by Jeremy Clarkson
I was out in my woods the other day collecting logs when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted what looked like a fox darting into one of my pheasant pens. Luckily I was not packing heat, because it turned out to be a fox-coloured spaniel. It bounded over when I called, all ears, tongue and waggly tail, and I quickly deduced by reading the tag on its collar that it was called Rory. It’s not for nothing that, round these parts, they call me “the detective”. There was also a telephone number, so I called it and it went straight to voicemail. Perhaps the owner had left his phone at home when he took his dog for a walk and was, even now, rampaging around the Cotswolds. I strained my ears, but could hear no one shouting “Rory!” And so, with darkness approaching, I decided I’d take the dog back home with me. But there was a small problem: how exactly would I do that?
My farm car, a 13-year-old Range Rover, had been for a service the week before, and just one day later had broken down. Subsequent investigations suggested that one or both of its turbos had failed, along with the intercooler. Put simply, it was buggered, and would cost more to mend than it was worth. My other Range Rover – I like Range Rovers, OK? – was out of action too, because someone had borrowed it just the day before and had some kind of accident. The third Range Rover that lives on the farm was, that day, doing errands in Norfolk, and the fourth, a brand-new 2021 model I had on loan from Land Rover that week, was far too clean and shiny to be used for transporting a very muddy spaniel. And so we arrive at the biggest – and only – problem with this car. It was designed 50 years ago to do two jobs. You could use it on the farm during the day, and then, after hosing down the interior, use it at night to go to the opera. No other car has ever been able to pull that off. Not even Mercedes’ G-wagen.
So why then do I own two? Ah, well, that’s the issue. My four-year-old Vogue SE is a bit plush. I use it mostly for going into London. I don’t even use it for shooting. And I’m not alone. Most of my friends round these parts have Range Rovers as well – it’s a uniform, really – and it’s the same story with all of them. With the new version the problem is more acute because there are glass screens for all the controls and new, softer, wider seating, which is upholstered in the finest leather. It can be used, of course, for uprooting trees and transporting logs and pulling stranded tractors out of the ditch, but you wouldn’t, any more than you’d play football with that Louis Vuitton ball that was recently offered online for more than $7000. Land Rover would say that you can still do all these hirsute, manly things with other cars in its range, but I’m not interested in its other cars. I’m sure they’re very nice, but I like the Range Rover. The proper one with the split-folding tailgate and the imperious driving position.
And the new models are even better. The engines, for the most part, are smaller than ever, but thanks to all manner of electronic trickery and hybrid tech they are even more powerful. So now, with the diesel D350 model pictured here, you get all the torque you need and almost 13km to the litre. Greta Thunberg should get one. More impressive still, however, is the way this new car glides. It has the same suspension set-up as before, so it must be the seats, or fairy dust, but something makes it uncannily comfortable. It’s also fun. I’m not suggesting it’s like a Porsche 911. It’s not fun like that. But it is a hoot to zoom along at a fair old lick in something that weighs more than Lincoln Cathedral.
Still, we can no longer judge the Range Rover as a dual-purpose car. It’s a great everyday car, but when it comes to driving a muddy dog cross-country, you’ll need an old Toyota pick-up as well. I don’t have an old Toyota pick-up, but I do have a six-wheel-drive former army Supacat. So my girlfriend brought that to the wood, we put Rory in the back and off we went.
Later, after I’d given him some of the stew I’d made the night before – he liked it, unlike everyone else – and a bowl of water, I tried the number again, and this time it was answered very quickly by a woman. But I couldn’t hear what she was saying because in the background there was a clearly distraught little girl sobbing and saying over and over: “Is it Rory? Is it Rory?” I explained that I did have Rory, and I then heard a whoop of relief. It’s possibly the nicest sound I’ve ever heard. The sheer joy of a little girl finding out that her lost dog is safe and well. It put me in such a good mood that I’m going to give the new Range Rover five stars. It’s so good at doing the opera part of its job that we can ignore the fact it’s now too posh to do farming.
THE CLARKSOMETER: Range Rover 350D Vogue SE