“Don’t change it. Just make it better”. This, after many hours in conversation, was apparently the brief from the core customer base for the new Range Rover. Not an easy thing to deliver, but this fourth generation of a British icon would seem to have done it.
After a daily litany of spy shots pinging into the TG.com in-box featuring less and less camouflage, last night Range Rover L405 finally stepped out in public for the first time at a glittering London event (a natural habitat for Rangeys these days, of course).
Ahead of the bash, we were invited up to Jaguar Land Rover’s base in Gaydon to see the car close up. We knew the broad facts. Like the all-aluminium monocoque body that helps the new car come in a whopping 420kg less than the predecessor (a shell, in fact, that is 23kg lighter than the one found in a 3 Series). The new design and interior that continues the brand’s velocity into the luxury market. And some astonishing sales figures to live up to (last year 279,606 people bought a Range Rover, more than ever before). But there were plenty of details to come: the new Range Rover is lighter, more refined, more capable off-road, and more frugal with fuel.
Design director and chief executive officer Gerry McGovern’s maxim is that “democracy in design equates to mediocrity”, and he’s fiercely proud of his new creation. Seeing it next to its predecessor, it’s apparent that no other SUV has ever really made the third-gen Range Rover (first sold in 2002, remember) look dated. Until this one.
“It’s luxury, not bling. They’re polar opposites,” says McGovern. It certainly looks sleek, lower and longer (mainly because it is: 20mm less tall and a touch lengtheir than the car it replaces). There’s that familiar silhouette, a faster screen angle, the iconic floating roof, a new jeweled grille, and in another nod to the outgoing car, the three ‘gills’ (which have moved to the doors, can be specified in different colours, and are no longer functional). One excellent detail is hidden in the light cluster: a graphic on the main projector beams resembling a high performance camera lens.
The interior, says McGovern, ‘gives our customers the feeling that there’s no better place to be’. A completely revised dash loses 50% of the switches from the current model. In the back, despite only adding 40mm to the wheelbase, leg room has grown by 120mm. It sat our 6’4” correspondent in complete comfort (which is certainly better than most planes). There’s also the option for executive two seat option at the back (with five types of massage), and you can also spec a 29 speaker Meridian sound system. The split tailgate is still present and correct, and is now power-operated.
Powering all this – on a choice of wheels from 19 all the way up to 22 inches – are three choices of engine. It’s a darn good thing that local tax laws will change next year, because two of them are diesels, including a new entry-level three-litre V6 which is good for 254 bhp and 0-100 in 7.6 seconds (performance roughly in parallel with the 4.4 TDV8 from the current range, but with a considerable saving in weight). It will also do a claimed 13.3km/L and produce 196/km of CO2.
A 4.4 litre diesel V8 (334bhp, 0-100 in about 6.7 secs) and the existing supercharged 5.0 litre petrol V8 complete the range, with a diesel hybrid planned for 2013 (bringing emissions down to 169 g/km). All are coupled to an eight-speed ZF auto.
On the road, Land Rover see their main rivals in terms of refinement as the likes of the Bentley Flying Spur, with wind and road noise best in class thanks to new suspension and sound-deadening, but this is still a proper off-roader (albeit one with a potential 18,000 different levels of personalization). Reportedly the Eastnor proving grounds had to be improved to offer it a proper challenge. Ground clearance is up by 18mm to 297mm, there’s now 597 m of wheel travel, and the wading depth is up 200mm to 900mm (the car now breathes through a funnel between bonnet and wing) . A new auto setting on the Terrain Response system will monitor conditions 100 times a second and temper the car’s response accordingly. And it will still tow 3,500 kg (or seven Olympic horses).
Land Rover anticipate almost 22 million SUVs on the world’s roads by 2020. And while many will head to China, this is good news for Britain. Their Halewood facility – responsible for the Evoque – is now on 24 hour production to meet demand, creating 1,000 new jobs. The new Range Rover will be produced in in an all-new facility in Solihull.