That’s what gave it away — 36 baggage carousels. Do me a favour. Why would you need that many in Finland? Well, I did some investigating and it turns out there are, in fact, only six. It’s just that the numbering starts at 31. And once you notice this, the whole charade falls apart. All the people? Actors, plainly, employed by the government to make the country look busy and industrious.
The shops? Well, I didn’t check but I bet that behind the Dior and the Jack Daniel’s advertising, all you can actually buy are half-hunter watches, No 6 cigarettes and confectionery items such as Spangles and Opal Fruits.
Lots of smaller countries do this. They know that their airport is the nation’s porch so they make it enormous to give the six annual visitors a sense that they have arrived in a country that’s going places. “Look at us. We make mobile phones and cars you haven’t heard of, and Santa lives here and that’s why we need an airport that is 18 times bigger than LAX in Los Angeles. Because we are important.”
It’s all very lovely, I’m sure, but the problem is that by the time the visitor makes it to the taxi rank — and has hopefully not noted they’re all Singer Gazelles full of shop window mannequins — he feels like he’s done an Ironman triathlon and is knackered.
This is an especially big problem for those who visit Helsinki in the winter because unless you arrive between 12.03pm and 12.07pm it will be black dark. And if you do manage to arrive between these times, it will be dark grey. It’s a lovely country, Finland, but the dimmer switch appears to be broken.
That’s why, when I emerged from Helsinki airport last week, exhausted, with my stomach demanding brunch and my eyes telling me it was time for a mug of cocoa, I thought I was getting into a normal Range Rover.
Only when I arrived at the hotel and went to retrieve my luggage from the boot did I notice something was afoot. I own a Range Rover. We use a fleet of them to make Top Gear. There is no car I know better. I certainly know where the boot-release catch is. But on the car in Finland it was in a different place.
Now I know some car manufacturers make small changes to tailor their models for various markets. Cars sold in China, for example, have a longer wheelbase than cars sold elsewhere because Chinese motorists like a lot of room in the back. I’m also aware that the Americans and the French insist on having their steering wheels mounted on the left.
But changing a car in this way is expensive. And I couldn’t for the life of me work out why Land Rover would agree to move the boot-release catch just for the Finns. So I did some journalism and realised after no more than 15 minutes that I’d just been driven from the airport to the centre of Helsinki in the new Range Rover. One of the most eagerly awaited cars of recent times. And so at dawn the next day, I broke off from breakfast to give it a closer look.
The Range Rover has to walk a fine line. Yes, the vast majority are sold within the M25 but only because the city folk are buying into the country dream. They have to know that Lord Fotherington-Sorbet has one as well. So first and foremost, the Range Rover has to appeal to him.
The most recent examples of the old model were definitely getting too chintzy. Land Rover was listening to the people who were buying their cars — footballers and drug dealers — and was losing sight of the reason why. Lord Fotherington-Sorbet, for instance, does not like a chrome grille. Or piped upholstery.
I was fearful that with the new model the company would go berserk and give up on the countryside altogether. But it has not done this. The chintz is kept in check. Yes, my car was black (a town colour) and had a silver roof (a Cheshire option) but in the dim Finnish light, it looked very good.
My only complaint: on the last model, the heat-extracting gills used to be on the front wings and therefore seemed to have a purpose. But on the new one, they’ve been moved onto the doors where they just look stupid because they’re obviously fake.
Inside, though, I had no complaints at all. The car I drove was a pure four-seater, with a box of electronic goodies separating the back seats. This was nice but you wouldn’t actually buy this option unless you were mad. Up front, I was amazed how similar it all felt to the last model. You have the same split-opening glovebox, the same controls. All the company has really done is redesign the buttons and fit the gearlever from a Jaguar. And thank God for that.
There are some new things, though. The stereo is quite simply the best I’ve ever encountered. The seats are sublime. And now you can choose what colour you would like the interior lighting. And I’m not talking about blue or red. I’m talking about a full Dulux colour chart. I liked the purply blue best. It made up for Helsinki’s broken dimmer switch.
Apart from this, though, it looked and felt like a Range Rover. And then the door handle fell off, which means it’s probably built like a Range Rover too.
To find out for sure, I opened and closed the door 20 times. In the last model, this would have flattened the battery because each time the car was unlocked, the computer thought, “Oh, we are going somewhere. I’ll power myself up.” Then when the door closed, it would power itself down. But Land Rover has obviously fixed the problem now because the battery was fine.
On the road? Well, now this is the really clever bit. The new car may be bigger than the old one but some versions of it are almost a staggering half a ton lighter. And I was fearful this would make it feel less substantial, more Japanesey. But it doesn’t. You now get better acceleration and much better fuel consumption, and it still feels as solid and as regal and as comfortable and as imperious as ever.
Off road? I didn’t have a chance to find out but all of the features you found on the last model are still fitted to the new one. So it should be about the same. Fine on winter tyres. A bit slithery if not.
Three engines are on offer. There’s the 5-litre supercharged V8, which is fine if you are a bit unhinged, and then there’s a 3-litre V6 diesel, which offers extraordinary fuel consumption for a car of this size. And in the middle is a 4.4-litre V8 diesel. That would be my choice. Will be my choice, in fact . . .
My main emotion after driving this car was much the same as my main emotion during the Olympics opening ceremony. Relief that they hadn’t cocked it up. Then as time went by I started to realise that, like Danny Boyle’s effort, it’s more than not a cock-up. It’s actually brilliant. Expensive, yes. But worth it.
The company spent a billion quid on designing the new lightweight chassis. And then clothed it in a modern-day interpretation of what made the last car such a massive hit, not just with people who wear nylon shorts at work but also people who wear tweed shorts at play. It is a fantastic car. Not just the best off-roader in the world but one of the best cars full stop.
The world’s best car just got better.
Range Rover SDV8 4.4L V8 Vogue
- £78,095 (Correct at time of publication)
- 4367cc, V8
- 334bhp @ 3500rpm
- 516 lb ft @ 1750rpm
- 8-speed automatic
- 0-62mph: 6.9sec
- Top speed:
- 32.5mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- L 4999mm, W 2073mm, H 1835mm