The world has changed quite a bit since the L405 Range Rover arrived in 2012. Nowhere more so, arguably, than in the world of SUVs. A decade ago, buyers who wanted a big, luxurious SUV bought a Range Rover; those after a slightly smaller, slightly sportier SUV could get a Sport, the L494 arriving in 2013. Or a Porsche Cayenne. Now, while that sells the class of 2012 a little short - the BMW X5 and Mercedes ML had been around more than a decade already - there can be no debating the sector's subsequent growth. Buyers can now get an Aston Martin DBX with more than 700hp, or a Cayenne that can do 7:38-laps of the Nordschleife, or even a Lamborghini. And anyone after a more opulent experience can choose between the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Maybach GLS, BMW X7 and more besides.
All of which makes the task facing the next Range Rover an almighty one. Not only must it retain the idiosyncratic aspects that have made its predecessors so popular for half a century, it also needs to compete with a more capable pool of rivals than ever - many devised specifically to outdo it. The Sport's job looks no easier, either. To establish just what the L460 needs to achieve, then, it's time to set a benchmark. In the Oxford Blue corner, the new Bentley Bentayga V8 S, by all accounts the best Bentayga yet and arguably the finest representation of what a £200k SUV (that isn't a Range Rover) is now capable of halfway through its life cycle. In the Orchard Green corner, the outgoing Range Rover that the best part of £200k currently buys, the SVAutobiography Ultimate Edition, here in long wheelbase format (just in case anyone wants the full name in script between the 22-inch wheels). We'll call it the Ultimate. And make no mistake, this is peak L405; the valedictory sign off for Land Rover's iconic flagship.
To begin with though, it's a cheery 'hello' to the new Bentayga S, the firmer-but-no-faster model that now sits above the standard 550hp V8 and replaces the dearly departed 635hp W12 warship. While it'll take a Bentley aficionado to identify it as an S (you're looking for black accents, a larger rear spoiler and slightly darker headlights) the big Bentley most certainly doesn't want for presence, primarily due to the S-specific wheels. They're 22-inches in diameter, and the thin spokes give you a good gawp at the enormous discs nestled behind. They almost look too spindly for the car, but there's impact alright. Mike Duff said of the wheels they "look like they'd been ordered from a 1990s German tuning catalogue" - and that was in LA. Not that anybody ever bought a Bentayga to blend in. Moreover, it's par for the course: the Ultimate's alloys are equally large, and in gloss dark grey with a diamond turned finish. Natch.
The Bentley's rims would obviously be a concern off-road, but removing the S from tarmac would be to take it away from the surface it's clearly designed to work on - this really is a fantastic car to drive. Not 'for a Bentley', or 'for an SUV', or 'for a car that weighs 2,416kg before even the hamper has gone in' - just really, really good. It's a keener, more willing Bentayga than the standard V8, yet one that has seemingly lost precious little (if anything) in rolling refinement or compliance. The active anti-roll that's now standard fit is spookily effective, albeit with sufficient heft to all the controls for the S not to feel aloof. The recalibrated Sport mode is clever, too, feeling to some extent like a Porsche equivalent; initially it feels too taut, only for you to forget that thought and find yourself 10 miles down the road revelling in its poise, accuracy and composure. The default Bentley mode remains the setting of choice, effortlessly combining plush isolation with superior damping discipline. Consequently, it takes no time at all to establish the S is rather more than divisive wheels and a fantastically flatulent exhaust.
It is so dynamically sorted, in fact, that there are occasions where you sense in excess of 550hp would be more than appropriate - don't be surprised if a more powerful Speed comes along to rival the DBX707, because this chassis can undoubtedly handle it. Much like the Continental GT Speed (which replaced the W12 in that line-up), it's hard to imagine any customer trying a V8 S and then opting for the standard model instead. That the V8 S remains sensational over longer distances, cosseting its occupants like any pureblood Bentley ought to (and with a sublime sound system added here), ensures its case is made emphatically and with no little panache.
But there's refined, and then there's Range Rover refined. Even after all this time there's nothing quite like travelling this way. It's more than just the lack of tyre and wind noise, too (the former of which may still surpass the Bentley on its racy P Zeros); those huge windows bring in so much light, and you sit so high, in cathedral-like space, that it's impossible to mistake the cabin for any other. The gearshift dial may now be 15 years old, but twirling the chunky bezel still works so nicely; and while steering this light ought to feel unusual in a car as heavy as Saturn and as long as the Mississippi, its unfailing accuracy and wonderfully judged rate of response makes the whole process seamless. The Bentayga is relaxing when required; the Ultimate is almost disarmingly opulent.
And that's just from the front seat - the rear is even more spectacular. The Bentley suffers no demerit for a sporting a more modest rear bench (its rival is plainly built for the job) but we'd be remiss not to tell you what the LWB Ultimate is like - because it's epic. The tan leather is perfect, the hot stone massage dreamy all the way to your calves, the carpets half-inch deep and the Prodrive-engineered picnic table - yes, really - a triumph. You prod and play like an excited kid in a toy shop; 'today's office' is a horrible phrase used by unimaginative car writers when they're in something new, but Logan Roy could run Waystar from back here. It's a concierge short of a hotel room, only one that moves. If private aviation looks a bit conspicuous nowadays, there are few finer alternatives for a short-haul hop.
