The 2013 Range Rover isn't exactly for gentleman farmers.
When the Range Rover was introduced in 1970, it had vinyl-covered seats and rubber mats on the floors. This way, you could hose out the cabin when it got dirty, which is the only way the big bosses at Land Rover figured they could ever sell such a self-indulgent vehicle to their constituency of gentleman farmers in the British countryside. Some 42 years later, the new 2013 Range Rover features semi-aniline leather upholstery and an audio system with 29 speakers, the sort of thing perfect for L.A. Things have changed, haven't they?
There's no denying the Range Rover has been on an incredible journey over the past four decades, but the development team responsible for the new version is adamant that this dramatically revised sport-utility vehicle holds true to its core principles. For all its luxury, the 2013 Range Rover still seeks to climb higher and wade deeper than its off-road rivals, while a new, lightweight aluminum chassis beneath the traditional aluminum skin will improve the vehicle's agility and fuel efficiency on terra firma.
The 2013 Range Rover will be officially unveiled to the public at the Paris auto show later in September, and we can expect it to go on sale in the U.S. in December, but we were able to get a preview at Land Rover's HQ in the U.K.
It Looks Like a Range Rover, Stupid
The 2013 Range Rover is instantly recognizable, as the styling cues that have defined it through four generations and the sale of more than 800,000 examples are all present and correct. For example, note the clamshell hood and the floating roof on its thin pillars.
Even so, for those of the Kim Kardashian persuasion, the new Range Rover can be had with 22-inch rims direct from the factory. Nevertheless, Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern says forcefully, "There's a difference between looking expensive and looking bling." McGovern says his designers have taken their inspiration from other non-automotive luxury products and applied an intellectual but autocratic approach. As he notes, "Democracy in design equals mediocrity."
Overall, the design changes are clearly evolutionary, but some details will still cause palpitations in traditionalists. For example, the nose is now more rakish. "This obviously helps to improve the aerodynamics," says designer Andy Wheel, "but the utilitarian style of the old model was also a bit Marmite-like in the way it polarized opinion. Customers told us they wanted something a bit softer and more inclusive."
The vents in the front quarter panels that were a signature of the previous model — designed during Land Rover's brief interregnum under BMW ownership — have been moved to the doors and are no longer functional. Instead they're used as a styling trick to reduce the perceived length of the new, longer wheelbase.
Thanks to the new treatment at the nose and the way the body tapers extravagantly toward the rear (more apparent in the metal than in photographs), the drag coefficient has been reduced to 0.34 Cd from 0.36, a record for a Range Rover.
Taken as a whole, the 2013 Range Rover doesn't have the instant chutzpah of the smaller Land Rover Evoque, but this design's mission is to refresh and renew without causing offense. Meanwhile, the second-generation Range Rover Sport due next year will no doubt be more ambitious and thus more polarizing (or "Marmite-like") in its design language.
Inside? It's Like a Range Rover, Stupid
The overall footprint of the 2013 Range Rover is almost identical to that of the previous model. It measures 196.8 inches overall, 81.6 inches wide (outside mirrors folded in) and 72.3 inches high. The key dimension is the 115-inch wheelbase, which represents an increase of 1.7 inches and delivers a 4.7-inch increase in rear-seat legroom.
When it comes to design and detail, the cabin of the previous-generation Range Rover has arguably been one of the finest ever. Yet as designer McGovern says, the cabin has undergone "a beautiful exercise in reduction." One example is the Evoque-style touchscreen electronics interface, which has helped reduce the number of individual buttons by 50 percent.
As you'd expect, there is no shortage of gadgets. The front seats can move in 20 different directions while massaging your buttocks in five different ways, and the color of the ambient LED lighting can be tailored to suit your mood. There's a huge panoramic glass roof, while the split tailgate opens at the touch of a button. The Meridian audio system is rated at 1,700 watts and features no fewer than 29 speakers. There will also be all manner of "personalization" options designed to boost exclusivity (not to mention Land Rover's profit margin).
