I’ve always had a bit of a thing about women who drive stupidly big cars in London. Cars built for off-road adventuring and 72 different types of weather, but which wear out their carburettors between couture fittings and facials. Cars designed for every eventuality and every terrain, but which in reality spend most of their time blocking half the street while their owners push a few leaves around a plate in an overpriced hostelry.
So it was with a certain degree of sheepishness that, for my very first outing as Mrs Toad, I took delivery of an absolute honker of a Chelsea tractor, a chic grey Range Rover Sport, complete with electronic leather seats, 21-inch alloy wheels and that all-important Sloane accessory, a heated steering-wheel.
Eighty-plus grand’s worth of motoring muscle. ‘Woah,’ said my son. ‘David Beckham has one of these in white.’ ‘Rad,’ said my daughter (‘rad’ being a good thing, or so I am led to understand). ‘Does it have Wi-Fi?’
The answer to that is no — although it does have practically everything else you can think of, and several things you can’t. This is a car designed to make life easier in ways you never even knew possible. I never imagined, for example, that I really needed an inflatable lumbar cushion — or, for that matter, an adjustable steering-wheel column.
In fact, what the Range Rover Sport most reminded me of was a kind of automotive Jeeves, forever anticipating my every need and inadequacy as a driver: intuitive voice control, terrain-responsive handling, heated windscreen washer, memory seats, assorted power points and a navigation system so sophisticated it could land a probe on Mars — although not, rather disappointingly, negotiate a way around the Sunday-night Stonehenge bottleneck on the A303. That would be truly miraculous.
Setting aside that small failing, I confess that as the week wore on and we travelled from London to the Isle of Wight and back again via the West Country, I grew increasingly attached to this hulking status symbol. Irritating, given how much I wanted to loathe the thing. But I cannot lie: it’s an impressive piece of kit.
At times, almost too impressive. Try as I might, for example, I couldn’t get to grips with the complicated door-locking system, clearly designed to protect the driver from getting carjacked but in practice a monumental pain, especially when at the mercy of the British weather.
At a petrol station on the M3, my entire family stood shivering in the rain as I vainly attempted to disable the central locking; in the end I had to get out of the car myself and get back in again. Meanwhile, the parking sensors were so touchy and loud that they actually made manoeuvring harder, rather like having someone shouting at you. Sometimes you can have too much technology.
That said, the whizzy LED display, which somehow cleverly reflects on to the windscreen, so that you can see your speed and direction without taking your eyes off the road, is brilliantly effective.
Ergonomically, the Sport is a dream, not only providing the driver with extreme comfort at every level, but also fantastic all-round vision; and despite being the size and weight of a small pachyderm, it manoeuvres with the grace and speed of a gazelle. In heavy rain and holiday traffic, negotiating my way around the 70-mile-an-hour middle-lane dawdlers, I felt dangerously invincible — not necessarily a good thing for someone whose style of driving is most commonly described as ‘assertive’.
As for power — well, it’s got more pick-up than a Knightsbridge escort. You know that bit of a dual carriageway when it suddenly goes down to a single lane and unless you overtake pronto you’re going to spend the next ten miles trapped behind an elderly lady doing 40mph in a Fiat Punto? Not a problem — even uphill.
Oddly for a car that costs roughly the same as a small house in Stoke (or a case of Château Pétrus, depending on your priorities), it’s remarkably economical. Fully laden, we made it to and from and around the Isle of Wight on a single tank of diesel. And it’s practical, too: the touch of a button transforms five seats into seven, so there’s plenty of room for all those high-status offspring.
Do I want one? Sadly, yes. Can I afford one? Sadly no. It’s back to the Nissan for me. Although that, curiously, does have Wi-Fi.
0-60mph: 6.8 sec
Road Tax band
Sarah Vine is a columnist for the Daily Mail