Let’s not beat about the bush – driving a car in a busy city is thoroughly shit. Even as a die-hard petrolhead, I can admit there’s a time and a place for a car, and in the centre of a metropolis like London, I’d rather walk or take the Tube. A recent drive into Battersea did little to change my mind, trundling along in stop/start traffic and panicking every time a scooter blasted past through a gap that didn’t look like it existed.
In the car I’d picked for the job, I had over 500bhp ready to be deployed under my right foot, yet rarely used more than a fraction. However, a very different kind of vehicle was waiting for me at the destination – a gorgeous two-door Range Rover Classic. But not just any old Rangie – a ‘ULEZ Reborn’ version from master Range Rover restorers Kingsley.
The Oxfordshire-based firm has restored 400 of the things over the years, but this particular Classic takes things further. The Reborn process sees the donor car stripped down and rust repaired (no mean feat for a circa 40-year-old product of the British car industry), and then rebuilt with new and refurbished parts, many of them upgraded bits.
As standard, the Reborn gets a 4.0-litre Rover V8 with the original three-speed automatic gearbox switched for a five-speed unit from ZF. The standard spec is decent, featuring things like electric windows and a reupholstered leather interior. Want to go further? This particular version has a massive list of modernisation upgrades including Apple Car Play, forged aluminium wheels, a reversing camera and a 4.6-litre V8. Soon you’ll be able to option an LS engine in its place. It’s far from a cheap business, with prices starting at £125,000, a figure which can rise to nearer £200,000 if all the bells and whistles are selected.
The ‘ULEZ’ bit of the name comes from London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone. To avoid having to fork out £12.50 a day to drive in the zone, you need to be in either a Euro 4 or newer petrol car (2004 on) or a Euro 6 diesel (2012 on). However, there’s a loophole – vehicles that are 40 or more years old are exempt. Vehicles like this V8-powered two-door Range Rover.
Kingsley capitalised on the expansion of the zone last year to tout the ULEZ-dodging nature of the Reborn. With the ULEZ growing significantly in all directions, it now covers affluent areas of the capital like the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Districts full of well-off people who might just like the idea of being able to drive around or away from London without penalty.
So, that’s why we’re on a route that’ll take us through the middle of London (where we are still liable for the Congestion Charge, a separate thing to ULEZ) to see how the Kingsley Range Rover fares as a city car. It certainly has size on its side – while considered a large car in its day, the motoring world has changed considerably in the proceeding decades. Increasing safety and technology demands means cars are a whole lot bigger now, to the point where this SUV has a smaller footprint than some C-segment hatchbacks.
It looks tiny parked next to modern cars and feels compact behind the wheel. That’s not to say it’s cramped in there – far from it. The interior feels spacious, and with deliciously thin A, B and C pillars, the glasshouse gives superbly clear all-round visibility.
What’s more, you can actually see where the corners of the car are. So, I’m no longer worrying about those scooter riders, and I’m able to nip into gaps the next lane over with ease. Parking’s a relative breeze too – this Reborn has the optional reversing camera fitted, but I’m not sure how much it needs one.
Low-speed manoeuvring takes a reasonable amount of effort, though. Yes, there’s electric power steering assistance and a faster steering rack, but the wheel remains heavy to turn. The gear selector requires elbow grease too, and the doors will only close properly with that satisfying ‘clunk’ if you slam them. But this is as it should be.
The car’s biggest asset, of course, lives under the bonnet. The rumbly, torquey V8 makes progress away from the lights effortless, and the performance on offer is very well-judged. You’re looking at 270bhp propelling a car that’s considerably less porky than the current Range Rover, but not exactly a flyweight either. So, you can occasionally floor it even in town, happy that it’ll take some time to get to the speed limit.
The reasonably brisk and slick ZF gearbox fades into the background, for the most part going unnoticed. For an automatic, that’s the greatest compliment – it gets on with the task in hand without ever doing anything annoying to draw attention to itself and away from the rest of the driving experience.
The Reborn’s ride might be a far cry from the silky smoothness of a more recent monocoque-built SUV on air suspension, but it’s more than smooth enough thanks to the modernised chassis. On that front, this one also has the big brake kit, and although our speeds aren’t high enough to give them a proper test, they’re clearly effective.
Truly sussing out the merits of the fitted Fast Road Kit, which includes beefed-up anti-roll bars, will also have to wait for another day. On our route, at least, the Rangie cornered confidently with minimal roll. Early versions of the original Range Rover had a reputation for tipping alarmingly even at lower speeds, but you won’t experience any such terrors here.
Crucially, for all its present-day upgrades, the Reborn still feels old and authentic. You still get the sort of creaks associated with body-on-frame constructed vehicles. It still makes the right kind of noises, and it still smells old with that lovely rich petrol smell.
It’s just that you know it’ll fire up every time you want it to, and it shouldn’t ever leave you stranded at the side of the road in a cloud of steam. There’s no horrible dead spot in the middle of the steering, and when you need to use the brakes, you know they’ll work properly. Here, you can have your classic car cake and eat it.
Peering down at the neatly integrated Sony infotainment system while waiting at some traffic lights near Park Lane, I realised I’d been in the car for nearly two hours. Normally I’d expect to feel every single painful minute of a city centre drive, but in the Reborn, that didn’t happen. It turned what should have been a slog into a joyful, relaxing experience. How much of this was down to a novelty factor that might wear off in time, I’m not sure. All I know is I was disappointed to get back in ‘my’ 71-plate car to drive home through the afternoon traffic.