It must seem incorrect to say that it is more difficult to redesign an existing iconic car than it is to design a completely new model.

But that is the truth!

The weight on the shoulders of designers becomes very heavy indeed when they are given the mandate to deliver the next generation of an extremely popular, iconic and revered model in an automobile brand’s line-up.

To retain brand identity, to retain its time-tested sense of proportions, to reinterpret its design for today’s buyers and yet retain its old-world charm, and adding to those now is the need for the design to help meet current day pedestrian and vehicle safety norms. The designer’s job is tough.

It must have been a similarly daunting task for Gerry McGovern and his team in Land Rover to redesign and launch the all-new Range Rover. For nearly 40 years, the Range Rover has been the epitome of capable luxury off-roading. This is a vehicle so iconic that it must have been quite intimidating to tamper with its original design.

Design

The new Range Rover is the fourth generation of this extremely capable and arguably most luxurious sport utility vehicle (SUV) in the market. The new generation’s design faithfully reproduces much of the original’s simple parallel lines style. So, it is instantly recognisable as a Range Rover, but quite a few new design inspirations are also evident.

Much of the changes are still subtle and elegant, clearly attempting to retain the original’s inimitable style and road-presence. Some of the new elements of modernity such as the floating roof, which gradually slopes downwards at the rear, and the new combination LED headlamp and tail-lamp clusters, seem to have been inspired by the Evoque – the brand’s luxury compact SUV which has seen tremendous success since its launch last year.

The new Range Rover has a very similar footprint to the current model and stands at just under 5 metres in length. Sporting the classic short front and long rear overhangs, the new Range Rover’s side profile is still stunning, now with the floating roof even more evident thanks to 8 new roof colour options. It is not as tall as the outgoing model and is about 20mm lower.

The signature clamshell bonnet and the classic grille design are there too, but they have been reinterpreted carefully to meet pedestrian safety norms and to gel with the overall redesign. The other all-time favourite design element in the Range Rover, which gave it the rugged and powerful look, was the side fender vents or the fins. The fins are there still in the new Range Rover, only they have now been executed on the surface of the front doors. They are now there only for decoration and don’t perform the job of air vents.

In the absence of these vents and to retain the legendary prowess of the Range Rover for water wading, the engineers at Solihull have now incorporated discrete vents at the top edge of the bonnet. Lift up the clam shell and the vents become visible. The wading depth capability has now improved significantly to 900mm from 700mm previously.

Body and cabin

Unlike the first and second generation Range Rovers which had ladder chassis, but just like the outgoing (third gen) model, the new-gen also sports a monocoque body construction. But what is absolutely new is the all-aluminium body, a first amongst SUVs.

The use of aluminium has dramatically reduced the weight of the vehicle’s body-in-white and that in turn has lead to a weight reduction of many of the other related components like the sub-frames and suspension parts in what Range Rover engineers call the virtuous cycle.

The aluminium structure is 39 per cent lighter than steel and just the body in white is 180 kgs lighter than the current model. This is said to be 23 kgs lighter than the BMW 3 Series and about 85 kgs lighter than the Audi Q5. Together with the other lighter aluminium parts, the new Range Rover has shaved off a full 420 kgs in weight.

Automatic soft closing doors and powered upper and lower tailgates are now part of the package. The elongated headlamps and tail-lamps seemed a bit odd when I saw the teaser photos that Land Rover had shared earlier, but in the flesh these look just fine and actually give the new Range Rover a new character. With its panoramic sunroof, the new model also has one of the largest glass areas amongst all SUVs.

The interior of the all new Range Rover is also likely to be as special and luxurious as the brand has always known to be. Taking the level of luxury a notch higher is a whole new set of premium materials double stitched leather, high gloss veneer and metallic inserts that have been integrated into the cabin. The centre piece of the cabin is the bold intersection between the strong horizontal elements of the instrument panel and the vertical design lines of the centre stack.

The number of switches in the cabin has been reduced in half compared to the current Range Rover and yet there has apparently not been any reduction in the level of intuitiveness and usability. I am guessing a number of functions would have been integrated into the touchscreen.

Dynamics

I was in London a couple of weeks ago to witness the unveiling of the new Range Rover in the presence of British Olympians, celebrities and international media persons. I just got to sit in the new Range Rover and so until I get a chance to drive one, I am going to have to depend on the info given by Land Rover officials regarding the new model’s driving prowess and dynamics.

The most important change is the new next-gen version of Land Rover’s Terrain Response system. The Terrain Response 2 Auto features an automatic setting which uses ‘intelligent’ systems to analyse the current driving conditions and automatically select the most suitable terrain program.

Adding to the terrain behaviour for the new Range Rover is the new light weight suspension setup, which is simultaneously 30 per cent stiffer and more rigid. Performance of the suspension is said to be further enhanced by the use of advanced chassis tech including the latest two-channel Dynamic Response active lean control system and Adaptive Dynamics, featuring continuously variable dampers.

A new low range option is also now available in the two-speed transfer box for difficult off-road conditions.

Performance

The new Range Rover will be available with two petrol V8 engines, one diesel V8 and for the first time a new 3-litre TDV6 diesel engine. The top of the line petrol is the 5-litre LR-V8 supercharged engine that puts out a huge 510PS of peak power and clocks 0 to 100 kmph in 5.1 seconds, about 0.8 seconds faster than the outgoing model with the same engine.

The 339PS 4.4-litre SDV8 ‘super diesel’ engine designed exclusively for the Range Rover now gets a 9 per cent boost in power and helps accelerate a full second faster than the current Range Rover in the 0 to 100 kmph run. Emissions have also been reduced by 10 per cent.

The most interesting in the line-up is the new ultra-efficient 3-litre TDV6 diesel engine that is likely to be the choice for India too. The engine delivers 258PS of peak power and manages to match the outgoing TDV8 model with its 7.4 second run from 0 to 100 kmph. At the same time the new mill manages to cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by an amazing 22 per cent when it is equipped with Start/Stop.

All the engines in the new Range Rover range are paired with the electronically controlled ZF 8HP70 eight-speed automatic gearbox. Next year, a diesel hybrid powertrain promising CO2 emissions of just 169 gms per km is also expected to makes its debut.

The UK pricing for the new Range Rover is expected to start at about 72,000 pounds, on a par with the current model. Prices for the India-spec model will be announced closer to the launch date in December this year or early next year.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on September 18, 2012)
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