the fully electric Range Rover will make its worldwide premiere, and that will most definitely feel the most modern and luxurious of the lot.
This story was first published on Prestige Singapore