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First drive: On the road in the all-new Range Rover

Cruising California’s Pacific Coast Highway in the new benchmark luxury SUV

There’s not a squawking, dive-bombing raven to be seen. All’s quiet as we cruise through the sleepy enclave of Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, behind the wheel of Land Rover‘s all-new 2022 Range Rover.

Back in 1963, this was the scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s quasi-horror-fest The Birds, with one very animated Tippi Hedren sprinting along Bodega’s main street, trying to escape flocks of menacing, coal-black ravens.

We top-up on caffeine at the bustling Tides Wharf restaurant where scenes from the movie were filmed and cruise by Bodega’s famous 150-year-old Potter Schoolhouse, where terrified tots tried to flee the aerial bombardment.

It’s our first stop heading north. We’re taking the snaking strip of blacktop that’s the Pacific Coast Highway, hugging the rugged coastline to get a feel for the agility, speed and hedonistic comfort of this new standard-setter in SUV luxury.

Full disclosure here: we’re already smitten with this, the fifth generation Range Rover. Impressed by the poise and balance of its all-new, super-stiff aluminum chassis, rear-wheel steering, and roll-quelling air-sprung, adaptive suspension.

There’s no shortage of power either to punch this almost 6,000-pound heavyweight out of the tight PCH curves. Under that mile-long clamshell hood is a BMW-sourced, twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 packing 523-hp and a muscley 553 lb-ft of torque.

From a standstill, it’ll get you to 60mph in a mere 4.4 seconds, delivering its Learjet-like thrust with an assertive, though distant V8 rumble. It works magnificently with the 8-speed ZF automatic, which shifts with the immediacy of flicking a light switch.

Interestingly, before heading north we had the opportunity to try out the new, mild-hybrid 3.0-liter turbo inline-6 that’s on offer with the entry-level SE Rovers.

This Land Rover-built engine packs a healthy 395-hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, and uses a 48-volt starter/generator to add extra assistance for off-the-line acceleration and improve economy. It’s one impressive powertrain, and arguably is better all-round than the gas-thirsty V8.

While the new Rover tackles the Highway 1 curves with poise and precision, its true mission in life is to transport five, or seven (with its new, optional third-row seats), in sublime and supreme comfort.

As we cruise the coast, the refinement is outstanding. Part of this is down to the new active noise cancellation system that monitors mechanical and tire noise and uses the 1,600-watt Meridian surround-sound and speakers mounted in the front headrests to cancel-out any ruckus.

And inside, the entire cabin of our First Edition-spec model is beyond exquisite. The quality, the fit, and the finish and design of the interior is truly Bentley-esque. The look and feel of the leather, the detailing on the dash, the finish of the woodwork – just spectacular.

And for those who prefer not to have cow skin lining their cabin, there’s even the option of good-looking, sustainable Kvadrat wool and Ultrafabric materials.

We’re driving the new long-wheelbase version, with its extra eight inches added to the wheelbase, huge rear doors and limo-like second-row legroom. It also has, for the first time, optional third-row seating, which really is adult-sized and not some after-thought for the kids. Getting back there is even relatively easy.

Just before Mendocino, we turn inland and head along the equally-snaking Highway 128 through towering redwoods. Just after Navarro, we take the road less traveled and head along a stunning, dirt-track trail up into the hills.

It’s hardly a challenging test of the new Rangie’s off-road capability. But it reminds us of the SUV’s duality and capability – and at least lets us play with a few of the multitude of Terrain Response 4×4 settings.

A couple of hours later, we’re sampling the luxury lifestyle that goes with Range Rover ownership when we pull into the driveway of Healdsburg’s Montage Hotel in the heart of Sonoma Valley wine country. Set in 258 acres of rolling vineyards and boasting 130 bungalow-style suites, it oozes California cool.

As for the 2022 Range Rover model line-up, take your pick from the $104,500 SE, the Autobiography (from $157,600), the First Edition (from $164,000) and the flagship SV from $193,100, with standard and long-wheelbase versions of each.

Here, without doubt, is the new benchmark in SUV luxury and capability. The best four-by-four by far? You bet.

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