I once heard SUV's being likened to nuclear weapons, and the analogy of mutually assured destruction, or MAD as it was referenced to during the height of the cold war is a good one. Eurocap ratings for large SUVs are not much different from a modern family hatch back, however if you and your offspring were to be involved in a smash, i bet most of you would prefer to be cocooned in three tons of off-roader instead of a paper-thin Citroen.
When we started to plan our family four long years ago, I was very reluctant to buy a people carrier, as an enthusiastic motorist it to me it said i've given up on cars now, this is just a box to carry my children around in, some were red but most were silver and had oddles of room.
Then i started to read reviews of them, and watched videos of seven seaters being rear-ended, the result of which is that the rear-most seats, which are fixed in the crumple zone do not fair well.
So I started to look at 4x4s. No, i'm not the only parent who sore the scary video of a people carrier being smashed from behind, lots of others did too, and they started buying 4x4s, and 4x4s started to sell well, so much so that these agricultural, gas-guzzling farm yard road tractors became a common sight on the roads. Car manufactures recognised this and they started to build SUVs, almost everyone of them. And they did it as quickly and cheaply as they could - by taking a regular car and jacking up the suspension.
Back in 1970, a chap called Spen King created the range-rover, cleaver bod who decided that after driving a rover saloon over a ploughed field that the ride was far better than the series land rovers his company produced. So, he decided to fit independent suspension to a four wheel drive ‘road rover’. As it was his little project, he wanted the best components, so he sourced the excellent rover v8, decided that Mr. Farmer would like to drive to town in one so made the interior so that you could hose it out after a day on the fields. Other engineers though he was mad, and fitting this kind of suspension would break it – but it didn’t, and the range rover was born, and it was good; winning the proper Paris-to-Dakar and the only car to ever have been exhibited at the Louvre.
The problem with the not-really-a-four-by-four-suvs-like-that-awful-nissan-thing is that they are not really 4x4s, they are built to satisfy the requirement, when superficially the requirement is a high riding position, which by the way is over-rated, especially if you have taken a corner just a bit too quick. They are not built with the philosophy that they need to travel hell-for-leather over a ploughed field. Now, I hear you thinking I’m not going to belt across a ploughed field, but I refer you to my first point, I’d like a car built like it can so that if Mary, born in 1930 and drives a cyan blue Peugeot rear ends me, my kids will not be hurt – and if you have ever seen the underside of a Range Rover? Climb underneath and you’ll come out with the impression that if you stand it on its bum, it would make a good substitute for the foundations of a skyscraper.
Richard Branson once had a crash in one of these, he was told that had he been in any other car, he would be dead. Virgin has used nothing else as exec cars since.
We are now on the four incarnation in forty years, and let me let you into a little secret – there is no car better. Period.
We are on our second one, and its loaded with kit, which gives range rover its reputation of being unreliable – there is a lot to go wrong, and from time to time it does.
Steer away from high mileage TD6 versions, the gearbox is French and loves to wave the white flag after around 70k miles, and whilst you can nurse it along, it will always prey on your mind.
The biggest issue is with the battery –powering all the gismos, and to start a massive diesel for the regular school run means it doesn’t last long.
However, once you have driven one, I challenge you to look at any other 4x4 in the same light again, nothing else will do; there is a reason why the Queen, Clarkson and Branson all have one.
The depreciation out of the forecourt is painful, but you can pick up a four/five year old TDV8 for around 35k, not much more than the price of a new people carrier, and far cheaper than a decent spec’d alternative not-so-real-SUV, and it will hold enough value to sell it on in a few years for less depreciation than a new Nissan Cumquat.
The 4.4TDV8 is the best model – its paired with a eight speed box that make the rangie far too quick for a car of its size, however when you drive one, you won’t feel the need to thrash it, but it provides effortless motoring.
Oh and it fits three seats across the back.