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Plush, silent and luxurious, that’s what the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is. It is as close to a flatbed business class seat in a Boeing Dreamliner as you will get in the world of cars. You can sink in the leather couches, it would be an insult to call them seats, lay your head on the cushions that adorn the head rests, lie back and get yourself massaged even as you edge ever closer to your destination. It’s a lovely car to drive, with a choice of powerful engines and a pretty dynamic chassis, even though the suspension setup is soft and cushy. But in the S-Class, you’d much rather reach for the rear door than the front. As a matter of fact, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is so good that it has often been called the Best Car in the World. So where does that put the newly updated Range Rover SUV long wheel base?
Literally, the Range Rover sits several heads above the S-Class. After all, where the Mercedes is a stately sedan used as a base for the presidential vehicles, the Range Rover is a big butch SUV used as royal vehicles. In fact, from where I am, I can’t even see the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. I just know on instinct that it’s still there beside the blue grey hulk, where I had parked it. The sheer bulk of the Brit SUV is such that it dwarfs everything around it. But for all its bulk it isn’t loud in its presence. There’s a quiet dignity about it.
Call me biased but I have always found Range Rovers to be brilliant to look at. There’s something about that hewn-from-solid-stance that attracts me tremendously and in the later years Range Rover designers have somehow managed to add an impossible dose of cool without losing an ounce of class. There’s no doubt about its modernity and yet you’re absolutely sure of its lineage. Having been in this industry for close to a decade and a half and having seen several attempts at the same by manufacturers around the world, I can tell you it’s not an easy achievement. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class, well it’s good looking and handsome in a very grown up sort of way, but it doesn’t have the presence of the Range Rover. The Merc looks like it means business but it simply can’t switch to cool once the work day is over and it’s time to party. From the boardroom, to the ball, to the banquet and the off-road jamboree, the Range Rover looks effortlessly at ease everywhere.
But far beyond the impact of its exterior, what strikes you like a hammerblow to the solar plexus is the sense of space inside the Range Rover. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s less like stepping into a car and more like walking into a small living room. Sure, you don’t sink into the seats like you do in the Merc but you can stretch out like you’re on a beach chair by the pool here. In the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, you can only do so if you’re in the rear seat on the left side. Up front, that butcher’s slab design that had looked like a slab in the Velar feels like a banquet table here.There’s just acres and acres of room, and thanks to the window sills being much below your shoulder and the panoramic sun roof, the sense of space is even more with all the light streaming in from the large glass sheets that surround you. The rear windows, I think they are the longest on any production car. No matter what seat you choose to sit in, in the Range Rover you feel like a monarch in a throne room. An incredibly cool and new age monarch at that for there’s more than a ton of gadgets here to keep your highness busy. And happy. Besides if you think your attention span is shorter than that of a toddler and you need a lot more gadgets than can be fitted into a car, just bring your stash of gizmos along. The Range Rover has a USB power outlet in every corner of its voluminous self. Even in places you wouldn’t dream of (in the hidden bin below the cupholders that slide out of the way!). Hell, this beast could put a fancy power bank to shame really.
Hit the engine start button and the 4.4-litre twin turbo V8 diesel fires up with just a hint of a rumble before settling into a deep hum at idle. It’s rather like the engines on a cruise liner. You don’t really hear them but there’s just enough of a hum to reassure you that all is well. In spite of the Range Rover’s two and a half tonne heft, the SDV8 unit’s 335bhp and tarmac tearing 740Nm of peak torque means this LWB version will tear through the 100kmph barrier from a standing start in just 7.2 seconds. Top speed is 218kmph – there’s an aerodynamic limit here. The rush of torque when you step on it is like a hand at the small of your back that makes you surge ahead. Yet, it’s not the violent shove of an aggressive guard. It’s the relentless push from a coach intent on getting the best out of you in a sporting arena. There’s urgency but never any haste.
But frankly, acceleration runs and land speed records aren’t what you want with this SUV. They don’t even feel comfortable with the Range Rover’s softly set air suspension feeling a little wallowy over undulating roads at speed. In this space, the S-Class with much less bulk to cart around and being much closer to the tarmac outshines the Range Rover. The shine on the Merc is only getting brighter once we reached the twists and turns of Lonavala. Here the Range Rover feels like the cruiseliner it really is, on a choppy ocean. There’s plenty of roll as you switch from one turn to the next. Switch directions too quickly and you’ll feel the weight of the vehicle shift far more significantly than you would have in any other vehicle. So, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is nicer to drive.
But do you really want to drive these cars? Wouldn’t you rather be lounging in the luxury of their rear seats? Unsurprisingly, in the S you get thrown around a lot less and the seats hold you in place better. There’s a quiet German efficiency at work here. You fall in love with it instantly and thereafter don’t pay much attention to the outside world as you glide over the imperfections that would have otherwise affected you. In the Range Rover you’re more of a spectator as the scenery rushes by those huge windows. There’s the gentle sway of the body to let you know that you’re sitting high up inside a bloody tall SUV and that height adjustable air suspension doesn’t let you feel a thing. To be honest, the two experiences are quite different from each other and therefore incomparable.
So far it seemed like the odds were even and there really was no choosing between the Mercedes and the Range Rover when it came to a decision about the best set of wheels there ever was. And that is exactly when your eyes find the controls for the Terrain Response 2 on the huge touchscreen on the dash. You realize that the Range Rover is unstoppable. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class will stop when black top ends but the Range Rover? There’s just no end to where it can go. We’re not talking the kind of soft roading that most crossovers and SUVs are capable of these days. In the Range Rover you can do some proper off road sh#t. This after all is at the core of its DNA and lineage and the makers of this magnificent SUV haven’t diluted that ability. Not one bit, and Sirish’s drive in the same car in the UK a few months ago is ample proof of that.
I wish I could have said something more about the physical experience of going off road in the mighty Range Rover but with the price tag of Rs 2.27 crore, hovering somewhere at the back, and very often at the front, of my head, I simply didn’t have the b#lls to venture off the safety of the black sinewy ribbon that cut through the hills of Lonavala. The diesel powered Mercedes-Benz S-Class is several bags of money below at Rs 1.33 crore, and even though it’s far beyond my paygrade looks like a bargain compared to the Range Rover. In fact, on price alone I would see no argument that I, or anybody, could put forth to justify the numbers attached to the Range Rover. But where the Mercedes will make you feel like a president, subject to the whims and fancies of a term in office, the Range Rover makes you feel like an absolute monarch. How does one fix the value of that?
So, to get back to boss with an answer, which is the best car in the world? Honestly, I still can’t pick between the SUV and the luxury saloon, but I have no doubts that a day in the Range Rover will leave you with the best feeling in the world. It’s all a state of the mind really, wouldn’t you agree?