At the international media launch of the Range Rover in Morocco, Gerry McGovern offended a number of journalists by talking about his watch.
Standing in the bar of the E1200-per-night Palais Namaskar hotel in Marrakech, Mr McGovern was explaining how buyers of luxury goods like Range Rover aren’t necessarily paying for what the product can do. They are paying for the qualities of the particular brand they identify with.
“We are not producing commodities,” he said. “We are not making things that people want. We are making things that people desire.
“I don’t wear the watch on my wrist because it tells me the time. I wear it because I connect with its design and heritage. It says something about my own personal taste.”
Eyes were rolling in some parts of the room. But Mr McGovern knows his subject and knows his customers.
Land Rover admits only 15% of its customers take their Range Rovers off-road (although 80% use them off-tarmac), but it must still be the ultimate off-roader because that’s part of what makes it special and therefore credible.
When Mr McGovern talks, you have to listen. He is design director and chief creative officer of Land Rover. He’s also a bit of a rock star in the industry, having masterminded the groundbreaking style of models like the Range Rover Evoque.
In Morocco, we spent two days doing those things that Range Rover owners don’t necessarily want to do (but desire that their vehicles can). We stormed up sand dunes in Essaouira, crawled across rocks in a gully just outside Marrakech and created bow waves over the bonnet through rivers on the way to the Atlas Mountains.
These things the Range Rover does with consummate ease. It weighs at least 300kg less than the previous model thanks to all-aluminium construction. This does not make it light, merely lighter: it still tips the scales from 2160-2360kg. But it all helps when you’re sinking into the sand.
Since 2004, Land Rover has offered a system called Terrain Response, which enables you to select the type of on or off-road driving you want to by way of a rotary dial. The car then sets up the engine, transmission, transfer case, suspension control, anti-lock braking and power steering to suit.
The new Range Rover has Terrain Response 2 Auto, which detects the kind of driving you’re doing and adjusts those parameters without you having to do a thing.
Follow a Range Rover through off-road extremes and it is quite beautiful to see the car’s underpinnings at work. The wheel travel is astonishing: up to 310mm, which is a lot even for a serious off-road vehicle. The new model can wade through 900mm of water.
A Range Rover can go anywhere. Even though it probably won’t.
On the road
Away from the sand and mud, and into the traffic, the new Range Rover is not as enormous as it looks in the photographs. It’s less than five metres long, so nearly 100mm shorter than an Audi Q7 or Mercedes-Benz GL. It’s unmistakably a Range Rover, with a “floating” roof, split tailgate (both sections are now powered) and enormous side vents.
But those vents are now styling artifice, whereas they used to be real. Other things have changed, too. Range Rovers have always had an upright cabin and enormous glass areas. This new one has a lower roof and pinched glasshouse, rather like the smaller Evoque.
The tail is now tapered, giving the (incorrect) impression of a lot of overhang. I’m not sure I like that, although the softer style does help this to be the most aerodynamic Range Rover yet.
While the exterior is fussier, the fabulous interior is much less so – 50% fewer switches, for example. The brand has always had one of the finest luxury-car interiors available and that has not changed. It’s exquisite.
Refinement, too, is up with the best luxury sedans. It is astonishingly quiet and calming (“a prerequisite of luxury,” says Mr McGovern). The only indicator you are travelling in an off-road vehicle rather than a limousine is the odd unexpected vibration on secondary roads at high speed. That’s opportunity cost, given the vehicle’s other abilities.
Don’t look back
You get the sense that Mr McGovern tires of constant talk about heritage. He wants to keep moving forward, as designers do.
Land Rover claims to have canvassed some of its customers about what they wanted in a new Range Rover and the company’s PR machine has paraphrased the resulting feedback thus: “Don’t change it, just make it better.”
Mr McGovern had a response to that in Morocco: “Well, we have changed it. It is better.” Subtly undermining the communications department is a privilege of directorship.
It’s true: innovation comes when you give people something they aren’t expecting. The original Range Rover would never have been created with a “same-again” attitude.
However, I’m still not sold on the styling proportion of the new model. Perhaps I’m just an old Land Rover reactionary after all.
But the fourth-generation Range Rover is so much better, enhancing the supreme luxury and off-road ability expected of the brand, while shedding hundreds of kilograms in the interests of driving dynamics and more acceptable environmental credentials.
It is still unique and highly desirable. Makes me a little bit sad that I only have a modest watch.
What exactly is it? The fourth-generation version of Land Rover’s super-luxury off-roader. It’s the first all-aluminium monocoque off-roader; half of the alloy comes from recycled sources.
Fuel economy has improved by 8% across the range. The turbo diesel and supercharged petrol V8s will be launched in New Zealand in January and the entry-level turbo diesel V6 (420kg lighter and 22% more economical than the previous entry-level model) will follow mid-year.
Powertrain: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel (TDV6) producing 190kW/600Nm, 4.4-litre V8 turbo diesel (SDV8) producing 250kW/700Nm and 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol producing 375kW/625Nm.
Eight-speed automatic transmission, fulltime four-wheel drive with low range and Terrain Response Auto 2. Combined fuel consumption 7.4/8.6/13.5 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 7.9/6.9/5.4 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? Final New Zealand specification is yet to be determined. But driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control with queue assist and reverse traffic warning.
Among the options are a bespoke 29-speaker Meridian sound system and Executive Class rear seating package.
Price: To be announced January 2013.