My day as an official Range Rover secret shopper
Given the remit, it would be easy to automatically equate ‘observe and report’ to ‘observe and criticize’ which in turn translates to “be picky’ rather than accept things at face value. But I was determined to remain objective.
Our (my friend and I) first impression of the location (Luton Hoo) was ‘grand’. What we classed as a ‘typical’ backdrop to experience the Range Rover
brand as we know it.
At registration we were greeted warmly and served bacon butties and coffee which I have to say were really yummy! Tea in hand, we wandered offered to a photographic exhibition of Range/Land Rover vehicles in all kind of situations, terrain. As a photographer, I found the display quite interesting although not as interesting as the photographer himself who spent less time talking about the photos and more about himself.
When we eventually managed to extricate ourselves from Mr Photographer and his tales of journeys around the globe, we drifted out into the court yard where we saw a small (hut based) butcher (yes, I know but I guess it follows the whole Range Rover, free range, farming theme). They were actually a really interesting bunch of people and they really appealed to me, even more so when they gave us a free goody bag to take home.
There was still time before our allocated slot to go off road with the all new Range Rover Discovery so we decided to return to reception and take a seat at Salon De The’ (something like that). Effectively, this was a bar set up at one side of the room but instead of the usual optics, they were shelves and shelves of different styles of tea. It came complete with an immaculately dressed barman who really knew a thing or two about his teas. I believe he’s official title was Master Blender? We loved it and sampled all tastes of brews. I tell you, I’m never going to look at PG Tips in the same away again! (he actually worked for Tetley)
Finally, the time arrived for our off road experience. Now, I’ve been to a few of these with the Touareg. There was some confusion about who to report to
exactly and how to get to our vehicles (yes, all marked on my black slate). Eventually, we found one of the Range Rover team and he explained that we
simply had to walk to one of convoy or parked vehicles and select one. Thank God because it was starting to drizzle and it was freezing!
By this time, some of the vehicles had left, including our so called ‘instructor’ not a good start. Not that we were going anywhere soon as the car in front of use (with two women inside it –gender not relevant but relevant to what I’m about to say) had trouble putting the car into drive (yes these were automatic cars) and just when we were about to get out were heard a voice over a walkie talkie strategically placed in one of the wells of our vehicle. Sarcastically, the tinny voice said “ladies, it helps if you put the car in drive”! Now, I’d normally find that quite funny (being a sarcastic person myself) but in this situation I actually thought it was outrageous! It’s his job to take care of people on this day not make fun of them! Another chalk on the black slate. Things weren’t going well.
So, we set off. I have to say, I have seen this done much better elsewhere. What was interesting is that our so called guide didn’t actually sit in the vehicle
with us (I haven’t seen that before) he was in his own vehicle leading the convoy (about 10 of us, yes quite impressive). Things rapidly got worse when we actually started the experience. This Range Rover instructor, who can only be described as bored, was talking us through the process (via the radio). In all of the experiences that I have attended of this kind (driving experiences), he had to be the most ‘boring’, ‘uninterested’ instructor I have ever heard. His first
words to us were “okay, guys… we need to get around this course. We’re not gonna’ rush you but we just need to let you know we have to get round it quickly” Ugh? So much for the personal experience. He seemed totally dispassionate about the brand as he did about our experience of it. He was monosyllabic throughout and did nothing to ignite our passion about the brand or the task in hand. Again, I’ve seen lesser brands make me really want to get into the adventure of the moment and excite me about the capabilities of both the vehicle and me as the driver. They’d inspire us to trust the vehicle to take care of the situation without much intervention from us. The Range Rover is clearly a capable vehicle but you may as well have sent us round in a Robin Reliant (no offence intended by you get my point), the impression made would have been far greater. I appreciate the man must do the job day in
day out but if he’s bored then he really shouldn’t be heading up what is ultimately the experience of a lifetime for many drivers who pay a fortune for this experience.
Anyway, we finally get into the thick of things and I’m ready for action. I’m ready to navigate bogs (of the mud variety), face certain death as I plunge down ravines and to stand idly by when I eventually need to be towed out of some trench, this is RANGE ROVER after all…. However, I’m not sure who exactly the experience was pitched at but well… if I said ‘tame’ would be an overstatement. The Ruts were shallow, the terrain average. Again, in comparison to others this was quite bland; it was just a nice drive around a field. Not something I’d expect from Range Rover. Come on guys! You’ve got a great machine/brand, what are you doing showing it off like this?! You just aren’t doing it justice. Why would I swap my car and invest a substantial amount of cash in this vehicle? If this event is pitched post sales then it’s even worse because it seemed disinterested ‘Now that we have your cash, we really don’t need to sell you the car’s abilities.’ I was actually quite relieved when this ended. I was looking forward to going back for tea!
After tea, we drifted out into the courtyard once more where we found a graphologist (a person who can read hand writing). The setting for this was nice and cosy, amongst endless bottles of wine, lovely couches and chairs. Emma was a chatty character who absolutely ‘knew us’ so well just from a piece of hand writing! We and others, who were waiting with us, were impressed. I even heard people talking about her during lunch!
Lunch was a refined affair. Clearly up one notch on your average luncheon. The surroundings were naturally very pleasant. My personal preference is not to share a table with many other strangers but I know this is part of the whole experience and encourages people to mingle. We did. Although we a lot to get through so we didn’t linger beyond eating lunch and running, so to speak. The lamb and the crumble were nice. I wouldn’t class it as a dining ‘experience’ but it was certainly nice enough and more than welcome. If I were to be super critical, I’d say that the cutlery had probably seen better days.
