The Range Rover hasn’t changed, yet it absolutely has. In its latest, fourth-generation incarnation, the full-size, mega-luxury 4WD remains true to the virtues that have made its predecessors icons – okay, forget the underdone second-gen of 1994-2001 – by effortlessly blending limousine luxury with genuine off-road capability.
The centrepiece of the first all-new Range Rover in 10 years is its first-for-an-SUV all-aluminium body. Choosing that metal instead of steel is expensive, both in terms of raw material and manufacturing costs, although the Jaguar XJ has been made from aluminium since 2002 so the company has (ahem) form here.
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Where the former steel-bodied L322 Rangie tipped the scales at a hefty 2580kg, the new L405 starts from 2160kg, despite being wider and taller.
The weight-loss benefits flow like the Murray Darling in its prime. Because the new Range Rover is lighter, its engines aren’t as taxed, improving both performance and economy.
Shared with the Jag XF, the entry-level 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel V6 engine is as quick as the old 4.4-litre V8, taking 7.9 seconds to reach 100km/h. In addition to a 300kg-lighter body, the V6 engine itself is also 120kg lighter than the V8, while standard stop-start tech and an eight-speed ZF auto help contribute to the 7.5L/100km combined consumption – a 22 per cent improvement over the old V8 performance-equivalent.
That eight is retained in the range, the BMW-developed 4.4-litre twin-turbo now a mid-spec variant. Over the Range Rover TDV6’s $168,900 entry price, the $195,100 TDV8 takes power from 190kW to 250kW, and torque from 600Nm to 700Nm. A neat 200kg weight increase over the base car’s 2160kg means the V8 is only a second quicker to the ton, while consumption rises by 1.2L to 8.7L/100km.
Brilliantly excessive, the Range Rover Supercharged V8 tops the range, priced from $224,900, the blown 5.0-litre developing 375kW and 625Nm, and emitting – Land Rover says this very quietly – 13.1L/100km combined.
It’d be a mighty shame if the impressive stats translated muddily on the road, but they don’t. Shedding kilos has also liberated the chassis. The air suspension is retained, and the multi links front and rear are made from lighter, stronger aluminium, too.
With less body mass to rein in over dips and undulations, the Rangie’s body control is transformed. Gone is the lurching from side to side when changing direction, the bobbing of the nose on rebound over big hits, and the head toss that accompanied the feeling of waiting for the body to catch up with the chassis when cornering.
Instead, the new Range Rover feels decidedly car-like, with a surprising veil of firmness in its low-speed ride hinting at the high level of control delivered at speed. On rough, secondary roads the ride quality is – and there’s no overstatement here – best practice, lush enough to take Merc’s Airmatic-equipped E- and CLS-Class to the wire.
Dynamically, the Range Rover doesn’t reach Cayenne or X6 standards, but on patchy Moroccan roads – only marginally worse than ours – the level of comfort and composure it delivers is in another league. Its handling is of the grippy, reassuring and enjoyably balanced variety. Only the V8s are equipped with anti-lean control including active front and rear anti-roll bars, but back-to-back testing with standard models is needed to gauge their full effect.
Twist the rotary transmission dial to Sport mode, and in addition to making the ZF eight-speed torque-converter gearbox more alert, the variable dampers firm-up, yet not by enough to genuinely degrade the ride. The ratio of the electro-mechanical steering also quickens, though in either setting the set-up presents the first chink in the armour of the 2013 Range Rover.
At three turns lock to lock, it isn’t particularly slow, but on-centre response is measured in the extreme, meaning inputs require more turn of the tiller than is ideal. The weighting is spot-on, nicely light, and the system is accurate.
However, Land Rover’s Senior Chassis Manager, Lloyd Jones, admits that he would have preferred quicker response, but “that will be happen with a future model”. So wait for the Range Rover Sport, then.
Land Rover claims it didn’t benchmark other luxury SUVs for refinement, but instead targeted the Bentley Flying Spur, Lexus LS and Mercedes S-Class. It shows. The Range Rover is mausoleum-silent on smooth surfaces, and on harsher coarse chip only adds the equivalent volume of shuffling feet on a stone floor.
Engine noise suppression eclipses most cars, regardless of price. Tap the left paddleshifter twice to raise revs when cruising, and passengers simply won’t notice the downshift has taken place. The V6 diesel is a real sweetheart, always punchy, and as happy to allow the ZF to keep it purring along at 1200rpm as it is growling away overtaking loaded Marracheshi buses on the wrong side of the road.
You’d need to be a committed V8 fan to see the value in spending the extra on the more powerful diesel, as although the bass deepens and there’s less obvious clatter at idle, the real-world acceleration difference is minimal. Both seem a step well below the supercharged petrol V8, which adds bass and whine to its lust for revs, and eagerness to reel in distance. A 5.4sec 0-100km/h makes it the perverse choice, but arguably overkill in light of the brilliant diesels.
Where this five-metre-long big boy can’t match the limo sedans is with rear legroom. Despite a 118mm increase in legroom compared with the old one, thanks partially to the 42mm-longer wheelbase, the rear seat still isn’t limo-spacious – it’s more CLS than S-Class. (That said, the handling feels more like the former Merc, rather than the lazy latter.)
The interior is otherwise a masterpiece. The rich leather that coats most of the dashboard and all of the seats, and real wood trim – of the recycled eco variety these days – complements the classy new cabin design. Although Australian pricing has been announced, standard equipment lists haven’t, but our top-spec Autobiography test cars came with massage seats, dual-view centre screen, surround cameras, and 29-speaker, 1700W Meridian audio.
Classic Range Rover virtues also make up for the packaging compromises – vision is superb thanks to the low beltline relative to the ‘command’ seating position, and the near-flat ‘clamshell’ bonnet provides accurate front-parking cornerposts. An average 550-litre boot is the final compromise of the Range Rover having heavy-duty off-road hardware stuffed up its guts.
Another reminder that the hardware is there is when actually travelling off road. Land Rover paraded its new flagship over sand dunes, mud ruts, rock crawls and river crossings – everything in Morocco, then – and other than a couple of tyre punctures, the cars steamrolled each environment.
The Terrain Response all-wheel-drive system retains the old car’s five modes (General; Grass/Gravel/Snow; Mud Ruts; Sand; and Rock Crawl) and adds a new auto setting that can calculate terrain (via yaw and traction sensors) instantly.
A 900mm wading depth has increased by 200mm over the last model, and wheel travel (260mm front/310mm rear) is around a third more than ‘soft’ competitors like X6 and Cayenne. The locking centre diff, optional locking rear diff, low-range gearing, and height-adjustable suspension (with two settings to raise the car by 45mm and 75mm respectively and allow up to 300mm of ground clearance) further makes the ‘SUV’ tag redundant. The Range Rover remains a proper, palatial off-roader.
It also remains the only one of its kind - at least until rivals from Maserati and Bentley show up. Where the likes of the X6 and Cayenne are focused on forcing together awkward bedfellows (size and sportiness) the Range Rover refuses to work on such a compromise, and is all the better for it.
The new Range Rover has smartly – subtly – slimmed down and ramped up the luxury. Call it change for the better, but with no change to the concept.
2013 Range Rover
Range Rover HSE TDV6 - $168,900
Range Rover Vogue TDV6 - $178,900
Range Rover Vogue TDV8 - $195,100
Range Rover Vogue SE TDV8 - $217,100
Range Rover Autobiography TDV8 - $232,800
Range Rover Vogue Supercharged - $224,400
Range Rover Autobiography Supercharged - $240,100