This is because Americans may have adopted all of the creature comforts that science has sent their way, but at their core they yearn to be out on the prairie, living rough and eating whatever they can shoot.
Remember Petrocelli? The man was a skilled attorney but when there was no case to solve, he was to be found out in the sticks building his own house. Then there was Bobby Ewing. He worked in the oil business, drove a Mercedes SL and had a plastic wife. But at weekends he wore a tartan shirt and spent his time repairing fences. Americans love repairing fences.
Of course, things are very different on our side of the pond. Or are they? Because I know a great many people who spend most of their lives in London restaurants, sniffing corks and ordering arugula. But throughout the winter they are to be found in a pair of tweed shorts, waiting in the rain for a partridge to fly over, so they can shoot a bit of sky near where it had been moments earlier.
Then you have the “farm shop”, in which you are happy to pay vastly inflated prices because you have it in your mind that all of the things were apparently reared and made on the sort of farm you saw in the film Babe. That makes you all warm and fuzzy.
When people get even the tiniest bit of disposable income, they do not think about buying a larger house in the city. They think immediately about buying another one, in the countryside, with a hay wain in the drive and a bad-tempered cleaning lady hunched over the Aga, complaining all the time about how her kids “can’t afford to buy a house round ’ere no more”.
Make no mistake then. The lure of the countryside is strong within us, which explains the almost phenomenal popularity of the Range Rover. Because here we have a car with a switch that lets you drive on gravel and leaves and even through quite deep puddles. This is a car that says: “I may need to go to the countryside once in a while.” It’s a pair of tweed shorts with a tax disc, a Barbour jacket with headlights . . .
. . . And a heated steering wheel, and a sat nav screen that when viewed from the passenger seat is a television, and interior lighting that can be altered to suit your mood, and squidgy head rests, and a warning system that alerts you if you are about to crash, and multimedia screens in the back, and just about every other electronic gizmo that current technology allows.
You could be fooled as you slip into that leather-lined, soft-touch interior that you are slipping into the upper deck of a superyacht and that the car has completely lost touch with its rural roots. But thanks to that switch, it hasn’t. Because this is a car that can still take you through the rainforests of South America or up an Alp. It may feel like a hand-crafted Jermyn Street shoe but at heart, it’s still a wellington boot.
In fact, let’s not beat about the bush. The new Range Rover is as good as cars get. It’s surprisingly fuel efficient, it’s comfortable, it’s luxuriously appointed and it laughs in the face of even the most brutal weather. I drove through the heart of the storm that knocked out power supplies to most of Surrey and, honestly, it was as relaxing as settling down for a snooze after a big Sunday lunch. “Motorists are advised to avoid all but essential travel,” it said on the radio. But from my eyrie in the Range Rover, I couldn’t for the life of me see why.
However, that said, the car I was driving was the new long-wheelbase Range Rover, which does come with one or two problems.
Yes, the extra length in the wheelbase means the space in the rear is hysterically generous. It’s as spacious back there as it is in a hen-night limo, only there’s less sick. So that’s a tick. People will like that very much.
However, there’s a price to pay. First of all, there’s the price you have to pay. A top-of-the-range model will cost you £140,000, which in the big scheme of things is not that much. Because, hey, a similarly spacious Rolls-Royce Phantom is way more than twice that.
No. The problem is that when you’ve spent £140,000 on a car, you are less inclined to drive it through a wood. It’s a bit like fitting the kitchen of your weekend retreat with a carpet. Yes, it’s warm and cosy, but you’re going to feel pretty miffed when people come round in a pair of muddy boots.
And then there’s the size of the thing. It’s 17ft long, and of course that is absolutely fine in America or the Middle East, but here in Britain, one of the most crowded countries in Europe, it’s just too big. Every three-point turn becomes a six-point turn. And in my woods, it just couldn’t make the turns that its shorter brother can.
And as you wrestle with the wheel, the ridiculously pessimistic parking sensors are going berserk: “You’re going to hit the front. And the back and the side and still the front and now the back again,” they wail, constantly. So you turn them off. But the next time you engage reverse, they come back on again: “We’re all going to die, I tell you. Die.”
There’s another electronic issue. Like many cars, the Range Rover is fitted with a system that shakes the steering wheel when it senses that you are straying out of your lane on the motorway. But this is also a pessimist, wobbling the wheel violently if you even go near the white lines — something that’s inevitable in a car this big. The net result is that you have to concentrate like your eyes depend on it, just to stay exactly in the middle of the lane you’ve selected.
Then there’s the electronic tailgate. No. Never. Ever. There is no excuse. It’s the stupidest thing in the world.
So, the long-wheelbase car makes a deal of sense if you are fat and have a driver and live in Kuwait. But here? No. The standard car — which also has an electronic tailgate — is an easier all-round companion and costs a lot less.
And we can’t finish there, sadly, because we must address the question of quality. Every year, I host an armed drinks party on the farm. And all of my neighbours turn up in their Range Rovers. Last year, there were 27, all in a row. This year, there were only 25. Because two had broken down.
You might think, then, that you’d be better off with a Toyota or a Mercedes or some other large 4×4. The thing is, though, I’d rather have an unreliable Range Rover than any of its more reliable rivals. It’s that good. It’s brilliant.
This Rangie’s not for turning
- 5000cc, V8 supercharged
- 503bhp @ 6000rpm
- 460 lb ft @ 2500rpm
- 8-speed auto
- 0-60mph in 5.5sec
- Top speed:
- 20.5mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- M (£1,065 for first year)