First drive: 2021 Range Rover D350 MHEV Autobiography

The full-fat Range Rover is something of a British icon. Its illustrious linage has solidified it as a staple of the nation, like red postboxes or the Queen. However, the world around this four-wheeled figurehead is changing, and if it is to survive, it must evolve. Diesel-power has quickly fallen out of favour with Joe Public, but this car’s nature means that it has a reliable oil-burning following. The new Range Rover D350 MHEV not only features an all-new in-line six-cylinder engine, but also a 48-volt mild-hybrid system.

The good news for the regal Range Rover is that the new power plant and electrified innards have no impact on its visual appearance. Our Autobiography specification car looked every inch the commanding luxury vehicle the nameplate has represented for the past 50 years. A sandy Aruba Gold finish coated the imposing structure that embodies a full-size Range Rover. It’s not a fussy design, but its lighting signatures, 21-inch alloy wheels and sizeable grille gives it just enough of a flourish while still relishing the power of the understatement.

Climb aboard this land-yacht to take your leather massaging seat at the helm. This commanding captain’s chair is 24-way adjustable, heated, cooled and features its own substantial armrest. You are cocooned in rich leathers and Alcantra finishes, polished aluminium and delicate wood trims. No matter where you place your hand, you will not find a low-rent material, and it’s that sort of attention to detail that makes these Range Rovers so revered.

The centre console hosts the large 10-inch Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, which is perfectly serviceable, although it is somewhat shown up by the new Pivi Pro unit introduced on Defender. You also get a secondary touchscreen that’s graphically rich and serves an an ever-changing selection of buttons dependant upon which menu you’re in. This setup is free of clutter and integrates a pair of physical temperature dials impressively, however, blindly stabbing at a lower featureless screen while on the move can prove tricky.

The glass panoramic roof enhances the quantity of space throughout the cabin, including in the generous rear quarters. This rear bench can be specified in several ways, but here it seats three with he outer posts being highly adjustable. Like all true Range Rovers, this car features a handy split-folding tailgate, something that grants access to a cavernous 900-litre boot. Be it a pair of labradors or many suitcases, this large SUV is plenty facilitating.

We all know that these big Range Rovers are capable of climbing mountains thanks to their impressive all-wheel rive platform and Terrain Response 2, but our test rout involved a 125-mile journey primarily consisting of motorway. In almost any other car that would be arguably the dullest of tasks, but there’s few other cars I’d rather do just that in.

Before getting on with the long haul, a small section of the Malvern Hills needed to be taken care of. The new 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine under the bonnet effectively replaces the V6 and V8 diesels in the range. Here it’s in 345bhp guise and accompanied by some 700Nm of torque. The 48-volt system takes care of many ancillary electrical systems and aids acceleration via recovered energy through deceleration. Generally speaking, it goes about its business relatively unnoticed.

The new powertrain is a smooth operator with the electrical assistance serving to reduce lag and improve responsiveness. There’s still a small delay when abruptly demanding power from a standstill, but the tall levels of torque soon here this palace on wheels up to speed. Even under hard acceleration the engine note inside the cabin is muted, and when cruising it all but disappears. Some will bemoan the loss of the V-series of diesel engines, but this in-house straight-six is far from a bad alternative.

In urban areas the Range Rover is as effortless as you’d expect. The steering is light and your visibility from up on high is excellent. On faster winding roads words such as ‘engaging’ are as absent as they are irrelevant, with some naturally occurring body roll being the only physical suggestion that you’re cornering at all. There’s a strong sense of grip should you start to hustle the Range Rover, but there’s little in the way it behaves that encourages you to do so. Instead, sit back, enjoy the scenery and let that supple suspension soak up our rutted roads without fuss.

Onto the motorway and the Range Rover is king of the road, just as it is also king of everything off of it. Set the cruise control and let this majestic vehicle waft you to your destination. There is a little bit of wind noise as this vast ocean liner cuts through the air, but it’s far from intrusive and easily cancelled out by the rich quality Meridian Sound System. As you rest your hands on the thin-rimmed heated steering wheel and sink a little bit deeper into that massaging seat, you quickly realise that there’s very few better ways to cover distance this side of a Rolls-Royce.

The new powertrain is perfectly adequate for strong overtaking manoeuvres, and the 8-speed automatic transmission translates its potential to all-four wheels almost imperceptibly. Sure, when taking manual control there’s a slight hesitation on upshifts, but we highly doubt that your average Range Rover owner is changing gear themselves all that regularly.

Many owners upgrading form current Range Rovers to this new one might not even notice the change under the bonnet, and that’s certainly no bad thing. They might notice the improved fuel consumption of a claimed 30.8mpg (WLTP) at the pumps, though. While this change to a mild-hybrid powertrain might have been forced upon Jaguar Land Rover by ever stricter emission regulations, this D350 is in a great position to challenge competitors.

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