The Range Rover is quicker on pavement and lighter to the touch than ever before, a magnitude of change that's all the more remarkable since it's also longer, with more off-road hardware woven into a stiffer, stouter body.
The body makes all those gains possible. The new Range Rover goes from a steel frame surrounded by aluminum body panels, to an SUV with a full aluminum frame that's riveted and bonded with aerospace glue, in the same way the Jaguar XK and XJ are constructed (not to mention most of the Boeing lineup). The suspension's also composed of cast- and forged aluminum pieces, while some body panels are twinned to composite liners to save even more weight. The net result is a 700-pound weight loss, when comparably equipped.
It'd give the perfect cover to downsize engines, but the Range Rover is the brand--so it retains its ultimate power. In the U.S., we'll choose from a pair of 5.0-liter V-8s, both teamed with a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shift controls. The entry-level engine is normally aspirated and direct injected, with 375 horsepower. It's whisper-quiet at cruising speed, and about as quick as the outgoing supercharged model, with an estimated 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds. For the fully realized, fully British experience, though, the supercharged edition's the way to roll. It scrolls out 510 horsepower with the supercharger whine we automatically associate with British cars, and it guns to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. In a vehicle so large, it doesn't quite have the sensation of being that much faster than the normally aspirated version, but of course, it's bundled with lots of hardware and features. And any vehicle so large that tosses in paddle controls wins us over.
The trimmed-down figure doesn't benefit gas mileage so much, though. Fuel economy is pegged at a 9-percent improvement, with the EPA yet to weigh in.
Straight-line acceleration's lifted to a new luxury-sedan plane, but it's the Range Rover's street handling that's reached new levels with the lightweight makeover. The combination of a control-arm front suspension, a multi-link rear, an adaptive set of air dampers, and variable-ratio electric power steering aims for Flying Spur or S-Class-style handling, and it's as close as any wagon with this roofline gets. Depending on speed and traction modes, the Range Rover can vary steering and ride settings, giving it strong on-center feel with more programmed-in centering weight, for example. It's not particularly linear, as a result, but it's a good solution for an SUV, as much for light parking-lot effort as for effective highway tracking over a wide range of wheel and tire packages. In almost any circumstance, the Range Rover has mostly gentle ride motions and a substantial amount of body lean and ride softness -- purposely so, to avoid head toss of the kind we've seen in the competition. It's a languid, well-damped feel that's more luxury sedan than ever. Large six-piston front Brembo calipers, big front and rear disc brakes (15 and 14.4 inches in diameter) handle the Range Rover's curb weight of about 5300 pounds with ease.
For a double dose of technology, there's Dynamic Response, a set of active anti-roll bars that's standard on supercharged models. As the body leans into corners, the system counters with force to flatten out its response. It's similar to system on Mercedes-Benz GL; in the Range Rover it's set more softly, and allows more roll, at least, on the 19-inch wheels fitted to both of the vehicles we've driven. It still has the counterintuitive feel, that it's masking information you'd get from a conventional suspension, but likely it's adding safety for many drivers. Those active stabilizer bars are decoupled automatically in off-road modes, too, for better suspension articulation, which means no loss of off-road capability. Indeed, the Range Rover can handle slippery rocks and gully washouts on street tires without too much trouble.
The reason? All Range Rovers are fitted with so much off-road hardware, it's difficult to name something left off its comprehensive list of gear. There's a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a 50:50 torque split, and a low range accessible on the fly up to 37 mph to go with better wheel travel of 10.2 inches front and 12.2 inches rear. The low range operation is one of many triumphs of the new Range Rover, not the least of which is its quiet operation: there's very little of the usual gear whine, much more isolation. A new generation of Terrain Response Control uses sensors to predict the surface ahead, and to change traction, stability, steering, suspension and locking-differential settings from five presets (General; Grass/Gravel/Snow; Mud/Ruts; Sand; and Rock Crawl). Choose Sand mode, for instance, and the throttle settings allow for lots of wheelspin and fast tip-in, to generate momentum; rock mode slows it all down and firms up ride for more precise maneuvers. It's accessed on supercharged models by pressing the rotary traction mode knob down--and it's an option on normally aspirated models, which otherwise make drivers rotate the knob to the correct mode themselves. (No, really.)
We can attest to these expansive off-road capabilities, after a day running sand dunes and rocky outcroppings in Morocco--on street tires--and only once wedging ourselves into a sand trap. The challenge for the Range Rover's ceased to be its myriad means of extracting itself or lowering itself from trouble--it's more that it's grown long enough to outspan some obstacles that shorter, more compact off-road vehicles can clamber over with ease.
For the most extreme duties, the Range Rover has two off-road air suspension heights, depending on the ground clearance needed and the speeds driven. There's also an extended mode that raises it to 12.2 inches of clearance for 10 seconds--for the most difficult extractions, which we used to pull our vehicle out of that sand trap after all. Supercharged models can have an active rear locking differential, for go-almost-anywhere traction. Fording depth is up to more than 35 inches with special ducting that draws out water from underhood, while towing remains 7,716 pounds maximum. Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control are factored into the stability control as well as trailer-sway control.