2013 Land Rover Range Rover(Photo: Land Rover)

Evolving the ultimate luxury SUV icon
Essaouria, Morocco — The most difficult task in in any business — the automobile industry by no means being an exception — is always the replacement of an icon. Replacing the turds of the world is a comparatively easy task; almost anything you do will be an improvement and even a mediocrity will be lauded as a huge leap forward.

Replacing a consumer and media darling like the current Range Rover, though, is a far more thankless job. Loyalists will demand minimal changes to the familiar visage they've grown accustomed to. The product planning people will lobby with equal vigour that every possible new technology be foisted between its two axles. Or as Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's chief designer, succinctly summed up the task before his team, "Don't change anything. Just make it better."

That's a curt, if essentially apt, description of the 2013 Range Rover. Outwardly at least, it appears little changed from the 2012 model it replaces. The silhouette is essentially the same, the roofline, even if it is some 20-mm lower, is all but identical and, save for details like lights and fascias, one could easily mistake the 2013 Range Rover for a mere mid-model makeover.

Aluminum matters

2013 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged(Photo: Land Rover)

Underneath that strikingly familiar skin, however, is an entirely new vehicle that sees the 2013 Range Rover become the world's first sport utility vehicle to boast an all-aluminum unibody. Yes, the frame, the suspension bits and virtually all the body parts are constructed of the lighter than-steel metal. As you'll be reading in many an advertisement I am sure, that makes the 2013 version of the supercharged Range Rover a whopping 250 kilograms (185 of which are in the body shell alone) lighter than the 2012 model. Range Rover claims all manner of advantages, not the least of which is increased strength, the company noting that the aluminum structure is stiffer in key areas — like the all-important suspension subframe attachment points — than its steel predecessor.

Of course, the key benefactors of dramatic weight reduction are performance and fuel economy, both of which benefit from having less to haul around. Interestingly, Range Rover is only claiming a nine per cent fuel economy improvement, though that is in the European cycle. Transport Canada has yet to release its official figures for the 2013 Range Rover, but this may be one of those rare occurrences when real life improvements exceed what is claimed.

Sports-car acceleration

2013 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged(Photo: Land Rover)

On the performance front, the effects of losing the equivalent of three full-sized adults is much more dramatic. The supercharged version of Land Rover's ubiquitous 5.0-litre V8 — the only version we Canadians get for the first model year — scoots to 100 km/h in just 5.4 seconds, an amazing feat for a car that looks no less brutish than its predecessor and is actually a smidgen larger. Range Rover also insists that despite its rather bluff body (its coefficient of drag is actually a comparatively slippery 0.34), the supercharged SUV could hit 300 km/h if it were not electronically limited 250 km/h to save the tires. Even the lesser powered 375-hp naturally-aspirated version is pre-naturally quick; Land Rover claims it is all but as fast as last year's supercharged version.

And, in real world driving, the new supercharged Range Rover fairly flies. While the previous version always felt like a muscular Olympic sprinter saddled with an extra hundred pounds of performance-crushing ballast around his middle, the current version feels almost light and athletic. The illusion of incredible power meeting immoveable object is replaced with the simple sensation of power. Indeed, while the Range Rover has lost none of its regal demeanor, it now packs a Porsche Cayenne-like punch. Weight reduction has its benefits, even when it is not outwardly visible.

The jettisoning of the equivalent of a mid-sized touring motorcycle — especially on a vehicle with such a high centre of gravity — also offers all manner of handling advantages. Combined with newly firmed up air springs, an improved Dynamic Control anti-roll system and a new multi-link rear suspension, the 2013 Range Rover is both comfortable and sporty where the previous version was just compliant. Cruising Morocco's sometimes shabby highways reveals a ride that still seems to float above mere potholes and fissures and yet, flung into a corner, the Range Rover doesn't get all bendy at the knees like the previous version. Body roll is about on par with the aforementioned Cayenne, at least the standard version, high praise indeed for a vehicle still unmatched in off-road ability.