Range Rover has moved the front and rear axles of its normal vehicle apart by 7.8 inches, but the result is not a burly three-row people mover, an Escalade with a British accent. Instead, all this new-found space has been dedicated to the same old back seats.
When I mentioned to the good people at Range Rover North America that I would be escorting the Duchess of Rutland on a speaking tour of several posh clubs in the Detroit area, they graciously provided one of their brand-new long-wheelbase vehicles for the occasion—the ultra-posh Autobiography Black model, no less.
Even at the Detroit Athletic Club, where the princes of the auto industry have gathered to sweat and socialize for nearly a century, a gleaming Range Rover with disproportionately long rear doors and sparkly 21-inch wheels turns heads.
Only a hundred examples of this special version will be offered in the US this year, and if they aren’t all spoken for by now, they should be, even at this price.
But where an “ordinary” luxurious long-wheelbase Range Rover has a three-across bench seat in the back, the limited-edition Autobiography Black LWB is fitted with a pair of executive chairs—cocooned in rich toffee-colored leather, thick woolen carpet and polished dark wood veneers, highlighted with splashes of deep satin chrome.
At the touch of various switches, these chairs adjust in 18 different ways and also heat, cool and massage one’s pampered backside. Footrests swing out. Handsome lap tables deploy electrically from the center console. There are large computer monitors/TV screens mounted on the back of each front seat. And let’s not overlook the champagne cooler, the concert-hall sound system, the mood lighting, and the panoramic windows with the ever-changing views and the powered blinds. Even Belvoir Castle, the Duke and Duchess of Rutland’s ancestral home, has no royal thrones like these.
Unlike most limousines, however, the LWB Range Rover also pampers its chauffeur. Under the hood is the mighty 510-horsepower 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 engine that also powers the top-line Range Rover Sport and, in 495HP form, Jaguar’s new F-Type sports car. Despite the significant extra mass of the longer body and this complex interior, Range Rover says the LWB Black will sprint to 60 MPH from a standstill in 5.5 seconds—in near silence and with considerable grace.
Thanks to its sophisticated air suspension, this massive vehicle also blitzes intersections, dances across potholes and straightens out corners like no ordinary limousine. Its mass and bulk are substantial, but it moves with impressive confidence and control.
(One evening I arranged a professional driver to look after us so that I could socialize. Several times that night I overheard him muttering, “This is the finest car I’ve ever driven . . .”)
Ultimately, I had no opportunity to test the LWB in any sort of off-road situation, but I’d be surprised if it isn’t very nearly as awesomely capable in deep water, gooey mud and impossible gradients as its shorter stablemates. However, my courage surely would have run out long before the LWB’s abilities, because nothing short of dire emergency would prompt me to crash off into the puckerbrush in a vehicle that lists for $199,500.
No, Range Rover executives have not lost their grip on sanity; they’re being quite shrewd, in fact. They are acutely aware that in another year or so Bentley will take the wraps off its new 4X4, and the LWB Range Rover—particularly this Autobiography Black edition—is their pre-emptive strike, their staking-out of the high ground in the coming ultra-luxury SUV wars.