Those persnickety owners should be thrilled, because “the same, but better” is exactly what Land Rover engineers have delivered in the 2013 Range Rover. Whereas we mortals might cave under regimens of relentless self-improvement, the Range Rover’s task was particularly arduous because of the seemingly contradictory demands placed on it by owners.
Building a cushy off-roader sounds about as rational as fried ice cream or salted caramel, but we know that these things can be done remarkably well. The challenge in building the new Range Rover was to push back the existing limits, making the 2013 model smoother on the road and rougher off of it. Getting a supremely capable off-road machine to ride and handle adroitly requires engineering that sidesteps the laws of physics.
Other stakeholders in the design of the new Range Rover are the world’s governments, which have decreed that passenger cars be less thirsty. It so happens that development of a new, all-aluminium design serves the causes of responsive driving and improved efficiency, while freeing the new model of 700 pounds of girth. The aluminium is partly comprised of recycled metal, and product manager Simon Turner says the company aims to increase the total amount of recycled aluminium in the Rover’s production to 75%.
Two more gears in the automatic transmission – there are eight now, where there once were six – contribute to improved efficiency, as does a refined silhouette that cuts through the wind with less disturbance.
That is not to say Land Rover has built a fuel-miser.
In base configuration, with a 5-litre V8 engine producing 375-horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque, the SUV is certified at a still-thirsty 14mpg in city and 20mpg in highway driving. The Supercharged model, with 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque, achieves 13mpg and 19mpg, respectively. Still, these figures represent roughly a 15% improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing model.
Even with the functional improvements, the Rover’s silhouette remains clearly recognisable. From a curbside vantage, the elongated wheelbase, stretched hood and sloped windshield contribute to an impression that the cabin is now in tow behind a four-horse hitch up front. The profile, then, marks a return to the original, long-hood look of the first-generation Range Rover of the 1970s – not particularly pretty, but eminently rugged.
Land Rover’s objective was cleanliness of line and proportion, according to Richard Woolley, the company’s design studio director. “There are no fussy, contrived, superficial elements,” he said.
And he is mostly correct. The 2013 Range Rover lamentably welcomes faux gill vents stamped into its doors – vestiges of the functional vents in the previous model’s fenders, which directed cooling air toward the engine. These door-mounted vents merely lip-sync. They also contribute to the impression that the front end is stretched farther than it actually is.
With 700 fewer pounds to manage, the computer-controlled Terrain Response air suspension system better responds to surface conditions. For the owner who might have found twisting the console-mounted suspension-selector knob a baleful task, there is reason to rejoice. A driver can merely press the knob down into the console and the vehicle will automatically determine, in just a minute or so of driving, what the conditions are and how the suspension should respond to them.
For this test, Land Rover sought out one of the most remote spots in the continental United States: the Grand Staircase escarpment in southern Utah. The Range Rover would be challenged with the Hog Canyon trail, which the US Bureau of Land Management officer on hand to prevent any hooliganism promised was impassible in these showroom-fresh Rangies. He was wrong.
A prudent, steady pace is the best defence against the overconfidence generated by driving such a capable $100,000 machine.