1997 Land Rover Range Rover DSE 2.5 turbo diesel
Brilliant... but not for everybody
HEVAC blend motors fail every 3 years.
HEVAC recirculation motors fail around the same time.
HEVAC ECU dying - faded display and slow to engage the compressor.
Fuse box base - twice in the past 7 years.
Air suspension compressor (on my 3rd one).
Air suspension valve block.
Air suspension ECU.
Air suspension driver module (every 2-3 years).
Let's get this out of the way upfront - these cars are ^@%%#$! to maintain, and one wonders if the word "de-bug" had made it into Land Rover's dictionary when they decided to release it on the market.
I've had mine 7 years now, and by my reckoning, less than half of that time has been spent on active service - the rest of the time the car is laid up at the garage or (as is often the case) waiting for a spot to open up at the garage so that it can be towed, and be laid up there.
I have a sneaking suspicion that whichever bits of British Leyland that couldn't either find employment somewhere else or be quietly disposed of, found their way to the Range Rover office, there to design and build the P38 until they retired - or were fired by BMW.
I also now know why it is the Queen often rides a horse - it's because her Range Rover is laid up at the garage... or waiting for a spot to open up at the garage so it can be towed, and laid up there.
OK - so the question is, why bother with such an obvious lemon?
Well, the truth is that when it's on song - which admittedly isn't very often - it is truly, completely, utterly brilliant.
To call the P38A a 4x4, offroader or SUV, is to fail to recognise half of what the car is all about, for it is NOT just about its formidable abilities off road. After all, Land Rover Defenders, Suzuki SJ410 Samurais and Jeep Wranglers do just as good a job.
No, the P38A is a multi-role vehicle, which does everything apart from track racing to a very competent degree. It will carry 5 passengers with luggage along motorways in as much comfort as a 5 Series BMW, it will carry as many flat packs of self-assemble furniture as a Renault Espace... and yes - it will cross all the streams and muddy fields, and drive along all the rutted trails as a Defender can, and that is what makes it very, very special indeed.
I'll admit that I have a love-hate relationship with mine, and every now and then the urge to just flog it off to the first punter who comes along (or alternatively just roll it off a cliff) does arise, but the very next time I drive it I fall in love with it all over again. It's been 7 years now, and I rather suspect the old girl will still be with me for many years to come.
Tips for would-be purchasers:-
1) Make sure you can afford the maintenance costs - this'll probably vary from country to country and car to car, but I'd say about £2k a year.
2) Air springs need changing every 2 years.
3) The suspension compressor is woefully under-specified, and is quickly worked to death if ANY leak is present anywhere in the system.
4) To check for leaks, park the car at normal height on level ground, measure the distance from ground to top of each wheel arch and leave it overnight - a full 24 hours is best. Measure again. ANY variation (up or down) in height exceeding 1 inch is cause for concern. The car dropping at 1 corner more than the others, or dropping all the way to the bump stops are signs of a serious leak either in the air springs (about £100 each) or valve block (about £2k for a new one, but can be overhauled very cheaply) or air line, which can be cheaply replaced with generic parts (6mm plastic air hose, rated pressure no less than 70 PSI).
5) Drive the car around for about an hour, park it up with engine idling, shut all doors and open the engine bay and check the suspension compressor - continual running or running over 50% of the time is an early warning that all is not well with the rest of the system.
6) Check that heater works and air can be directed to all the vents (dashboard, windscreen base, footwell) - the HEVAC system is extremely unreliable, and many owners simply remove the troublesome blend servos and permanently fix the flaps in a pre-set position. Restoring the system will cost a bomb, not least because the dashboard takes one person a full day to remove and another to replace.
7) V8 cars have "bonus" problems with the engine (rough idle, oil starvation, overheating, wiring insulation that has melted over the years etc etc etc) but a regular look-over the engine should reveal most of these.
8) Avoid AT ALL COSTS cars that have been "converted" to coil springs. I have never seen a successful implementation, even with kits "purpose-designed" for the P38. The car's weight is not distributed evenly between the 4 springs, and ultimately the springs will sag unevenly - leaving you with a P38 with a droopy corner (usually offside rear). Also, cars fitted with "comfort" rated springs will tend to bottom out on bumps, and those fitted with "performance" rated ones will tend to jump about like any other 4x4 - rendering the whole P38 purchase futile.
This is a car with a well deserved, fearsome reputation for unreliability and astronomical running costs. It's a shame that a lot of people are now seeing them as being "affordable" or "bargains" or "a lot of car for the money", and while this may be true at the point of purchase, it most certainly is not the case in the months and years of ownership ahead.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 17th October, 2012