The original Range Rover created a sensation when it was first launched more than 40 years ago, creating an all-new niche of vehicle. Touted as being the most versatile car in the world, Land Rover engineers faced a huge task in improving upon the concept. In fact, so thrilled are existing Range Rover customers, they insisted to Land Rover engineers: “don’t change anything, just make it better”! Sounds simple, but in fact it’s been a task the company has been hard at work fulfilling. We drive it – no, make that really give it the beans – in Morocco.
Design & Engineering
The new Range Rover on the streets of Marrakech. The city marries the modern and the tradtitional.
There’s history here; unfinished business as they say. The original Range Rover press drive was slated to take place in the Kingdom of Morocco in 1970, but for reasons of cost and logistics, it didn’t come through. Four generations later, here we are, surveying the bright azure of the Atlantic while stood atop the magnificent dunes fringing the coast of this idyllic holiday destination in north-west Africa. Carrying us in supreme luxury and comfort are a fleet of Range Rovers, which have brought us in air-conditioned, air-sprung and operatic excellence to the top of these dunes.
As I step out to breathe in the salty air and bask in the balmy sunshine, I can’t help but feel a surge of admiration for this magnificent animal of a car, its tyres polished by the sand, its exhaust pinging peacefully in the sea breeze.
The design lineage from the orginal Range Rover from 1970 is evident even 40 years later.
Parked next to its great grand-dad, the lineage is instantly clear, the silhouette true to the original. The imposing front end, square shoulders, no-nonsense wheel arches and sloping rear windscreen are elements which have stayed four generations. Of course, the flair and frills of the current car, especially the front grille and headlights, aim to lift the Range Rover 4 to an all-new plane of automotive opulence, but it’s a timeless shape, as timeless as the Porsche 911.
The jewelled theme and simple lines give the new Range Rover an uncluttered look.
This fourth-generation Range Rover is only 25 mm longer than the one it replaces, but the wheelbase is 40 mm longer. That, combined with a repackaged engine bay has ensured more interior room in the passenger cell, providing almost limo-like levels of legroom at the rear.
The cross-linked air sprung suspension continues at all four corners, and is one of the key elements of the car’s engineering, which gives it both outstanding off-road ability and excellent ride comfort across all types of terrain. The Range Rover also manages almost 600 mm of wheel articulation, or two whole feet!
One can also raise the car while traversing rough terrain, crawling over boulders and wading through gushing rivers, like we did. The trick suspension aside, the new Range Rover also has Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response System, which apart from pre-determined settings for various terrain such as mud, snow, rocks, gravel, sand etc., now also boasts of an ‘auto’ setting, which automatically determines what the car should be doing.
The split tailgate of the Range Rover is a feature than has caried on unchanged for 40 years, and with good reason. This design boosts both practicality and utility. In the new Range Rover, both halves are power-operated.
It’s not just high tech that makes the new Range Rover that much more capable; the engineers have not forgotten the basics, and the new car is about 400 kilos lighter than the original. Yes, 400 kilos. The less weight obviously translates into better performance and fuel economy, but more importantly, it showcases just how close the co-operation between Jaguar and Land Rover has become. The bonded aluminium technology which goes into making the shell of the new Range Rover actually comes from Jaguar.
Aluminium construction means the basic shell is 180 kgs lighter than a similar structure made of steel.
Interiors & Comfort
And while all these awesome technical systems give the Range Rover the capability it has, I suspect a large many customers will be more interested in the things they can touch, see, smell and hear inside the car. Let’s not forget taste as well, but in this case, it’s more a metaphor than literal, unlike the other four senses.
The dashboard is simply and uncluttered, with 50 percent less buttons and switches compared to the outgoing model.
The new Range Rover presents a sensory overload of fine wood veneers, leather and brushed aluminium, which had me lasciviously feeling every surface. Even the leather roof lining is exquisite, showing just how much pain the people at the factory are taking to produce this car. Sensibly, Range Rover’s ergonomics department has spent time and effort in reducing the number of buttons on the centre console, which makes the overall experience simpler, cleaner and more intuitive. The large touchscreen interface for the audio, cameras and navigation elicits a mixed response however; while I loved the simple and intuitive interface, the touch screen is conspicuous by the fact that it doesn’t have a high-resolution display. I’ll liken it to a high-end smartphone, but with a basic display, which spoils the experience a little.
The Range Rover is available as a five-seater, but a four-seat Executive seating configuration is available as an option. If you select the Executive seating, you get two business-class armchairs at the rear, with their own entertainment systems, climate control, and of course, massaging seats.
Front massaging seats are available with the range-topping Autobiography variant too, and we tried these on the move. Of course, nothing beats the real thing, but if nothing else, it feels really cool wafting down a motorway while an imaginary pair of beautiful hands knead the small of your back.
Full-length panaromic sunroof is available as an option. Note the craftsmanship of the leather roof lining.
And now, for the new Range Rover’s piece de resistance – the Meridian audio system. Land Rover engineers complain that the ‘Meridian blokes gave us a hard time’ in packaging the system’s 29 speakers. But the end result is well worth the hassle, one would imagine. Listening is believing, so if nothing else, take a test drive just to listen to this sound system. Mark Levinson systems in some Lexus models come close, but there isn’t much else on four wheels which can replicate Royal Albert Hall on the move. At 200 km/h.
You can play 'spot the speaker' with the kids to keep them out of your hair. Meridian and Land Rover say there are 29, but we couldn't find them all! Sound quality however is fantastic.
Performance & Handling
The two variants we drove included the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol and the 4.4-litre V8 turbodiesel. The new Range Rover is also available with a smaller 3.0-litre diesel engine, and a naturally aspirated version of the 5.0-litre petrol, but these latter two engines won’t make it to India. We drove the petrol first, and the surge of power you feel in almost any gear is intoxicating. To give you an idea of the latent performance this motor packs, consider this simple fact: while cruising on the motorway with nary a hint of throttle and the engine barely above tickover, you’re doing a 110 km/h!
Motorway cruises are effortless. 0-100 takes just 5.4 seconds in the petrol, and 6.9 seconds in the diesel. The petrol is electronically limited to 250 km/h.
The new 8-speed ZF gearbox plays a big part in translating that performance to the road, and even though the new Range Rover has paddles for manual shifting, the electronics ensure snappy downshifts when you need to overtake, rendering the paddles superfluous.
The diesel too is very refined, and while it does not have the multi-layered sonorous overtones of the supercharged petrol, it does make a very satisfying growl when you put your foot down. Again, Land Rover engineers have judged the degree of engine noise to perfection, allowing for the right amount of interaction without being intrusive, tiresome, or just plain noisy.
The massive torque both these engines make are key to enabling the Range Rover’s off-road prowess. The low-rpm response is very important when you need to make slow yet decisive progress across questionable terrain. The diesel makes 700 Nm of torque, while the supercharged petrol manages 625 Nm of the twisting stuff, more than enough to haul this 2.2-tonne beast over whatever might be in the way.
'Enjoy your chilled champagne and Pavarotti sir, we'll be across this fjord in a bit'.
We drove across some truly treacherous terrain, which included steep dunes with shifting sands, ravines, rivers and narrow, barely-tarmaced village roads. We did have a few kilometres on the motorway as well, which allowed us to experience the sheer breadth of capability of the Range Rover. The staff from Land Rover Experience who chaperoned us were quick to assure us that the Range Rover would comfortably crawl down a steep ravine, or traverse a rocky river bed with water gushing over the bonnet. The leap of faith it required on my part behind the wheel was another matter, but not once were we bogged down, not once did the Range Rover not make it through under its own power. In fact, with the PR and Communications head of Jaguar Land Rover India riding shotgun in the car with me, it was testament to this vehicle’s ability that we could have a conversation, back massage and sync his iPod to the Meridian sound system, all the while bashing through some lunar landscape.
With low range engaged and Terrain Response set to 'Sand', all you need do is Eat, Pray, Drive.
It would be prudish to expect the Range Rover with its big engine and complex systems to be particularly frugal, and it’s not. This is a thirsty car, and over the terrain we were travelling through, the fuel efficiency was firmly in single figures. Land Rover is not claiming any fantastic figures for this car though, and the stated figures are 11.5 km/l for the diesel and 7.3 km/l for the petrol. A generous 105-litre fuel tank ensures you should manage decent range however. I suspect a lot of customers will use their Range Rovers more like a grand tourer, so a big fuel tank is essential.
Range Rover 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol (left) and 4.4-litre SDV8 diesel are the two engines for India.
There is a diesel hybrid version slated for 2013, however, and while it’s still premature to comment on whether the hybrid Range Rover has an Indian future, it shows the direction Land Rover engineers are taking. A fully-electric concept is under development as well, so don’t be altogether surprised if a decade later the next Range Rover is electric!
The Jaguar-inspired drive controller selects the required mode from the 8-speed ZF gearbox. Terrain response control panel is located aft of it on the centre console.
Safety is a critical aspect for any vehicle engineered to this standard. And it includes not just the safety of the occupants, but the safety of pedestrians and passengers in another vehicle one might be unfortunate enough to hit. A huge, heavy car like the Range Rover can do tremendous damage, but a combination of deformable surfaces and materials have ensured the damage is minimal. Of course, all other features like ABS, full-suite electronic stability programme and multiple airbags are standard. On Indian roads, this is likely to be the safest vehicle you could travel in.
Like we mentioned earlier, the new Range Rover will be offered with two engine options, one petrol and one diesel. The diesel version will come in two trim levels, which includes the Vogue SE and the Autobiography. The supercharged petrol version will only be available in the range-topping Autobiography specification. So that makes for three variants in total. Further to that, customers can also opt for the four-seat Executive seating configuration, with two separate arm chairs for rear passengers.
The new Range Rover fulfils its brief completely – to be the most versatile car in the world. It is fast, supremely capable whatever the terrain, luxurious, well-engineered and well-built. The new Range Rover also ticks all the right boxes when it comes to sustainability and environment friendliness in its manufacturing.
It would be awkward to compare the new Range Rover to anything else in the market, but the obvious benchmarks will have to be listed. When I first read the literature about the new Range Rover, I was told the company had benchmarked Bentley and Mercedes for refinement and ride comfort. This datum, I am happy to report, has been achieved. All the stated objectives for off-road ability have been met and surpassed as well.
Recent research shows that Britain has invaded all but 22 of the world’s countries. Put in an automotive context, the new Range Rover’s engineering excellence is testament to the ambition of the only people in the world to put an adjective in their country’s name. The Range Rover has distilled all that’s Great about Britain. Chilled compartments for your scotch are complimentary.
The new Range Rover truly is in a class of one. Its breadth of capability is what makes it a standout car. That it combines all this ability with impeccable taste on the interior and subtle flair on the outside makes it an irresistible package, even at an expected starting price of Rs 1.7 crore, ex-showroom.