After decades of riding tradition while trailing in technology, Range Rover has vaulted to the forefront with all-aluminum construction of the 2013 flagship model.
The new Range Rover looks the same as always, at first glance anyway, but differs from three generations of predecessors to a degree unprecedented in the 43-year history of the brand. Expertise in aluminum cars developed by Jaguar, its stablemate within Tata ownership, made it possible.
It’s as though Wellington rubber boots, that other English icon, have been reinvented in knitted carbon fibre. Welcome to a new way of walking with lighter steps, new agility and unanticipated advantages.
Imagine a Range Rover capable of 6.3 litres/100 km and you begin to understand the potential of the new vehicle.
A 480-kilogram weight loss – comparing the V-8-powered, North American specification model coming to Canada in December against the existing 2012 Range Rover – has opened the door to change.
Certainly a claimed improvement of 9 per cent in the case of the V-8’s fuel efficiency hardly heralds fewer stops for fuel and a clearer conscience concerning the environment.
But nimbleness, faster acceleration and better braking are among the advantages gained from pulling the equivalent of five adults out of the curb weight, as went the mantra of Land Rover executives at the Range Rover’s unveiling. Globally, the 39 per cent lighter body allows the use of smaller engines and even a diesel/electric hybrid propulsion in markets outside North America.
None of the touted improvements can be evaluated at this point because journalists were consigned to listening, not driving, at Range Rover’s unveiling at the Royal Ballet School’s White Lodge. Still, the myriad details fascinated because they’re potentially game-changing. Consumers comparing the merits of luxury SUV’s such as the Mercedes-Benz AMG, Jeep Grand Cherokee STR8, Porsche Cayenne and even the Bentley SUV anticipated to be going on sale in 2014, need now to re-evaluate Range Rover.
Begin with shape and perception. While it still appears as upright and unmovable as a mansion anchoring Toronto’s Dunvegan Road, the new body’s windshield is raked further from the vertical, and the rear roof-line slants downward slightly.
The boast is that its coefficient of drag consequently has been reduced to 0.34, from nearly 0.40, rendering the vehicle less of a concrete block aerodynamically than before. This aids fuel efficiency, obviously, but more importantly for affluent buyers, renders this Range Rover quieter, too, with a claimed reduction of 18 per cent in wind noise.
The line of the windscreen neatly points down to the line of the front wheelwell, Richard Woolley, lead design director for the vehicle, pointed out in his rundown of artistic merit. Range Rover owners will be quick to notice that the usual engine air intake grilles above the wheelwells have disappeared, but are recalled by the styling technique of vertical lines in the front doors.
Air intakes are functional in Range Rovers, unlike Buicks and other upward-aspiring sedans, designed as these vehicles are to ford streams. The new design has the engine inhaling through a labyrinth beneath the bonnet contributing to an increase in wading depth to 900 mm.
Buyers have opted almost universally for glass roofs in recent years. “Now we have the largest panorama glass roof in the world,” Woolley continued. The split tail-gate is fully powered, and “the lower tail-gate still permits standing.”
Range Rover cannot grow larger, company planners believe. In much of the world, it’s a tight fit already. But rear-seat room has been lacking, so legroom now is increased by 120 mm, knee room by 50 mm. A reconfigured rear seat accounts for much of the improvement; the new model is but 27 mm longer overall than the 2012, with an increase of 40 mm between front and rear wheels.
Ride has been improved by 20 per cent, handling 25 per cent, according to vehicle engineering manager Mick Cameron. Adaptive damping technology shared with Jaguar reacts to suspension action 500 times per second, while dynamic roll control with sensors front and rear consigns to history the nautical postures of older Range Rovers.
The introduction of electrically assisted steering, criticized for erasing road feel in some sedans, is said to improve tactile connection whether on or off road. Feedback changes according to the surfaces being traversed, for example sand or snow. Off-road, ground clearance newly varies automatically between two levels; off-road can now be selected at 80 km/h, rather than 50 km/h in the outgoing model.
Fewer switches require less fiddling and less time with eyes off the road. Third-generation Range Rovers had complex controls. Most luxury cars do. The fourth-generation RR reduces the number of switches by 50 per cent.
Being so very much less plump permits the use of smaller engines throughout much of the world. But so long as Jaguar Land Rover North America perceives that buyers on this continent demand V-8s, acceleration with more zap is the chief benefit of the weight loss afforded by the aluminum body.
The zero to 100 km/h flight is reduced to 6.9 seconds with the 375-hp V-8, or 5.4 seconds with the 510-hp supercharged version of the 5.0-litre V-8. The latter model tops out at 248 km/h.
Elsewhere, Range Rover offers a turbodiesel V-6 and V-8 that accelerate nearly as quickly, at 7.9 and 6.9 seconds respectively, while delivering fuel efficiency far superior to the gasoline engines. But they don’t meet current California environmental standards.
“Our hybrid version is for those who have an even higher environmental conscience,” chief program engineer Alex Hislop said of the diesel/electric model coming mid-2013 rated at 6.3 litres/100 km, although not to this continent at least until 2015 when European and California regulations are anticipated to line up.
“This Range Rover was engineered as a hybrid from Day One,” Nick Rogers, vehicle line director, elaborated on the electric/diesel. “All batteries [lithium-ion] and inverters are located under the floor without compromising ground clearance. Because they’re shielded you could balance the vehicle on a rock without harming the batteries.”
This from a company that powered its first Range Rover with an engine designed for a Buick. A company that manufactured its first Land Rover Defender in 1948 utilizing scrap aluminum from the aircraft industry. That since its purchase from Ford by Tata Motors, and its operation in tandem with Jaguar, has found the financing to realize its dreams. The question now is, what next?
2013 Range Rover
Type: Four-door sport utility
Base price: Not available (2012 Range Rover, $94,330-$112,320_
Engine: 5.0-litre V-8, or 5.0 supercharged
Horsepower/torque: 375 hp/375 lb-ft for 5.0-litre
510 hp/461 lb-ft for supercharged 5.0
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Not available; premium gas required
Alternatives: Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, Porsche Cayenne GTS/Turbo, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8