Taking to the new Range Rover like a duck to water
I am nestled in supple leather as the air-conditioned seat blows cool air on my back and the roller of the built-in seat massager works its way along my spine. The 29 speakers of the Meridian stereo system challenge anything I have at home, but when I turn down the music I am lulled by the gentle splish-splosh of the flowing river as it slops over the bonnet.
Inside it’s leather and wood veneer. Outside it’s brown, murky river water, nearly a metre deep in parts, flowing through a deep gorge at the bottom of the Atlas Mountains, in Morocco. And the new Range Rover is in the middle of it. Not stuck or stranded – just driving along, creating its own bow wave.
The sunroof is open; all we really need is a fishing rod. A kilometre or so upriver we climb the bank and are on to the main road again, joining everyday traffic as it trundles along the canyon road. Apart from the little puddles left behind when we pull up, there is nothing to give away our river escapades.
The extreme contrasts on offer from the new Range Rover are enough to make your brain melt. You have a supposedly behemoth SUV that weighs less than an Audi Q5 or a BMW 3-Series family car. It’s only 12kg heavier than a Mini Countryman. You have room for five with thick carpet underfoot, while undertyre the sand is soft enough to sink you to your knees.
The weight savings are worth reiterating. The new Range Rover is the first fully fledged SUV to be built entirely on aluminium architecture. The firm invested more than €450 million in a new production line for this car. The body strength exceeds its predecessor’s but sheds a whopping 420kg, the equivalent of five healthy adult passengers. It’s a 39 per cent drop on the outgoing version, resulting in an 8 per cent fuel saving and lower emissions.
It also means the new car has much better on-road dynamics, with far less bodyroll than before. It’s still not quite as dynamic as the Range Rover Sport, but it’s far better than previous models.
The other big changes are to the cabin. It has been nine years since the last version was launched, and, although there have been updates, the Range Rover needed a serious revamp. The executives at Land Rover aren’t modest about their ambitions for the car. Programme manager David Lloyd explains that throughout the two years he worked to develop this car, the criteria were always clear: it had to live up to the Land Rover badge off-road while matching cars such as the Bentley Flying Spur and Mercedes S-Class in terms of comfort and interior refinement. It was a big ask, but it has been delivered.
50% fewer switches
With a greater refinement in the cabin come fewer switches – 50 per cent fewer in fact – and LED lighting inside. Like all luxury cars, the ability to personalise is impressive: more than 18,000 combinations are on offer.
During three days of testing we pitted the Range Rover against the maniacal traffic of Marrakesh in the morning rush hour, against near-vertical inclines on sand dunes that were powder-soft underfoot, and along rocky riverbeds that would break a regular car in two – if it wasn’t swept downriver before the suspension snapped.
The new Range Rover comes with the now-standard Land Rover terrain response system but with a new, automatic feature. Along with the five settings that range from snow/ice to rock, you can click the dial to automatic and, using more than 700 sensors, it takes over 100 measurements a second, working out the sort of terrain you are traversing and changing the settings accordingly. Ride height can be adjusted to make the car 50mm lower for easier entry and exit, while it can rise up to 145mm for extreme off-roading. It can wade through 90cm-deep water without issue, while the cabin remains completely dry thanks to Land Rover’s manufacturing target of less than a millimetre of gap between panels. These gaps are then further lined with rubber seals, turning the car into a veritable subaqua SUV.