CAST your mind back to 2002 and the introduction of what has become a long-lived, high-tech luxury SUV to rival not just other 4x4s but also offerings from the luxury saloon market: the third-generation Range Rover. A decade later and there's a new one promising to raise the premium 4x4 to new heights.
Admit it, we all know that the arrival of a new Range Rover is guaranteed to put rivals in the shade. The question is, by how much. From a visual inspection alone the answer is 'considerable'. The car's sleek profile is striking. Unlike engineering, assessing design is a subjective activity, so here's a solid number to consider: 450. That's 450 kilograms, as in the amount of weight saved thanks to the use of lightweight materials and clever thinking from the engineers. Don't forget, such a saving has a positive affect on fuel economy, emissions and handling.
At almost five metres in length it's a good thing the car's been to Weight Watchers. It remains an imposing machine but now it's a fraction lower than its predecessor. This is small change compared to the car's generous wheelbase - 42mm greater than before - which has increased rear legroom. Anyone who thinks a Range Rover can't compete with a Mercedes S-Class really needs to take a back seat.
Along with the car's plush yet modern new interior, complete with tastefully appointed materials and minimalist switchgear, the visual overhaul is complete. What you can't see is the work that's gone on under the car's lighter skin to achieve new levels of on-road refinement and stability plus considerable improvements to the off-road experience.
Central to the car's performance is a height adjustable suspension system boasting enhanced amounts of wheel travel. Opt for the 'Dynamic Response' feature and the car will attempt to further minimise pitch and roll - the sworn enemies of high-sided 4x4s. It gets more interesting when venturing off-road, as the car's refreshed Terrain Response system can now detect the terrain you're driving on and adjust the throttle, suspension, transmission accordingly.
With a Range Rover it's a given that its powertrain will boast the best technology, and this model is no different. The standard 50-50 torque split is accompanied by a low range transfer gearbox that can be switched even when on the move, while a locking centre differential is there to save you when the going is particularly tricky. Rejigging the car's ventilation system has led to a considerable increase in its wading depth to a massive 900mm.
Power comes from a trio of engines all connected to an eight-speed auto gearbox. First up is the 510 horsepower supercharged petrol V8 motor. With this realistically destined for oil rich nations, the six and eight-cylinder diesels make more sense. Boasting 258 and 339 horsepower respectively, these engines offer smooth yet willing performance - especially the latter. That a six-cylinder motor is even offered in such a car is proof that the weight loss programme has been successful.
Of course, the V8 diesel delivers a feeling of invincibility that you can't get anywhere else. And it sure helps when you're towing. Whisper it, though, because the V6 diesel variant is no slouch. It can cruise and haul the car uphill with surprising vigour, and all with the minimum of noise. For many this might be the sleeper hit of the range.
When considering the overall ownership experience the usual long and tempting list of creature comforts are present, from a business class-like two-seat rear layout to powerful audio and multimedia options plus the usual heated, cooled and massaging seats. Factor in the welcome inclusion of intelligent safety systems - radar cruise control, blind spot warnings and cameras to help you park - and it's clear that you'll want for little.
Bigger and better yet lighter on its feet, this fourth generation Range Rover demonstrates that you can have it all: luxury SUV attributes plus saloon-like agility and sensible running costs. The car's sleek profile positions it aesthetically above the chunky, flabby and bloated opposition. It's also a car capable of cosseting occupants and taking the most challenging terrain in its stride. That said, it's equally home on Tarmac, making it a peerless all rounder that rivals will struggle to emulate.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Range Rover Autobiography SDV8, from £94,695. Range from £71,295 to £98,395.
Engine: 4.4-litre diesel unit developing 339bhp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission as standard, driving all four wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 135mph, 0-62mph 6.9 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 229g/km.