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Range Rover goes on a diet; focus still on luxury, not fuel economy

2013 Land Rover Range Rover

Michael Bettencourt/The Globe and Mail

Overall Rating
A sophisticated luxury tourer, the Range Rover’s high fuel consumption is actually less than most performance-oriented rivals, with much more comfort from that throne-like perch. You’ll like this vehicle if: you’re looking for a luxury SUV that can excel off-road or in piles of snow, but coddles the driver and passengers with creature comforts.
Looks Rating
Looks modernly refined, but the conservative styling is likely the least adventuresome aspect of this vehicle.
Interior Rating
Sybaritic heaven, with supple leather, cooled and massaging seats everywhere and twin rear-headrest mounted screens.
Ride Rating
Supremely comfort-oriented, standard air suspension doesn’t offer a “Sport” setting for flatter cornering, but will adjust somewhat automatically upon aggressive inputs.
Safety Rating
No crash ratings by IIHS or NHTSA in the United States, but the plethora of active and passive safety features suggests little cause for concern.
Green Rating
Despite being lighter, the supercharged V-8 still makes it among the thirstiest SUVs around.

Not many people realize this, but the Range Rover Sport is the best-selling luxury SUV in the country, says Lindsay Duffield, the president of Jaguar/Land Rover Canada, outselling the Porsche Cayenne, as well as JLR's smaller, less-expensive and more fuel-efficient Evoque.

The Range Rover Sport is also the best-selling model JLR sells in the United States. So there's obviously an affinity in North America for Range Rover's traditional recipe of exclusive luxury, stately on-road style and ridiculous off-road capability.

For 2013, Land Rover introduces a new pinnacle to its SUV lineup with an all-new Range Rover, the larger and more comfort-oriented big brother to the Range Rover Sport. This fourth-generation Range Rover is the first SUV with an all-aluminum unibody structure, Land Rover says, bringing us to the barren reaches of northern Arizona and southern Utah, driving along the road that most closely passes the shelf of the Grand Canyon (though still 22 miles away) and on to back trails where the Range Rover could show off its continuing mud, snow and rock-climbing prowess.

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A structure that's 250 kilograms lighter structure and a new eight-speed automatic transmission, now with shift paddles, are the primary tools in which Range Rover is addressing one of the largest issues with the outgoing model: its thirst for premium fuel.

The supercharged 5.0-litre V-8 engine is the only engine available in Canada, and is largely unchanged, though the U.S., will also receive a naturally aspirated version of this engine. Instead of stop/start, the Range Rover offers what it calls Trasmission Idle Control, which disengages 70 per cent of the drive power when idling.

Think all Range Rover owners are rich enough not to care about fuel economy? Think again. A fellow car enthusiast friend bought a 2011 supercharged Range Rover just before the birth of his second child, but sold it within a year when both adults in the home became annoyed with it: he at the elevated fuel bills, his stay-at-home wife at the increased frequency of fill-ups needed.

Land Rover says the above features all combine for a 9 per cent reduction in fuel consumption, a laudable if not overly impressive reduction, considering that your starting point is one of the thirstiest SUVs on the market. Its estimated Natural Resources Canada ratings of 16.6 litres/100 km city and 10.6 highway give it an overall average of 13.9 litres/100 km, compared to the U.S. government's more stringent (and realistic) EPA average of 15.7 overall.

Those numbers are still near the thirstiest end of the SUV heap, but it's still more fuel-efficient than similarly powerful rivals like the square-ish Mercedes-Benz G550 or the turbocharged BMW X5 M. The Range Rover's overall EPA numbers are equal to the larger and flashier Cadillac Escalade – but pricier to fuel, as the Caddy takes regular – and worse than the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, never mind the gas-electric hybrid versions of those two. Unfortunately, a diesel-hybrid drivetrain planned for overseas markets later this year won't be certified for North America.

But the business motto for Range Rover is "to be the world's best SUVs," said Kim McCoullough, Range Rover's brand manager, and its best customers insisted the company "not change it, just make it better." So this latest version, replacing the third-gen, which was introduced back in 2002, received a conservatively sharpened look that won't offend any longstanding Range Rover sensibilities. It now has a more laid-back grille, headlights and taillights that sweep into the surrounding bodywork, and decorative versus functional vent openings in the front doors, now that the air intakes have been relocated up high and under its clam shell hood to afford the Range Rover 900-mm deeper wading capability, up 100 from before.

Basically, if the hood in front of you is not submerged in water, you're good to go now, said one of Land Rover's off-roading experts, who helped us guide us up and over some fairly challenging off-road obstacles.

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So there's some increased capability off-road, but the last one was hugely capable as well, so it's obvious that improving on-road comfort was the main priority of this redesigned version. The body is more aerodynamic and therefore quieter as it slips through the air on the highway, while every noise, engine note and door thunk has been damped to provide a high quality sound and feel.

This on-road comfort and major suspension travels means the Range Rover still leans over considerably on curvy roads, not enough to need a Gravol-IV drip, but enough to have me looking for a Sport or Dynamic button, as on the Range Rover Sport. No such luck, though the electronic air suspension has five adjustable modes for various off-road scenarios.

That focus on comfort and quality is most apparent inside, where a completely revamped interior modernizes the occupant environment considerably. Land Rover says there are half as many buttons inside as before, but with more features, most of them now accessible through the large colour touch screen located just above the circular transmission knob that rises from the vehicle's innards, as in recent Jaguars.

<p>2013 Land Rover Range Rover</p>for The Globe and MailMichael Bettencourt

All wood is from sustainable forests, all leather is from noted Scottish hide firm Bridge of Weir, and the fold-down electrically powered tailgate can be jumped on, and hold up to 600 pounds, though it still makes items tougher to reach inside the trunk.

Opt for the top-line Autobiography, and all four outboard positions feature heated, cooled, reclining and massaging seats, with a massive panoramic sunroof, and a killer 29-speaker, 1,700-watt sound system from Meridian.

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A full suite of modern safety systems are mostly standard, but curiously, unlike most range-topping luxury SUVs, this one still seats five people only. Officials suggest that's because this vehicle is not as large as some think, at the length of a new Audi A6, plus the brand's LR4 offers a third row now.

Regardless, for the 2013 Range Rover's five potential occupants, it's difficult to picture a more comfortable vehicle you'd want to travel in during a major snow storm or other real world adventure, though I'd rather be a passenger than the one filling it up.

Tech specs

2013 Land Rover Range Rover

Type: Mid-size five-seat luxury SUV

Base price: $116,020

Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V-8

Horsepower/torque: 510 hp/461 lb-ft

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with shift paddles

Drive: Four-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 16.6 city/10.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: BMW X5 M, Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Porsche Cayenne Turbo

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