The invitation, when it was received, promised an opportunity for wading, ‘weather permitting’. Well, permit it certainly did, and the UAE launch drive for the fourth generation of Land Rover’s iconic Range Rover took place on one of the wettest and most forboding days we experienced at the end of last year. To their utmost credit, the Land Rover team didn’t bat an eyelid at six inches of standing water in the car park, and said not one word about postponing our drive.
Certainly, we were about to get an object lesson in the sorts of driving conditions that don’t trouble a Range Rover in the least, but bring the UAE to a grinding halt. I can tell you right up front that the Range Rover’s heater, demister and seat warmers all work extremely well, that the wipers are fast enough to clear a deluge, and that the four-wheel drive system tracks true despite the amount of water on the road. In fact, of all the cars we could drive in such inclement weather, none would be as reassuring as the ones we were in.
These cars are no strangers to the UAE. There has been a disguised pair in the area for some time, one black with silver camo, the other the reverse, and they have been spotted in convoy in several places. There were glamorous launch previews held in JBR and on the corniche in Abu Dhabi.
So much for all the fanfare, what’s it actually like to drive? Phil Moore loved it in Morocco, even though much of the intended route had been washed away in rain before the event. Were we about to experience the same deluge here in the UAE? It certainly seemed so. In the metal, the all-new Range Rover is much more visually coherent than early photographs had suggested. There’s something odd about the proportions in the publicity stills, but nothing at all out of place in the real world. Our fleet made a very handsome line-up.
The car has real presence, even in the gloom of an early morning deluge, with a slightly more raked back screen, subtly sloping roof and elements of Evoque about the lights. That said, it is still big, and you still climb up into the driver’s seat — that ‘command’ driving position is very much present and correct. Fire it up, and the first surprise strikes you. Though the engine is familiar, the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 producing 503bhp, the sensation is new. Gone is the old rumble, in its place is a turbine-smooth feel, and turbine-like thrust to go with it.
The new Range Rover really is a ground-up new design, the result of changing the material it is made from to aluminium rather than steel. This has huge advantages in every aspect of the car, and necessitated the building of a new factory at Solihull to produce what is acknowledged as the world’s largest all-aluminium monocoque bodyshell. The change of material affects every aspect of the car, not least because the bodyshell is a massive 39 per cent lighter than its steel forebear. At most, the new car is a full 420kg lighter than its predecessor, an almost unprecedented achievement in modern car construction.
That reduction in weight means better performance, reduced fuel consumption, lighter components in the drivetrain and greater agility. Land Rover’s claim that the new Range Rover is lighter, faster, stronger and more luxurious is entirely credible, and a real challenge to other carmakers in the same arena. That reduction in weight is apparent from the moment you set off. It is eerily quiet inside, and completely devoid of intrusion from the world outside, but composed, taut and responsive.
Gone is the old vagueness from the steering, in comes something that is pointy and precise. The use of an eight-speed transmission and supercharged engine means that there is always plenty of torque available, which translates into instantaneous response to the throttle. You want to pass someone, it’s just press and go. No Range Rover ever felt as fleet as this. Cornering, too, is faintly surreal. The new Range Rover rides on air suspension at all four corners, and there is some heavy duty computing going on to keep the ride tidy.
The electronics stiffen the suspension on the outside wheels through a turn, and the big Range Rover rides as flat as a sports car. Straighten up, and it stays level and smooth, soaking up imperfections without upsetting the demeanour of the car in any way. Land Rover must be commended for doing something unusual with this drive, apart from arranging spectacularly bad weather for the start. Our whole day was dedicated to driving. No games in car parks, no obstacle courses or ‘fun’ activities. Just roads, wadis and sand to explore, for as long as we wanted. Other carmakers take note!
So that is what we did. The first third of the day was a fast road blast, in the rain, which mercifully began to lift. It is hardly a surprise that the car was so comfortable and composed on the road, but at least it gave us an opportunity to explore the interior. Land Rover reckons it has reduced the button count by 50 per cent, and what is left all works in a reassuringly intuitive way. Fit and finish are superb, and the interior is completely squeak-free. Soon enough, we’re off the highways and onto the back roads headed for Wadi Fili to do some rock crawling.
We get a chance to explore the Terrain Response system, which can be left in fully automatic mode to make choices about the most appropriate settings for you, or select what you want manually. Here comes a second surprise, to discover that the ‘Lo’ range really is low, a proper rock-crawling gear for inching over obstacles and following the instructions of a spotter. With a bid of judicious pointing and waving from Fraser Martin and the crew, we all made it through unscathed to the stop for coffee.
It is a bit disconcerting to discover that the rocks we have just driven over so easily are so slick and wet it is almost impossible to stand and walk around. Even on the biggest of the rocks and ridges, nothing grounded, and nothing complained. It really is as strong as they claim. The final section of the day is on sand, and because it has been rained on, there’s not even any need to air down the tyres. That we managed to climb some of those dunes and ridges is impressive enough, but to do so on normal road tyres is even more so.
Again, the lighter weight of the new Range Rover really showed in its ability to float over sand rather than plough through it, and even as the sand dried out and got softer, most of the time we made it. That some of the party (myself included!) did manage to get stuck is down to a deficit of driver ability rather than any fault of the vehicle, and we got everybody rolling again soon enough. Maybe Land Rover was fortunate with the weather on that day, because it allowed it to show of its new achievement in the most adverse conditions.
And it is an achievement — the new Range Rover is composed and cosseting on road, agile over rocks and supremely confident on sand. That it can take on the worst of what the UAE can throw at it and get to the end of the day without missing a beat is an extraordinary feat, and speaks volumes about the quality, integrity and ability of the car. The original Range Rover defined a whole new genre of cars, the luxury SUV. The all-new, fourth-gen Range Rover moves the game on again, and further than you might ever have believed possible.