Morocco is a curious mix. On the one hand cities like Marrakech have become magnets for hipster travellers, chic boutique hoteliers, designer bars and restaurants. On the other is a vast, predominantly peasant land where donkeys, camels and beat-up minivans, packed dangerously high with cattle, form the main mode of transport. High-end luxury meets robust living in Morocco – qualities shared by the new Range Rover, launched here.
Now in its fourth incarnation, the car is, in the words of global brand director John Edwards, a ‘special blend of luxury, performance and unmatched all-terrain capability’. This more of less sums up this excellent modern-day interpretation of the Range Rover – a car that was introduced to us 40 years ago when the world was a very different place.
Morocco presents a perfect spot for some real life off-roading in a car that will probably spend most of its lifetime in the urban environment yet is clearly very capable away from smooth asphalt. We should know since for over an hour we’ve been driving uphill dirt tracks through the Atlas Mountains – a gust of red dust occasionally disrupting the crystal clear air. Sitting high and comfortably in our cool air-conditioned cabin we watch in silence as the dramatic Moroccan landscape unfolds before us. Few cars venture in these remote parts, which are mostly inhabited by the Berber tribes
Jaguar Land Rover engineers are so completely secure with this car that they are testing it in the real life sand dunes, rock-strewn dirt roads, rivers and now the high altitude Atlas on pretty hairy dirt tracks carved in the mountainside.
The previous night, over dinner at the Palais Namaskar on the outskirts of Marrakech, over a meal of foie gras delicately wrapped in chicken, head of Land Rover design Gerry McGovern told me: ‘As much as we love the current vehicle, it was time to replace it.’ Sitting side-by-side outside on the hotel drive, I can see his point.
At just under 5m long, the new Range Rover has a very similar footprint to the outgoing model, but it has a smoother and more streamline profile – the roofline has been dropped by 20mm helping the car appear smaller, more compact. The faster screen angles also improve aerodynamics, and with a drag coefficient starting from just 0.34, this is the most aero Range Rover to date.
‘Every surface, every line is there for a reason,’ Gerry tells me. For instance the vertical fins reduce the visual length of the vehicle, and the flourishes on the lamp make visual connections with the smaller Evoque. Land Rover is keen to create a visual connection between its ‘work horse’ Land Rover range on the one side and the more luxurious Range Rover cars on the other. This is very much at the heart of its product and design strategy.
In the Range Rover driver’s seat, the centre console is uncluttered and simple with a nice mix of digital and analogue gauges. There’s a double glovebox, roomy door pockets and even a little fridge in the centre console that fits four small bottles of water and a couple of chocolate bars, which has come in handy on this rugged road trip.
A longer wheelbase allows for 118m worth of extra legroom for rear passengers – ideal for markets like China where customers are more likely to be chauffeured around. There is also the optional two-seat Executive Class package, which Gerry likens to flying business class. ‘It is a fantastic environment,’ he muses.
On the road the new Range Rover has gone to a new level in terms of its handling and performance as we have been discovering here. This is a lighter and tougher car thanks to its all aluminium body structure – a first amongst SUVs. It helps saves 420kg in weight. The revised suspension is a huge improvement too, especially in its low-speed ride quality where you don’t feel smaller bumps and the new Range Rover is much more refined on the motorway.
‘We believe we’re a brand on fire,’ says Gerry. The designer isn’t exaggerating. Sales were up 46 per cent with record number of vehicles sold in the last 12 months. The small Evoque alone sold over 100,000 vehicles becoming the fastest selling Land Rover to date. Like the design or not, the car has clearly resonated with buyers and brought something like 85 per cent new customers to the marque!
‘The car shows how far our brand can stretch and I keep asking myself where are the other white spaces, and opportunities,’ he says. Though not officially confirmed, an even smaller Range Rover is planned, one that will sit underneath the Evoque. I cannot help thinking this too will introduce the brand to an even larger consumer base.
With sales scheduled to start in late 2012, the all-new Range Rover will be introduced in 170 markets worldwide.
Read our earlier interview with Gerry McGovern on here.
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