While it has a reputation as an accomplished off-roader, the Range Rover is a luxury car more than anything else – and it’s one that stands comparison against the best German luxury saloons.
The latest model even aspires to be mentioned in the same breath as Rolls-Royce and Bentley. That’s a bold ambition, but then the Rangie looks right at home parked outside the world’s five-star hotels, and has the kudos to be on the wish list of the seriously wealthy.
This new model is unmistakably a Range Rover. But it’s slightly longer and wider than the outgoing car, and a sleek nose, LED running lights and wraparound tail-lamps give it a slicker look. In comparison, the Audi A8 L doesn’t have the individuality to stand out.
Any concerns about the A8 not making you feel special are soon forgotten once you slide into the opulent cabin. In long-wheelbase guise, there’s an extra 130mm of legroom, and the two individual rear chairs allow you to stretch out and relax, close the window blinds and let the chauffeur do all the work.
If you prefer to do the driving, things are equally first-class up front, where the sleek dash is well designed, and the easy-to-use MMI control system keeps the number of buttons to a minimum.
There’s a bewildering range of bespoke – and expensive – trims, leathers, inlays and hi-tech goodies on offer, but with a good driving position and superb quality, even a standard A8 leaves you in no doubt that you’re in a luxury car.
Climb into the Range Rover, and there’s a similar sense of occasion. You sit high, with a commanding view of the road, and the sumptuous seats and perfectly placed wheel are familiar Range Rover features.
But while the cabin design isn’t radically different from the previous model, quality has taken a big step forward. There’s also a wider choice of leathers and trims, and a 50 per cent reduction in buttons makes the interior less cluttered. The colour TFT binnacle displays information clearly, but the touchscreen is still too fiddly.
With heated and massage seats, plus the option of a high-end Meridian audio system, the Range Rover isn’t too far away from the Audi when it comes to kit. It trails on rear legroom, although there’s enough space in the back to carry three adults in comfort, while the air-suspension can be lowered to make the Rangie easier to get into.
Better still, the 909-litre boot, plus rear seats that fold flat at the touch of a button, ensure no other luxury car can rival the Range Rover for practicality. And that’s before you take into account its off-road and towing skills.
But it’s the newcomer’s abilities on the tarmac that define it as a luxury car. The SDV8 engine is smooth, and at speed there’s virtually no wind or road noise. The standard air-suspension delivers a beautifully cushioned ride, and it’s only over really rough surfaces that you can feel the big alloy wheels thud into holes.
The Audi is quicker – it recorded even faster in-gear performance figures than the Porsche Cayenne Turbo – and has the edge in corners due to its lower centre of gravity.
Yet the slightly over-complicated Drive Select chassis adjustment doesn’t deliver much in the way of a dynamic advantage over the British SUV. In fact, the Audi is at its best and most communicative with the steering in the Comfort or Normal settings – sportier settings add weight but not feel to the steering, and make the ride stiffer.
Like the Range Rover, the A8 has air-suspension, although while refinement is excellent and the ride good on smooth surfaces, there’s more tyre noise at speed. Both cars have grip to spare, yet despite its size the Range Rover feels just as capable due to its body control and fluid steering.
Most importantly, few models we’ve driven can match the comfort and serenity you experience at the wheel of the Range Rover. And that’s the mark of a great luxury car.
Engine: 4.6-litre V8, 334bhp
0-60mph: 6.9 seconds
Test economy: 32.6mpg/7.2mpl
Annual road tax: £445
Engine: 4.2-litre V8, 345bhp
0-60mph: 5.0 seconds
Test economy: 31.4mpg/6.9mpl
Annual road tax: £245