Anyone travelling by Ultimate is really going to be moving, too. The additional length, weight and equipment of this special edition doing little to dull the might of its powertrain. The supercharged V8 and ZF auto are a pairing as old as fish and chips, yet, in its dotage, the powertrain remains a mightily effective one - not least when driven back-to-back with the Bentayga, where experience of the dual-clutch transmission used in the Continental GT makes Bentley's auto feel a tad sloppy. There's less torque aboard the Range Rover, delivered higher up the rev range (516lb ft from 3,500rpm, against 568lb ft at less than 2,000rpm), so it doesn't quite do that rollicking surge forward from almost idle - but once in its stride the supercharged V8 remains undeniable, little slower than the Bentley, desperate to rev and, of course, caddishly charming. If not more so, actually, even against a Bentayga that wants to be a NASCAR. A V8 in a Range Rover has been a mainstay for 50 years, and this combination of power and personality makes it easy to remember why. Like a country pub without a log fire, it's hard to imagine the experience being quite so rich without it. Which only ramps up the challenge facing its BMW-made replacement...
Among B-road corners, we needn't pretend it's a fair fight. With its stiffened suspension, active anti-roll bars and sticky tyres, Bentley has plainly built the S to do a job worthy of its badge - and it will likely be the new Range Rover Sport tasked with competing head-on with its gung-ho attitude to low-flying between hedgerows. As you might expect, the Ultimate, carrying improbable weight, needs more measured inputs and the additional patience to go with it.
Nevertheless, it's still worth attempting to put a finger on quite what makes the L405 so special, because it is this driving experience that Land Rover will need to replicate even as it moves to adopt cleverer chassis technology. And once that mighty engine has whisked you to the next corner faster than expected (again), it's still remarkably easy to revel in the differences that ought to make the Ultimate objectively worse, dynamically speaking - but instead somehow contribute to its desirability. For much of the time, it is the difference between captaining a ship and piloting a jet fighter; just as it makes you consider your next move, so the L405 rewards you with its singular, deceptively laidback way of doing things. You can choose to think about it not at all - there is no car better equipped to let you go with the flow - but a mental snapshot of any given corner tends to reveal the Range Rover juggling its oversized faculties with remarkable elan. If its replacement can still seem this effortlessly commanding, while adding the additional rigidity and tech mandated by the class, it'll be job jobbed.
For now, there's obviously no doubt that the Bentayga is the swifter, leaner option - and as additional evidence of what the manufacturer is capable of in 2022, the S is superb. It weaves together luxuriousness and driver reward no less effectively than any other Bentley-made product, yet with the ability to go off-road on top. (Because it gets muddy at the stables sometimes.) If the segment can do tangibly more than this, especially with regards to satisfying those behind the wheel, in the seats and the boot, we're yet to discover it. Perhaps the downright mean might argue that, in pursuing a sportier tilt and ditching the W12, the Bentayga S has become a little more like those cars with which it shares important bits. But that feels a bit churlish, really, as something that drives quite a lot like a Cayenne Turbo while holding onto all the trappings of a Bentley is even lovelier than that sounds.
Of course, unrepeatable charm is what the Range Rover has always done best, and the Ultimate is overflowing with it. Nothing else compares because nothing else feels quite so all-encompassing. It goes without saying that the Bentayga's cutting-edge bandwidth serves to highlight some key areas that the incoming model must improve upon - not least the venerable infotainment that brings back all manner of bad memories - but it also underlines everything the L405 has done so brilliantly well. The outgoing Range Rover has always felt special for every occupant onboard, and that sentiment goes double for the Ultimate. As a celebration of the model's best bits, it's hard to think of much better. Obviously, it would take a very committed brand advocate (or non-autocrat) to spend Bentayga money on Land Rover's departing flagship with its replacement already in sight, but it will have already found contented buyers among the lucky few. For the rest of us, we have the pleasure of waiting to see if the L460 is worthy of the diamond-soled welly boots it leaves behind.
Specification | 2022 Range Rover SVAutobiography Ultimate
Engine: 5,000cc supercharged V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 565@N/Arpm (6,000-6,500rpm in SVR)
Torque (lb ft): 516@N/Arpm (3,500-5,000rpm in SVR)
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
Top speed: 140mph
Price: £179,785 (price as standard; price as tested £186,216, comprised of 'SV Bespoke Exclusive content' for £5,406, Copper Weave Carbon Fibre Weave Finisher for £815 and a 36-month Secure Tracker Pro subscription for £210)
Specification | 2022 Bentley Bentayga V8 S
Engine: 3,996cc V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 568@1,960rpm
Top speed: 180mph
Price: £182,300 (price as standard; price as tested £208,900 comprised of Naim for Bentley premium audio system for £6,725, Touring Specification for £6,480, Five Seat Comfort Specification for £4,335, All Terrain Specification for £3,645, S Interior Colour Specification - Extended Palette for £2,050, Sunshine Specification for £1,700, Standard brakes with red painted calipers for £1,280 and Mood Lighting Specification for £385
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