COME nightfall, the dashboard of the Range Rover Westminster starts to resemble the control panel of a private jet. Banks of buttons, gauges and switches that control everything from cabin temperature to radio frequencies are picked out in a green backlight, faint at first, but growing stronger as the world outside slips into darkness. Computer-generated dials indicate speed and fuel levels with pin-sharp clarity, while a centrally-mounted screen deciphers the electronic chatter from a skyful of satellites to plot the safest way home.
Comparisons between the car and an executive aircraft don’t end there, for in the raised-up world of the Range Rover, you travel with your head closer to the clouds than almost anyone else on the road. The view is unsurpassed, the accommodation first class and the air-cushioned suspension takes the sting out of even the most turbulent tarmac.
Then there’s the power. Like a Learjet barrelling along the runway towards take-off, the Range Rover is blessed with a surge of acceleration that feels like it might last forever. Unlike a jet plane, it goes about its business with a dignified hush, whether it’s swishing to a halt outside a stately home, or snaking its way across the Serengeti. It’s a go-where-you-please limousine.
It’s a measure of how far the Range Rover has evolved from its rustic roots that this model is badged “Westminster” and not “Dappledown Farm”. The original design by Charles Spencer King more than 40 years ago had wipe-down vinyl seats.. I’ll thank you to wipe your feet before you step into the luxury carpeted and leather-trimmed interior of my Range Rover.
In his later years, King bemoaned his creation morphing from car of choice for country dweller into symbol of urban affluence. But some things never change. The Range Rover is still monumentally massive. The split tailgate, upon which one can perch one’s posterior and one’s bottle of Pimms while watching the Hickstead horses canter by, remains.
The Westminster marks the tenth anniversary of this third-generation Range Rover and replaces the Vogue and Vogue SE in the line-up. The £69,995 “entry level” model comes pre-loaded with lots of gadgets. Highlights in the cabin include a 1,200-watt, 19-speaker stereo, a dual view screen that lets passengers watch telly while the driver studies the sat-nav, and front seats that can cook or cool your backside according to your mood. Fit and finish is of the highest standard.
Outside, distinguishing features comprise 20-inch alloy wheels, a shiny silver finish on the front grille and side vents, and a Westminster badge on the back. Our test car, supplied by Pentland Land Rover at Newbridge, is finished in Santorini black, with a jet black leather interior, and it looks a million dollars.
Climb up into the driver’s seat and you get a fabulous view of the road ahead, while passengers will enjoy being able to peer over roadside verges for a change. The front seats and steering wheel adjust to suit all sizes, and legroom for three adults in the back is generous.
The Westminster’s power comes from a 4.4-litre diesel V8, which generates 309bhp and torque to rival a truck. Allied to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, it makes light of bringing the heavyweight Range Rover up to speed, and emits a tuneful-for-a-diesel V8 burble when you floor the throttle. There’s a “sport” setting on the gear shifter to spice things up further, and flappy paddles should you wish to change gear manually.
You might expect a car as tall and heavy as this to fall over at the first corner, but some neat tricks with the suspension keep the Range Rover on an even keel and it handles the bends with aplomb, only occasionally feeling a bit nose heavy at low speeds on tight roundabouts. This is the same suspension, remember, that can be raised to cross the Rockies, or lowered to let granny on board.
On the motorway, 70mph equals a barely-even-trying 1,400rpm in eighth gear and, despite the car’s blunt front, wind noise is barely evident.
The Range Rover’s bulk and set-square shape mean economy’s not great – we averaged 23.5mpg over a couple of days of mixed motoring – but if your Range Rovering doesn’t involve city driving, you should get closer to 30mpg.
That’s about about eight times better than a Learjet, and you can’t tow a horsebox with one of those.
CAR Range Rover Westminster 4.4 TDV8
PERFORMANCE Max speed 130mph; 0-62mph 7.5 secs
MPG 30.1 combined
CO2 EMISSIONS 253g/km
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west