The Unloved Range Rover
Two decades since it went out of production we revisit the least loved Range Rover to see if it isn't becoming an overlooked bargain and we've got a Range Rover P38 buyers guide too.
Sandwiched between the classic Range Rover and the L322 is the P38A. Named so after the building it was designed in its design name 'Pegasus'. Its six years of production spanned 1995 to 2001, with a few late models sold in 2002. Today it seems to be viewed as a problem not worth fixing as prices for Classic models begin to climb and early L322 prices cross over. A good, well-kept 4.6 litre P38 in one of the more desirable specifications will still demand five figures, but many have fallen into the trap of becoming unloved and uneconomical to repair.
If you've been looking for a P38A Range Rover then check out our video guide below.
We should stress that during our test of this Wimbledon Green Anniversary model we didn't end in up in a calamitous disaster. Instead, we were reminded of just how capable a Range Rover is even with a set of road tyres on when you turn off the tarmac and into the scenery. The trouble for Range Rover will always be bringing a product to market that was at the cutting edge of a technological shift. In the late 90's it wasn't enough to just release a new car, it needed to wow with technology, and with many of these still in their infancy problems were almost guaranteed. Then the suspension, which promised to take customers further than they had gone before and in more comfort was also asked to perform on the road with cornering ability that didn't rival a cruise ship. Finally, the engines needed to be revamped, both for performance and efficiency. The Range Rover wasn't trying to win any eco awards, but moving its heft around without being so thirty the tank kept needing filling was a requirement. This brought complexity, and with it came problems.
Today though, in the bright sunshine, greenlaning across hills and wet grass it seems the Range Rover is redeeming itself. Many well kept examples still take owners off into the weeds without a nuisance, and when compared to its contemporaries such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class of the day reliability and appetite for sudden wallet-busting bills are on par. Go and buy a Mercedes S500 for £3000 and see how long it is before you start to wonder why you didn't just take the higher seating position of the Range Rover at the first visit to the mechanics as you watch a ream of paper hit the floor with immediate service and wear items.
The seating position gave the oh-so Range Rover feeling of captaining a vessel rather than merely driving a car
This isn't to say the P38 Range Rover isn't without its problems, and rotten frames, corrosion in areas that will leave you scratching your head, and very expensive components are all very real and shouldn't be discounted if considering one of these vehicles. For us the problem isn't necessarily how bad the P38 is. On the road, it even has a good turn of pace and takes the corners without initiating a groan of seasickness. The problem lies with the sandwich the P38 sits between, Range Rover classic on one end and L322 the other. Those that want the simplicity of the classic aren't going to be tempted away by the gadgets and gizmos of a P38. The L322 has its issues, especially the gearboxes of early diesel models, but it also has a superior feeling, almost as if Land Rover did all their maths calculations with the P38, and got the answer with the L322. Putting the L322's known issues such as rusting rear arches, gearbox failure, and suspension malfunctions aside as many cleaner examples either don't have these problems or have had them resolved, it is hard to see a place for the P38. A like-for-like comparison of a 4.2 Supercharge Vogue SE vs the 4.6 Anniversary model would mean passing up on a relatively clean, well maintained, and more powerful L322 to have a P38, and unless you just have to have one, it is tough to make a case for it.
One conclusion from behind the wheel of the P38 is that it has received a bad wrap, made worse by heavy depreciation putting many into shoestring budgets. This is a problem for all expensive luxury vehicles, but the Range Rover gained a reputation for failing in ways that would leave you stranded, and it appears that is the reason so many fear them. Would we still pass up on the P38 today, no, not a good one.
Behind the wheel -
After a few steady miles warming up the engine and familiarising ourselves with the P38's interior it quickly became a comfortable place to be. The seating position gave the oh-so Range Rover feeling of captaining a vessel rather than merely driving a car. Once we found a suitable country lane we pressed on and found that the suspension (recently refreshed Arnott air springs all around) didn't demand we halt our progress along the twistier sections. It wasn't a modern Range Rover Sport SVR, but then none of us expected it to be, instead, it was calm and moved graciously, although the feedback was still well short of a contemporary, it was acceptable. Opening up the V8 gave a good turn of pace, no we wouldn't have worried any of the newer supercharged petrol engines, but we could bother an L322 with the BMW 4.4 V8 under the bonnet. Everything from the Satnav to the air compressor worked and so we slowed down and took to a lane that disappeared into the wilderness. Clear compromises need to be in mind, if you think the car will do all the work, you will soon be looking for a way back to the safety of the road. Press on with some finesse and appreciation of the machinery though and your confidence grows. A particularly large gradient appeared ahead, mostly dry mud with a few damp patches and slick grass waiting on the downward slope. A couple of hesitations could be felt as power seemed to move around beneath us, but up the hill we went, the decent handled without a looked wheel or runaway pace. Fitted with more suitable tyres we felt as though it could have tackled the challenge in worse conditions, but the bumpy land ahead was smoothed considerably and we met a road on the other side of it all remembering that Land Rover really do know how to build an off-roader. Yes many P38's may not be perfect, and a good one will only be grasped at a premium, but we enjoyed our time with it, and if you prefer its style to those before or after it and are willing spend the money at the first sign of trouble, a P38 is certainly worth a test drive.