As standard, the 2013 Range Rover continues as a five-passenger vehicle, but Land Rover is also offering "Executive Class Seating," with two separate, fully adjustable seats in place of the rear bench seat. The success of the $170,000 Autobiography Ultimate Edition of the 2012 Range Rover has convinced Land Rover's execs that they can continue to push the Range Rover upmarket. We expect to see a long-wheelbase version as early as next year, which is meant to stave off new competition from Aston Martin, Bentley, Maserati and even Lamborghini.
Under the Hood
When it arrives in the U.S., the 2013 Range Rover will continue with two different versions of its current V8 engine, but they will be matched by a high-tech, eight-speed automatic transmission from ZF in place of the current six-speed. The normally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 makes 375 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 375 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. The supercharged version of the same engine makes 510 hp at 6,000 rpm and 461 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm.
For now, there's no talk of fitting the excellent new supercharged 3.0-liter V6, which recently replaced the naturally aspirated V8 in the Jaguar XJ, but don't be surprised to see it sometime in the future. Later in 2013 a diesel hybrid version of the Range Rover will also be introduced in Europe, and every 2013 Range Rover incorporates stop-start and electric-assist steering as a result.
The Aluminum Miracle
The Range Rover has been quite the porker until now, weighing no less than 5,861 pounds in Supercharged guise despite its aluminum skin. Now Land Rover says the 2013 Range Rover is the first SUV in the world to feature an all-aluminum unit-body chassis. All by itself, this structure is 408 pounds lighter than the steel unibody it replaces, an improvement of 39 percent.
There are further weight-saving measures throughout the Range Rover, so the Supercharged flagship weighs 551 pounds less, which is the equivalent of leaving two fat friends behind whenever you go out, and who wouldn't think this would be an improvement in the driving experience?
As before, the suspension is by a familiar blend of double wishbones at the front and a multilink setup at the rear. Air suspension is standard, while the Supercharged also features active control of body roll. This technology is capable of controlling the front and rear suspension independently, which the engineers tell us will improve both low-speed agility and high-speed stability.
Although the wheels are huge — 20 inches to 22 inches, depending on the trim level — bold claims are being made about the on-road prowess of the new Range Rover. According to the internal parameters set by the Land Rover engineers, ride, handling and steering response have all been improved by between 20 and 30 percent. Wind noise at 100 mph is second only to the Mercedes S-Class sedan. Just how far the Range Rover has traveled from its utilitarian origins can be measured from the fact that the S-Class, Bentley Continental Flying Spur and Lexus LS 460 are key benchmarks for the Range Rover's street performance.
Land Rover is adamant that the 2013 Range Rover remains a proper tool for off-roading, and indeed argues that the growth of markets such as China and Russia makes its rough-road versatility all the more relevant. The engineers note that the Range Rover has maximum wheel articulation of 23.5 inches, which compares with 18.3 inches for the Audi Q7 and 15.4 inches for the BMW X5. Meanwhile overall ground clearance has been increased by 0.7 inch to 11.9 inches and the wading depth has been increased by 7.9 inches to 35.4 inches.
Terrain Response — Land Rover's system for electronic calibration of the engine, transmission, center differential and suspension for off-roading — has been made even more sophisticated, so now it can adjust settings automatically. In automatic mode, Terrain Response 2 will even tell the driver when to raise the ride height of the suspension or select low range for the transmission.
Land Rover is on a roll right now, as global sales are up 46 percent this year. It expects about 30,000 examples of the new Range Rover to reach the street every year, as it has done almost every year in its recent life, especially since the global market for SUVs is expected to grow by a further 40 percent to more than 20 million units by 2020.
As John Edwards, Land Rover's global brand director tells us, the company hopes that the 2013 Range Rover will become not just a fine sport-utility vehicle but instead "the world's finest luxury vehicle." We'll reserve final judgment until we drive it in October.