WE’VE BEEN driving for over an hour on uphill dirt tracks through the Atlas Mountains. A gentle blow of red dust occasionally disrupts the crystal clear air. Sitting high and comfortably in our air-conditioned cabin we watch in silence as the dramatic Moroccan landscape unfolds before us.
This North African road trip has been designed to put the all-new Range Rover to its ultimate test. Jaguar Land Rover engineers are so completely secure with this fourth-generation car that they are testing it in the real life sand dunes, rocky roads, rivers and now the high altitude Atlas on pretty hairy dirt tracks carved in the mountainside. The only other visible mode of transport in these remote parts is the reliable donkey.
The previous night, over dinner at the lush Palais Namaskar on the outskirts of Marrakech, director of Land Rover design Gerry McGovern said of the new car: ‘As much as we love the current vehicle, it was time to replace it.’
Seen side-by-side, these are very different cars indeed. At just under 5m long, the new Range Rover has a very similar footprint to the outgoing model, but it has a smoother and more streamline profile – the roofline sits 20mm lower visually making the car seem smaller. The greater screen angle also improves aerodynamics, and with a drag coefficient starting from just 0.34, this is the most aerodynamic Range Rover to date.
‘Every surface, every line is there for a reason,’ he tells me. For instance the vertical fins reduce the visual length of the vehicle, and the flourishes on the lamp make visual connections with the smaller Evoque. Land Rover is keen to create a visual distinction between its ‘work horse’ Land Rover and more luxurious Range Rover families.
The new car also has a longer wheelbase to give better exit and entry for rear passengers as well as create 118m more legroom – ideal for markets like China where customers are more likely to be chauffeured around. There is the optional two-seat Executive Class package, which Gerry likens to flying business class. ‘It is a fantastic environment,’ he muses.
In the driver’s seat, emphasis is on calming and reducing stress. The centre console is therefore uncluttered and simple with a nice mix of digital and analogue gauges. There’s a double glovebox, roomy door pockets and even a little fridge in the centre console that fits four small bottles of water and a couple of chocolate bars, which has come in handy on this rugged road trip. The seats are large and comfortable – my handbag rests safely besides me.
On the road the new Range Rover has gone to a new level in terms of its handling and performance. This is a lighter and tougher car thanks to its all aluminium body structure – a first amongst SUVs. It helps saves 420kg in weight. The revised suspension is a huge improvement too, especially in its low-speed ride quality where you don’t feel smaller bumps and the new Range Rover is much more refined on the motorway, too.
‘We believe we’re a brand on fire,’ says Gerry. The designer isn’t exaggerating. Sales were up 46% with record number of vehicles sold in the last 12 months. The Evoque alone sold over 100,000 vehicles becoming the fastest selling Land Rover to date. ‘The car shows how far our brand can stretch and I keep asking myself where are the other white spaces and opportunities,’ he confesses.
With sales scheduled to start in late 2012, the all-new Range Rover will be introduced in 170 markets worldwide with prices starting at around £71,000. Gerry calls it ‘all-terrain luxury’, which more of less sums up this excellent modern-day interpretation of this iconic car. -Referred from Nargess Shahmanesh Banks.