F-Type, Range Rover Loom Large At Jaguar Land Rover Page 3

June 6, 2012

Range Rover: a fresh start, a lightweight at heart?

Like Jaguar, the Land Rover brand has been on an aggressive product-replacement cycle--aggressive in its historical context, that is. The new Range Rover Evoque bowed in 2012 to acclaim, and to a North American Truck of the Year award.

Next up is the replacement for the standard bearer, the Range Rover sport-utility vehicle. It will be the first time the SUV is completely reengineered under the independent company's oversight: the 1994-2002 editions were largely executed under BMW leadership, while subsequent updates were completed during the Ford tenure. The Range Rover, in fact, still rolls down the same assembly line in Solihull, West Midlands, that was installed during BMW's ownership.

The brand-new Range Rover will mark a radical departure in many ways from the current vehicle, but is expected to stay the same in two very important ways: in its aluminum skin, and in its traditionally handsome styling. Prototypes spotted by spy photographers show a longer vehicle with what appears to be a lower roofline. The net could mean more room for rear-seat passengers, not a particular problem with the current vehicle unless there are plans to offer a third-row seat.

The new vehicle is said to share some of the architecture of the Jaguar XJ, which would also mean a riveted and glued aluminum chassis. Land Rover engineers have also said that the company's expertise in aluminum means thinner panels can be used to create stronger sections than ever. The target is said to be for the Range Rover to shed up to 15 percent of its weight, which could lead to a weight loss of up to 880 pounds, through the use of aluminum and composite construction. That could enable the Range Rover, with a new eight-speed automatic transmission and the current lineup of V-8 engines, to boost its fuel economy well into the mid-20-mpg range.

Turbodiesel models will again be offered in markets outside the U.S. A hybrid edition has been rumored, but not confirmed for production.

Land Rover makes no qualms about how it has softened the hardcore off-road appeal of the Range Rover over the past decade. The talent remains there, but the operation's been glossed over with electronic terrain controls and automatic traction systems. That could take a step further, as engineers promise the world's first automatic terrain-response system in a future vehicle--potentially, the new Range Rover. Such a system would detect the differences between sand, mud, rocks, and pavement without any driver interaction, and would choose throttle, braking, transmission and steering settings to suit conditions. Some of the more conceptual technology from recent concepts, such as the sonar-based fording system and adaptive GPS from the DC100 concept from last year's Frankfurt auto show, are less likely for production anytime soon.

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