The Big British Luxury SUV Sheds Weight

Photo courtesy of Jaguar Land Rover USA

2013 Range Rover.

Last week I wrote about how Mercedes-Benz had completed a diesel hat trick among its mainline SUVs by adding a Bluetec clean diesel engine to the small GLK. The take-away was that Mercedes-Benz, like all other car companies, has to be more mindful of its models’ fuel consumption.

A more efficient engine is one way to gain some mpg, but making a vehicle lighter is another. For 2013, Land Rover redesigned its high-end Range Rover from top to bottom. And while they were at it, managed to make it 700 pounds lighter than the previous model.

It’s not smaller, and it doesn’t contain fewer features or less equipment. But the big brute’s body is now made of aluminum. (Or aluminium as they say in the Ranger Rover’s homeland.) Bam, a two mile per gallon increase in the base V8 model. Even the super-powerful Supercharged edition picks up one mpg. Snicker if you like, but with fuel economy typically in the low teens for city driving, two extra miles from each gallon is actually a significant increase, percentage-wise.

Aluminum is strong yet light, though it can be costlier than the steel most cars are constructed of. Audi has been using it in its big A8 and S8 models for years, and even Land Rover’s sibling Jaguar has taken it to it for car structures lately. So with the switchover, the sturdy Range Rover has essentially jettisoned the equivalent of four average size passengers from its gross tonnage.

Also new this year is an 8-speed automatic transmission, which helps the V8 engines stay in an ideal rpm range for maximum efficiency. While a 6-speed automatic was considered state-of-the-art a few years ago, manufacturers are now scrambling to add gears in order to eke out a bit less consumption.

But what hasn’t changed about the big Rangie is its unmistakable and totally unique mix of ruggedness and luxury, with an extra dose of technology thrown into the equation. Hit the Start button and the instrument cluster — an LCD screen rather than physical gauges – starts out by welcoming you to the experience by putting “RANGE ROVER” in the display. A console-mounted dial then pops up (lifted straight from the Jaguar parts bin), which you rotate into gear.

Underway, it’s all classic Range Rover. The ride is taut but supple, thanks to an air suspension system. Even with those four imaginary people now hitchhiking instead of riding along with you, this is still a substantial piece of automotive hardware.

I got to test the Supercharged model recently, and for a 5000+ lb beast, it can certainly get out of its own way. A guy in a Mazdaspeed 3 thought he’d nip my lane while leaving an intersection, figuring such a behemoth of a vehicle would be no match for his high-revving four cylinder. Ha! My right foot summoned all 510 horsepower (and a big swig of fuel from the tank) and British engineering (and aluminium) left him in the dust. Check, and checkmate.

This is a seriously capable vehicle, as Range Rovers have been for many years. If you wanted to, and I realize this is conjecture in Southern California, you could take it into some very rugged terrain. One of the hallmarks of the Land Rover brand over the years has always been competency off the paved road.

The Rangie may have shed weight, but the sticker price is still in heavy-hitter territory. Base price for the V8 (without supercharger) is $83,500. The Supercharged model starts at $99,950, and my test vehicle had some options that took the final price to $115,000. Oh, you can spend more. There’s a version called Autobiography for $130,000. For that kind of money, it had better sign itself on the dust jacket with a brand new Sharpie.

Efficiency is relative, of course. You can buy a small SUV and get more than 30 miles per gallon with it. But if you want luxury and prestige, you can now get a little more range out of each tank of gas in a Range Rover, thanks to a trimmer curb weight.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave