Date:1 January 2013
From where the Atlantic kisses the west African shoreline, to where the High Atlas towers over the coastal plain, we explore Morocco in Land Rover’s latest and – they say – greatest. By Anthony Doman
Perhaps it was down in the wadi, gently rocking from two wheels on to three – and finally four – that the Range Rover felt in its element. Then again… was it while ambling surefooted along the treacherous, rocky bed of a fast-flowing river? Surfing the dunes? Obliterating slow-moving traffic? Maybe, on reflection, that sensation of complete harmony with the environment occurred right at the end, when our dust-streaked mud-spattered vehicle rolled majestically through the port cochère of Marrakesh’s monumental Royal Mansour hotel.
To be honest, the Range Rover seems totally at home in all of these settings. This most snooty of sport-utilities is also arguably the most capable at straddling the divide between sport-utility and luxury, we realised once again on its world launch in Morocco.
Our journey of discovery in the fourth-generation Range Rover took us from salty sea spray at one extreme of Al-Maghrib – “the west” – to the shadow of north Africa’s highest peak, Jbel Toubkal. Our route ranged from billiard-table expressways to rutted rural tracks, riverbeds and streams.
Let’s just say we put the Range Rover through the kind of abuse seldom, if ever, meted out by owners. And we weren’t even going to extremes.
Its performance seemed as effortless at sea level as it did bounding up precipitous mountain tracks on our way to topping out at 1 800 metres. That’s a little higher than Johannesburg, but there was no sign of altitude breathlessness. Of course, we were driving a supercharged V8…
Lighter, but stronger
The new vehicle is described as the world’s first SUV with an all-aluminium monocoque body structure. This all-new lightweight architecture, due to be a feature of next-generation Range Rovers SUVs, uses aerospace-inspired riveting and bonding techniques that avoid conventional spot welding.
It’s 39 per cent lighter than the outgoing model’s steel body; that alone is responsible for a massive 420 kg weight saving. It would be hard to overstate how significant that is: for one thing, it’s directly responsible for delivering better fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions. Less weight also allowed Land Rover to use a smaller engine in one version – a V6 turbodiesel – to generate effectively the same performance as its V8 predecessor.
And the benefits don’t stop there. Because that body also has a longer wheelbase – despite having an almost identical footprint to its predecessor – it provides significantly more passenger space, with 118 mm extra legroom and optional two-seat layout.
Classic Range Rover design cues – floating roof, clamshell bonnet – have been updated. Subtle tweaks include more sharply angled nose and “faster” A-pillar, and a new, more contemporary lighting design front and rear. Look closely, and you’ll see that the main projector beam units are designed to look like a high-performance camera lens.
However, it’s a long way from the upright, sharp-edged original, and is the most aerodynamic Range Rover to date, with a drag coefficient starting from 0,34. It’s quieter than ever, too, thanks to acoustic lamination of the windscreen and side door glass and new dual-isolated engine mounts.
Open the doors, and you’ll see that classic twin-stitched buttery leather and wood veneer finishes, along with brushed aluminium, help create a plush interior ambience with the characteristic strong lines (no gentle curves, here). But there’s also a huge amount of technology a fingertip away. What’s noteworthy is that the number of switches has been halved, significantly reducing clutter, partly by relocating functions to the infotainment system’s 200 mm touchscreen.
Adapting to conditions
The new chassis architecture is combined with completely re-engineered four-corner air suspension. Land Rover says the new clean-sheet lightweight suspension, mostly made of aluminium, is the result of a research programme to identify a next-generation suspension concept for premium AWD vehicles.
Land Rover’s Terrain Response system has been standard for a while now, but the new-generation version includes for the first time an automatic setting. It’s able to analyse the current driving conditions and automatically selects the most suitable of five vehicle settings – General; Grass/Gravel/Snow; Mud/Ruts; Sand; and Rock Crawl. In addition to that, the system will indicate when to select low range or off-road ride height.
Ancillary systems include Hill Descent Control (HDC), Gradient Release Control (GRC), Hill Start Assist (HSA), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Electronic Traction Control (ETC), and Roll Stability Control (RSC).
Adaptive Dynamics, featuring continuously variable dampers, is a standard feature on all new Range Rovers. It monitors vehicle movements at least 500 times a second. For better cornering responses on-road, for the first time a Dynamic Response active lean control system is available on the V8s. It reduces body lean during cornering and is able to control front and rear axles independently. Off-road, this might be counter-productive, so if the system detects off-road conditions it isolates the stabiliser bar and reduces the level of roll compensation to allow more wheel articulation. Wheel travel of 260 mm at the front and 310 mm at the rear far exceeds most competitors’.
The Range Rover full-time intelligent 4WD system, with a two-speed transfer box providing a low-range option, engages permanent four-wheel drive via a bevel gear centre differential. Torque is shared 50/50 front to rear. When wheel slip is detected, the control unit uses a central multi-plate clutch to distribute torque between the wheels in combination with the electronic traction control systems. An Active Rear Locking Differential on SDV8 and LR-V8 S/C models is available as an option.
Wading depth has improved by 200 mm to 900 mm. For me, that’s just below the beltline. The improvement is largely thanks to a new intake system that draws air from between the inner and outer bonnet panels and directs it down into the intake system in the sides of the engine compartment.
On (and off) the road
We drove the 380 kW 5-litre LR-V8 supercharged version and the 4,4-litre 250 kW supercharged V8 diesel. Both of these have been improved about 10 per cent in output and economy over previous versions. There are two other engine options: a 5-litre V8 petrol producing 280 kW and a 3-litre turbodiesel V6 producing 190 kW. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard; it not only provides a wider spread of ratios, but includes efficiency tech such as Idle Control, which disengages up to 70 per cent of drive at idle when stopped.
On a mix of off-road, gravel and tar, alternating vigorous driving with crawling, we returned about 12,5 litres/100 km with the petrol V8 and about 11,5 with the diesel. That’s impressive for a big SUV.
Standard performance figures are essentially meaningless in this context: the top V8 supercharged model goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour (96 km/h) in 5,1 seconds. With performance equivalent to the previous 4,4-litre TDV8’s, the TDV6, which we didn’t drive, delivers a 22 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (7,5 litres/100 km and 196 g/km).
A formidable suite of driver aids, as always these days, keeps the Range Rover going exactly where you want it to. New features this time around include Queue Assist in the adaptive cruise control. In addition to maintaining a following gap at normal speed, it can detect stopped traffic and bring the vehicle to a complete stop even at low speeds. (I tried this out, intentionally, and found it to be really quite effective.)
Other features include Park Assist and Blind Spot Monitoring in both forward and reverse directions. A new Closing Vehicle Sensing feature detects vehicles that are closing quickly from further behind. The Range Rover doesn’t as yet feature the steering wheel vibration alert or yaw system to “steer” vehicles back on course if they are deemed to be moving out of lane unintentionally.
In a luxury SUV, you wouldn’t be satisfied without a certain minimum level of convenience and comfort features, but the Range Rover simply goes for broke. There’s nothing that comes to mind that seems to have been left out. For heaven’s sake, even the tailgate is powered. That’s both upper and lower sections, mind you. Among the other examples of life’s little necessities are a built-in refrigerated compartment, powered tow-hitch, powered door closing and an options list that includes a full-size sliding panoramic glass roof that makes the vehicle feel almost like a convertible.
The audio system isn’t just big, loud and expensive: it’s a bespoke system from renowned domestic audiophile manufacturer Meridian, and features surround sound from up to 29 speakers producing 1 700 watts in total.
On the touchscreen display, an extra information facility shows exactly what the 4×4 system is doing, from axle position to wheel vertical acceleration.
Creating the killer combination
Design guru Gerry McGovern – to give him his full title, Land Rover Design Director and Chief Creative Officer – speaks of a killer combination of incredibly distinctive design and creative engineering.
But the design team wanted at the same time to create a new Range Rover for a new generation. “More relevant, but even more desirable… it looks more British, it’s got more humility. It’s not got harsh corners, an aggressive look.”
And it is all quite deliberate. “Every line on the vehicle is there for a reason, even if it’s just an aesthetic one.” Those side fender “vents”, for instance. The designers were able to relocate the previous model’s vent outlets to inside the engine compartment, raising the wading depth to 900 mm. But dropping the side vents would have lost an important unifying graphic element, so they’ve been retained as a graphic.
A product’s design DNA is pivotal. “And you want to avoid diluting that DNA.” He speaks of a “distinction that is known the world over”, and elaborates: “I suppose you could say the Range Rover is to the SUV world what the Porsche 911 is to the sports car world.”
Engine: V8 petrol 5-litre (supercharged or normally aspirated), V8 diesel 4,4-litre supercharged, V6 diesel 3-litre turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Suspension: Front double wishbone, rear multi-link
Video: Catch the all-new Range Rover in action around the world
Wallpaper: All-new Range Rover