- FIRST DRIVE – RANGE ROVER
THE approach to the upper reaches of the High Atlas in Morocco is not for the faint hearted.
Single track roads dissolve into narrow gravel paths that drop precariously away as you ascend the Route de Asni in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Toubkal.
Boulders pock-mark the trail every inch of the way and sheer rock faces threaten to crumble into an avalanche of jagged rubble at any moment.
There are cars capable of dealing with conditions like these, but none will ride the moguls, slice through an unprecedented depth of water and climb the crags like the new fourth generation Range Rover.
The top brass at Land Rover, who joined us for a 400-mile trek from Essaouira on the Atlantic coast to the Atlas mountains via Morocco’s magical city of Marrakech, describe the new Range Rover as the world’s most refined and capable luxury SUV.
And they were prepared to prove it on an unforgettable road trip that fiercely examined every aspect of the car’s time-honoured talents.
Taking the Range Rover up a peg from the current model was never going to prove easy but what design chief Gerry McGovern and the brand’s engineers have achieved is sensational.
When it comes to finding a vehicle that excels in every imaginable department the new Range Rover has no equal – it’s that good.
Not only does the iconic off-roader look a million dollars with its more elegant, less aggressive, profile, ‘floating’ roofline and clamshell bonnet but being built with an all-aluminium body it is also 39 per cent lighter than the steel constructed outgoing version that’s been around for the past decade.
That means better fuel consumption, stronger performance, improved handling and the means to include a V6 diesel engine for the first time as passengers enjoy even better rear legroom thanks to the car’s longer wheelbase.
Nor do the improvements stop there. Luxury and refinement has also moved up a notch, the former courtesy of premium veneers, Bridge of Weir leathers and options like a new two-seat Executive Class rear package, the latter through acoustic lamination of the glass areas, sound-absorbing foam and dual-isolated engine mounts that together cut noise levels to near zero.
Among the new innovations is the next generation of Land Rover’s Terrain Response set-up which analyses driving conditions and automatically selects the most suitable vehicle setting.
You can still manually switch to the likes of grass/gravel/snow, rock crawl, mud/ruts and general driving but the auto option is a boon, as we found when leaving the smooth roads of world heritage-listed city Essaouira for a five-mile ribbon of coastal dunes accessed via a rutted trail.
The steepest of sandhills and loose, unstable ground posed no problem for the Range Rover before we turned off for a road route to Marrakech, frequently finding the desert roads blocked by a mayhem of bartering as market traders, herdsmen and families bought and sold sheep for celebrating the Eid festival that marks the end of Ramadan fasting.
This was Morocco as the mind’s eye would imagine it – loud, colourful, timeless and intoxicating. It was 21st century engineering at its finest alongside youngsters on donkeys and old saloons with ‘seating’ for sixteen and a couple of goats.
The numbers vary a bit too. A pocketful of dirhams to the £98,395 it will cost to snap up the 5.0-litre V8 supercharged Range Rover that spearheads the new range.
Way more popular will be the new 258PS V6 diesel capable of an average 37.7 miles per gallon and emissions of 196g/km which make it the cleanest ever Range Rover.[singlepic id=18 w=398 h=250 float=none]The faster roads of the final stretch towards Marrakech confirmed that this car will give fans of the existing V8 diesel – now with an improved 32.5mpg – something to think about.
Both cars are supremely smooth, agile and brisk, the V6 only slightly less speedy than the more powerful model at 7.4 seconds for 0-60mph as opposed to 6.5, while the supercharged petrol model is an absolute beast with its 5.1 second acceleration tempered by 20.5mpg economy, if you’re lucky.
Land Rover says that buyers wishing to personalise their car can choose from no less than 18,000 interior and exterior combinations, near guaranteeing exclusivity.
And while prices start at £71,295 for a 3.0-litre TDV6 Vogue model and £78,095 for the V8 equivalent, adding options like the 1,700-Watt, 29-speaker Meridian sound system can take top spec Autobiography versions, along with the 5.0 supercharged model, close to the ton.
Either way, you’ll have a car that feels as at home cruising effortlessly along the motorway as it does climbing up the side of a mountain.