Lunch aside, this will go down as one of the best experiences of the day. Now, the guy manning this section behaved exactly how I’d expect all of the Range Rover team to; he was warm and welcoming and managed to sustain the same smile for ALL of the people he came into contact with. Anyway, he led us to what have been £60,000 worth of vehicle and asked us to get into the driver and passenger seat. We thought he was going to join us but we were astounded when he said he wasn’t. We were going to take the car out on our own. What?! We could not believe it. He simply beamed a big smile and said, “No, you’re on your own. We trust you.” It was unreal. Two relatively young lads being given this £60,000 + vehicle and this major brand saying, “We trust you.” For us, it was serious Kudos to Range Rover for making this decision. It said, “We trust our vehicle to speak for itself” and it did.
We drove the Disco in traffic and on the motorway. Way points preprogramed to make sure we took in a good selection of roads and everyday urban challenges. Satellite Navigation way points also made sure that we both got a chance to savour the brand first hand (by an audible sound telling us it was time to switch drivers!)
Brilliant! The car. The experience. I even have a souvenir picture to prove it! Eventually, we decided to drive the car back and then attend the ice road experience. More specifically, see how the vehicle performs on simulated icy conditions. It wasn’t very impressive though. Sadly, in comparison to other car makers, it left a lot to be desired. It was a fairly straightforward process of accelerating and breaking suddenly on artificial black ice. This, when compared to other events where you actually get to ‘drift’ with the car and experiment with high speed breaking was very poor. It did little to highlight the pros of ABS, and other automatic ‘self-correcting’ technologies I assume are on board a market leading vehicle such as the Range Rover. I guess we’ll never know. The experience was over fairly quickly and we were shuttled back directly to the ‘Range Rover Technology’ experience (at our request).
And there are certainly some ‘impressive’ features on board the latest Range Rover, such as Radar Cruise Control, all round cameras and dual purpose TFT screen. Excellent and impressive technology presented by a clearly knowledgeable representative. Now he inspired us so much we wanted to get back behind the steering wheel of a car to try it out. So, we went back to our friendly Range Rover representative who handed the car over once more but only after explaining more about the new feature we were interested in ‘radar cruise control’. We were then off on the roads and in traffic where we put the car and the new feature through its paces. It performed beautifully both in and out of traffic, on and off the motorway, flawlessly impressing us each time. This, in our opinion, is what the Range Rover brand should be about. This car monitors the vehicles in front and is able to accelerate and stop in order to constantly maintain a safe distance between you and the car in front. How cool is that?
So, the day was gradually coming to an end but now without its spectacular finale. Throughout the day, we’d heard rumours that there was a five door version of the Evoque actually on site. This was further fuelled by the fact that we spied members of the Range Rover team leaving a prefab building which was hastily locked behind them. So, of course, when we were asked to surrender our phones, it could mean only one thing. Not even the driving rain could dilute our enthusiasm as we made our way to the building we saw earlier in the day. It was all I could do not to elbow people out of the way as the door was unlocked and the lights turned on. Two years in the waiting, you can imagine how excited I was…
And then…there it was, halogen lights burning under its makeshift white cover which, on cue, was pulled off to stunned silence. Well, all by me of course, I think I croaked “it’s my colour!” much to everybody’s amusement. A RangeRover Evoque in the flesh (or in the metal).
Like a pack of hungry wolves, we descended on the poor model of a car whilst I was accosted by one the engineers who was eager to answer any questions I had, and there were many. It was so refreshing to talk to somebody who seemed so interested in the brand and me as potential customer. He fielded all of my questions and was really helpful without being too revealing. Then, it was over for a sit in the driver’s seat of one of the most anticipated vehicles of my
life. The engineers fussed around me (because it was just a model after all, doors might fall off an all that) but they were always helpful and clearly as passionate as me.
Eventually, when they were able to extricate me from the car, it was over to the exterior designer. What a great way to spend the next 10 minutes but talking to him about the car I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of for what seems to be a lifetime; the Range Rover Evoque. The model was a five door and not seen elsewhere in the UK apparently, hence the super secrecy and security detail.
The car itself is everything I expected it to be. If the Evoque adopts much of the technology we witnessed today, it’s definitely going to be a new force to be reckoned with; it has the looks and the style, but will it have the brains and the ability? The key to its success will ultimately be the pitch to the rest of the world; too much ‘girly’ is going to turn it into an expensive version of the ‘hairdresser’s car’ and put off bachelors like me. Too rugged and it’s going to put off some of the everyday ‘girly’ girls. Whatever happens, there undoubtedly has to be two pitches; one for the coupe loving dynamos and the other for the family who want style and practicality.
We ended the day by attended a focus group to discuss specific potential Range Rover Evoque days; what kind of day would we enjoy, etc. This lasted for
about 30 minutes and was quite interesting. I had to try really hard not to dominate the whole event. I think none of the people present (except for my hum) knew how much restraint I was showing!
What we didn’t realise is that a bunch of Range Rover executives were listening to our every word via a close circuit television. We had been told that some executives were watching from another room but not that there were about 10 of them!
So that was my Range Rover secret shopper day. Now all I need to do is write my report and look forward to the next event which I believe is going to be BROCHURES before they are released to the general public.
Watch this space.