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Morocco launch for Range Rover

2012-11-19 09:37

MOUNTAIN HIGH, RIVER DEEP: The Range Rover launch convoy scorns the trans-Morocco highway and heads into the Ourika River gorge. "Why use the pass when the river is open?" somebody asked. Image: LES STEPHENSON

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Author: Les Stephenson

 
MARRAKECH, Morocco - Perhaps not Dakar “rough-stuff” standard but the route through Morocco chosen by Land Rover UK for the world launch of Generation IV of its all-road Range Rover was pretty tough.

The ocean dunes and endless tidal beaches of Essaouira on the north-western African country’s coast, the narrow tar and gravel roads of the interior heading (off the main Route 207 and N8) for the mystical city of Marrakech and then the foothills of the High Atlas mountains...

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Range Rover Moroccan adventure

And that was just the start of the 500km drive through the unforgiving stony desert, the acres of palms and cultivated fields, and eventually the Alpine pine-clad highlands of the Atlas approaches.

BOULDERS AND MUD

The locals call this time of their year winter (and yes, there’s snow on the mountain peaks, especially Jbel Toubkal, at 4167m the highest in North Africa and highest in Africa after Kilimanjaro) but the day temperature was up in the 20’s and the Saharan sun just didn’t stop shining. What a climate!

There’s a perfectly good pass above the gorge of the Ourika River that drains the snows of the Atlas near the Arab village of Asni as the waters head on their millennia-old course towards Marrakech but Land Rover instead chose the river-bed itself, with its swirling brown flood roiling over boulders and mud and over the bonnet below towering cliffs topped by age-old habitations.

Despite its redesign, the latest RR is instantly recognisable, the “gills” on each side adding to its looks though having no discernible use; the doors are just as huge and the cabin as accessible as on previous models, but both sections of the horizontally split tail access are now power operated.

The standard model has seats for five, the upper versions for four with a full-length console running between both sumptuous pairs. Its shell reminds of the recently launched Range Rover Evoque fashion 4x4 and its aerodynamics have reduced drag by 10% to 0.34.

DEEP DIVER

There are other luxury 4x4 wagons but the Range Rover manages to combine the utter luxury of a freeway-loving top-end sedan with the go-anywhere ability of Land Rover’s high-tech, multi-terrain, all-wheel drive and adjustable ride height. Suspension changes have reduced cornering body-lean.

It’s just as happy in nearly a metre of river water as it is cruising at 250km/h, scaling high dunes, crawling over boulders (see the video of the crawl over an ancient lava flow in Marrakech city) or soaring up the tracks of a national park with snow glinting on Atlas peaks.

I drove two versions. Day 1 from the resort town of Essaouira to Marrakech was aboard a 4.4-litre, 250kW/700Nm (from 1750-3000rpm) SDV8 (eight-speed auto/manual sequential) Autobiography capable of 216km/h and 0-100km/h in 6.5sec which claims a combined-test fuel consumption of 8.7 litres/100km. CO2 emissions: 229g/km.

The new Range Rover is a full-house luxury vehicle with, among other expected standard features for a car in its class, a new “terrain response” system, a sliding glass roof and massaging front seats. Options include rear-seat entertainment, adaptive (following distance) cruise control and an “active” self-locking differential.

“Terrain response’ can be left in full auto, leaving the car’s sensors to identify the need, or set for normal, grass/gravel, snow, mud/ruts, sand and rock-crawl.

OFF-TAR MATTERS

Day 2, which included the drive along the bottom of the Ourika River gorge and the tracks of the pine-clad Atlas foothills, was in a five-litre petrol V8 Autobiography model capable of a whopping 375kW/625Nm (from 2500-5500rpm) through the same eight-speed auto/sequential ‘box but capable of 0-100 in 5.1sec and with the same standard/optional equipment as the diesel.

The penalty: fuel consumption rises to 13.8 litres/100km. CO2 emissions: 322g/km.

Low and high-range is push-button selectable.

Off-tar, what matters most: Each model has a ground clearance of 295mm, can drive through 900mm of water (just make sure you know the technique!) and has approach and departure angles of, respectively, 34.7 and 29.6 degrees. ‘Nuff said that I didn’t touch down either end, even on the roughest tracks – not difficult, given the cars’ 597mm of wheel articulation, 100mm more than the previous model.

The extra wading depth comes from a system that employs an air intake just under the rear of the bonnet and labyrinthine ducting that allows water droplets to fall away. Land Rover nicknamed the intakes after the liner 'Queen Mary', which had two funnels.

POLICE CHASE CARS

Sales have already started and the cars will be available in 170 countries around the world, including South Africa but not, apparently, until December 2013 though the local media launch will be in February 2013 - so no prices yet available. Land Rover says the cars have been developed from the ground up “to provide the ultimate luxury SUV, following the innovative spirit of the original design from more than 40 years ago”. (See gallery images of the mid-1960’s Velar, a fake company name based on Britain’s Alvis and Rover brands as well as being Spanish for ‘hidden’ and the oldest surviving Range Rover. It has a V8 Rover 3.5 engine.)

The originals (some, with their then amazing 160km/h top speed, were used as chase cars on British roads) had aluminium panels on a steel frame but this model claims to be the world’s first SUV with an all-aluminium monocoque body (as well as other aluminium parts) and has shed 420kg against the model it replaces.

The body is 42mm longer than the previous model and rear legroom has been extended by 118mm. About 75% of the aluminium comes from recycled material – which should ease the Greens concern about 4x4’s.

John Edwards, Land Rover’s global brand director, told us: “The new Range Rover preserves the essential, unique character of the vehicle – that special blend of luxury, performance and unmatched all-terrain capability.

“However, its clean-sheet design and revolutionary lightweight construction have enabled us to transform the experience for luxury vehicle customers, with a step change in comfort, refinement and handling.”

'FOR NEW GENERATION'

Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s design director and chief creative officer, pointed out during a short presentation in Marrakech that Land Rover sales had been rising month-by-month. Why? His reasons were simple:

“We don’t create ordinary products and never will,” he emphasised. “The Range Rover is peerless; it can go to the most glamorous places and then to the harshest of terrain. This the fourth generation is a new Range Rover for a new generation.

“We have won 120 awards – but will be looking for opportunities to stretch the brand. “Land Rover is meaning many more things to more people – Land Rover as the bloodline, Range Rover as the luxury products and the Defender talks to dual-purpose.

“Really, we have had a culture change – design is everything with a truly luxurious interior that competes with anything in the world; Range Rover sits with luxury.

“We compete in a luxury lifestyle market in which people might spend the price of a Range Rover on a luxury watch.”

THE COMPETITION?

To emphasise that, Andrew Storer of the RR powertrain programme team, pointed out that the new Rangey has “the best sound system of any vehicle’ with as many as 29 speakers. Yet ease-of-use has improved with a halving of the number of control switches and customers have a choice of 18 000 combinations of exterior colours, cabin finishes and wheel rims.

Land Rover (perhaps coyly?) suggests the new Range Rovers’ competition will come from Mercedes S-class, Bentley, BMW’s X5 and VW’s Touareg.

A hybrid model with a three-litre turbo engine and a synchronous electric motor in the gearbox is expected to reach suitable markets by 2013.

Finally, Land Rover took customers’ suggestions into consideration when creation of the fourth-generation Range Rover commenced: “Don’t change it,” they said. “Just make it better.”

Job done.

For more information on the all-new Range Rover, go to Land Rover South Africa.

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