I had nominated the Range Rover as my personal highlight of 2022 long before learning that the plan was to get all of our COTY candidates together in Wales during early December’s deep freeze. But that didn’t stop me from feeling entirely smug when I reached the rendezvous on the Black Mountain road – with the Rangie’s dash reporting temperatures of minus five – to see that everybody else had brought some variant of two-seat sports car. So yes, I’m a wuss – but I was also a warm wuss.
It would be untrue to say that thoughts of personal comfort hadn’t played a part in my internal deliberations beforehand. I’ve been to enough annual highlight photo shoots of various sorts to know that whoever is in the biggest and most comfortable barge normally fields an increasing number of jealous looks as the day progresses. But the Range Rover is also here entirely on its merits; for me, this is the most significant British car that’s been launched this year, by some margin.
The Range Rover is JLR’s crown jewel, but also its corporate life jacket. It isn’t the company’s best-selling car, but it is almost certainly the most profitable given that even the cheapest example is now nudging six figures, and with tens of thousands of orders waiting for delivery. With the closely related, barely cheaper Range Rover Sport, providing a flow of revenue better likened to a river than a stream – one that has undoubtedly helped cancel losses from less successful parts of the empire. Could Jaguar have survived for anything like this long without the success of the pricier Land Rover products counterbalancing the books?
But it’s not its contribution to the balance sheet that brings the new Range Rover here, rather the fact it builds on the talents of its predecessors. This is a truly special luxury car that just happens to be a hugely talented one when asked to venture off tarmac. And although this segment is increasingly filled with posh imitators – Bentayga, DBX, Cullinan and Urus all launched since the last-gen Range Rover made its debut in 2012 – this new one still feels as special as any of the blue-blooded alternatives. It cruises with imperious calm, it can be hustled at impressive speeds for something so big and tall, and on the few occasions that the ‘if’ of its off-road prowess becomes ‘when’, it can get farther into the wilderness than any buyers are ever likely to need it to.
There’s a twist, too – I chose the diesel on the basis that this is definitely the best powerplant – or at least the one that suits the car best. Pay more, get more, might be the guiding principle of the car industry, but the brawnier BMW twin-turbo V8 that tops the range suffers from sometimes snatchy throttle calibration and an over-eager gearbox map. The six-cylinder D350 is smooth, muted and barely needs to break sweat thanks to intelligent programming for the automatic transmission, which trusts in the motor’s mid-range torque rather than kicking down early. It feels like the engine the L460 has been developed around, possibly by JLR engineers hoping to bag one as a company car. Getting better than 30mpg, seemingly regardless of how the car is driven, is a bonus, too.
But the thing I really like about the Range Rover is its laid-back demeanour. Being more than two-and-a-half tonnes in its socks and standing more than six-feet tall means that, obviously enough, it is no sports car. But unlike many top-end performance SUVs, it’s not been massively compromised in the attempt to make it so. Everything is soft and gentle, the air springs absorbing everything with unflappable calm. It’s definitely not slow – and Scorpion tyres found more grip on freezing surfaces than any of our other COTY challengers – but the natural pace is laid back. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to drive, just a different kind of fun. After winding on 300 miles going to Wales and back I did another 500 in the following two days, including delivering my brother-in-law to Exeter during a train strike. I honestly can’t nominate anything that would have made the miles more effortless. Plus there’s the novelty of being able to head onto terra less-than-firma.
The L460 is starting to look seriously good, too. I wasn’t convinced it would when I first saw it, especially with the full-width rear light graphic. But it’s continued the tradition of its predecessors, of being a grower; both the L322 and the L405 seemed alien and over the top when they first came out. Rising numbers will soon make this one feel much more familiar; it will almost certainly be the most-sold £100,000 car in Britain. I definitely wouldn’t choose the matt gold of the press car, but after a couple of days it looked brilliant encrusted with salt and grot.
Yes, it’s over-spec and expensive, and will need to be savaged by depreciation before most of us can consider buying one. But this Range Rover remains the real deal, a steel Rolex in a world filled with flashy gold alternatives. It has been imitated plenty, but it still hasn’t been bettered.
Specification | Range Rover D350 Autobiography
Engine: 2997cc, straight six, diesel, turbocharged
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500rpm
0-60mph: 5.8 seconds
Top speed: 145mph
The most raw fun I had in a car this year? That’s easily answered: it was the Morgan Super 3. The last Morgan 3 Wheeler was one of those cars that was great in small doses, although after watching one very nearly roll on a racetrack I never really trusted it not to kill me. Although the new one loses its predecessor’s charismatic V-twin engine, it’s vastly better in almost every other regard: less cramped, much sharper to drive and with enough performance to be interesting without turning scary. I didn’t even mind that it was raining for most of the time I was blasting one around the Malverns, although I suspect the novelty would have worn off more quickly in sub-zero temperatures.