Range Rover: On the road to Morocco
Jandals in hand, David Linklater takes to the desert to try the new Range Rover
Here's a little Land Rover fact: in 1970 the company intended to launch the first-generation Range Rover in Morocco. But logistics got in the way and the programme was moved to Britain.
Land Rover launched the fourth-generation Range Rover in Morocco this month and proudly told us "unfinished business" provided the impetus for the location (never mind the sand dunes and rocky terrain). Head office even brought along the very car - a bright blue, first-generation, three-door Rangie that featured in some early promotional films. The one that didn't get to make the journey 42 years ago.
A nice sentiment, although business has changed in four decades. The original Range Rover was the world's first luxury off-roader. Back then, luxury meant decent trim on the seats and an on-road ride that didn't bounce you off the roof.
Now, being a luxury off-roader means quality and equipment the equal of any flagship sedan, no-compromise on-road ride and refinement but still with the ultimate in off-road ability. Oh, and something approaching an interest in sustainability; luxury cars these days have to be seen to do their part for the environment, otherwise they're just offensive.
The original Range Rover might have had to create a new genre, but it would seem that the latest one has to achieve a near-impossible combination of talents.
Luxury first: the new car's exterior styling travels further down the path towards automotive jewellery than any before it. Some signature Range Rover cues are there, such as the clamshell bonnet, side vents (although they're just for show on this model) and blacked-out pillars.
But it does look different: the hard edges have gone and there's more bling. As well, the roofline is much lower.
It's less functional-looking, that's for sure. Whether that's a good or bad thing will depend entirely on personal taste.
But the new shape does make this the most aerodynamic Range Rover ever made - 10 per cent more slippery than the bluff-looking previous model.
Inside, the Range Rover is even more stunning than the highly regarded third-generation model. More beautiful and better finished but also more simple, with 50 per cent fewer switches. The wheelbase has grown by 40mm but legroom has increased by 118mm.
All things considered, nothing short of a Rolls-Royce feels as special inside. Options include an outstanding 29-speaker Meridian sound system designed especially for this vehicle and executive class seating, with two individual chairs replacing the rear bench.
Choice and the ability to customise your car's finish is key to the luxury segment. The Range Rover is available in 38 exterior colours with two contrasting roof tones, seven alloy wheel designs, 16 interior themes, seven trim veneers, three headlining colours ... and so it goes on. There are 18,000 possible combinations.
Yes, the Range Rover is ultra-refined. It's astonishingly quiet on the open road, and it's only at very high speed that wind noise becomes an issue.
The Range Rover has always been legendary for its combination of extreme body roll and utterly tenacious handling. There's less sway now, with anti-roll software for the air suspension of all models and adaptive dynamics on the top V8-powered models. But tenacious it still is.
The so-called dynamic response system employs electro-hydraulic adjustable anti-roll bars to stabilise the vehicle during hard cornering. The control module draws upon accelerometers at roof and chassis level, as well as steering angle and road speed.
Despite this new emphasis on cornering ability, the Range Rover is even more outrageously capable off-road. The two-day launch programme included virtually every type of off-road driving possible (sand, rock-crawling, rivers, mountain roads) and it was a truly enlightening experience to see exactly what the new car could do. Or more importantly, just how easily it could be done. Land Rover has evolved terrain response into a fully automatic system. You can still specify the type of driving condition and the car will reconfigure its powertrain, transfer case, steering, suspension and electronic driver aid to suit.
But with Terrain Response 2 Auto, the car can also work out automatically where you're driving and adapt accordingly. . .
Wheel articulation is remarkable: 260mm for the front and a staggering 310mm at the rear. Ground clearance is over 300mm. The old model could wade through 700mm of water, but the new one can tackle 900mm. Truly.
And while you're trampling over rough ground, you can be sure that you're doing a little bit to improve the eco-status of the luxury-SUV genre. The Range Rover is the world's first On the road in Morocco
Apart from its off-road appeal the Range Rover is a good-looker.all-aluminium monocoque off-roader. Half the alloy is from recycled sources and the new factory producing it pollutes 75 per cent less than the previous steel plant.
Although it still weighs in a minimum of 2.2 tonnes, the new Range Rover is at least 300kg lighter and fuel consumption is improved 8 per cent on average.
Even the leather used in the sumptuous cabin gets an environmental tick. Produced by Bridge of Weir in Scotland, the factory has its own thermal energy plant and produces 70 per cent of its own power needs (the goal is 100 per cent by 2015).
All waste is recycled, with oils converted into biodiesel and ash used to make house bricks.
Offcuts are recycled into clothing and accessories.
The model that really balances the books is the new TDV6: that weight-saving construction has allowed Land Rover to use the smaller 190kW/600Nm 3-litre turbo-diesel powerplant in its flagship model.
Thus equipped, the Range Rover can claim a 420kg weight saving and 22 per cent improvement in fuel economy over the previous entry-level model.
It's not at the expense of performance or driving pleasure. The TDV6 sprints to 100km/h in 7.9s, matching the outgoing TDV8 for acceleration. Any perceived power deficit in real-world driving is easily addressed by the new eight-speed automatic transmission.
The TDV6 will be the last of the new range to be launched in New Zealand: it won't arrive until midway through next year. But it could be worth waiting for.
Early buyers will have to be more extravagant, with the 4.4-litre SDV8 turbo-diesel and 5-litre V8 supercharged petrol models arriving in late-January.
The SD (Super Diesel) is still the king when it comes to torque, with a mighty 700Nm on tap.
It's arguably the most capable off-road, too - an ideal mixture of high power (250kW) for when extra momentum is required, but still with a surplus of low-down pull.
The flagship supercharged V8 petrol is completely over the top, which is exactly the idea.
With 375kW/625Nm it's an astonishingly rapid open-road machine, capable of 0-100km/h in just 5.4s, nearly a second quicker than the previous model.
Electric power steering and a powerful new braking system has enabled the use of the latest driver assistance technologies, including automatic parking and adaptive cruise control with queue assist.
The new Range Rover can also be specified with blind-spot warning and reverse traffic warning, which alerts you if there are cars behind you.