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ESSAOURIA, Morocco -- The fact that the prognosis was delivered with the most aristocratic of French accents did nothing to make the end of my fibula any less broken.
Indeed, while his almost lilting "Votre cheveille, elle est brise" may have been a whole lot more sympathetic than "Your ankle is broken, dumbass," it nonetheless still meant that, for the second time in six months (I had just managed to repair the shoulder separated from a motorcycle racing kerfuffle), I was once again hors de combat.
It would have been nice, especially since this is a Range Rover road test from exotic Morocco, to have a wild (and possibly sordid) adventure as the precursor to said injury, perhaps something involving some form of wild animal, a runaway SUV and maybe even a winch. And, for that last soupßon of intrigue, a damsel in distress.
Unfortunately, I merely twisted my ankle, albeit grotesquely (there's nothing quite as sickening as hearing the snap of your own bones), in an unlikely placed storm drain. No heroics, no (mis)adventure, just a plain old middle-aged slip-up. For one used to regaling you with feats of derring-do, it was, frankly, embarrassing.
But, ah, there was some adventure after said injury. Repairing what one might assume was a rather simple non-displaced fracture somehow required visiting three rather shabby medical clinics in the dead of night, one furtive black market purchase (in a land where black market purchases can very quickly take a Midnight Express turn) of cast battening, and the use of an x-ray machine that might have once seen use in Operation Torch.
But, saving the day, the doctors turned out to be nothing short of excellent, the cast exquisitely laid and even that x-ray bed, creaky as it may have been, was hooked up to a computerized processing system more modern than those in most Canadian hospitals. In other words, don't judge a medical system by its cover.
That's an excellent metaphor for the all-new Range Rover because, except for those truly immersed in Land Rover lore, the 2013 model being trumpeted as all new appears to be, outwardly at least, little changed from the 2012 model. The basic shape is the same, the roofline, even if it is some 20 millimetres lower, is all but identical and, save for details such as lights and fascias, one could easily mistake the 2013 for a mere mid-model refresh.
Nothing could be further from the truth, for underneath that seemingly familiar skin is the world's first sport-utility vehicle with an all-aluminum unibody. Yep, 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 claiming that the aluminum structure is stiffer in key areas -- such as the all-important suspension subframe attachment points -- than its steel predecessor, says Alex Heslop, the Range Rover's chief engineer.
Of course, the key benefactors of dramatic weight reduction are performance and fuel economy, both of which benefit from having less (though one would hesitate to call the Range Rover little) 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.
On the performance front, the effects of losing the equivalent of three 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 kilometres an hour 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. Indeed, the lesser-powered -- 375 horsepower versus 510 -- naturally aspirated version of the 2013 model that is sold elsewhere is all but as fast as last year's supercharged version.
And, in real-world driving, the new Range Rover fairly flies. While the previous version always felt like a muscular Olympic sprinter carrying an extra 45 kg 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 demeanour, but 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 multilink 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, for instance, is about on par with that of the aforementioned Cayenne -- at least the standard version, which is high praise indeed for a vehicle unmatched in off-road ability.
And, despite the switch from steel framework to aluminum, the new Range Rover is no less adept off-road than its predecessors. Indeed, there's more suspension travel -- 260 milli-metres in front and a whopping 310 mm in the rear -- and a greater wading depth (900 mm) than the previous version. Range Rover has even automated its Terrain Response so that the machine itself can determine -- by using the sensors that measure wheels speed, steering wheel angle, etc. -- what kind of terrain one is traversing and automatically select from the General, Mud/Ruts, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sand and Rock Crawl settings that control things such as ride height, differential locking and throttle response. Land Rover claims the system can even change settings mid-obstacle if it suddenly determines that the mud bog you thought you were traversing turns out to be a sand pit. The result is the same incredible off-road canniness that has typified every Range Rover since 1970. Morocco was in mid-flood when we arrived, yet nothing about the resultant washouts, deep mud or slippery rocks even remotely challenged the Range Rovers.
And the new Range Rover is certainly more luxurious. Leather, wood and aluminum all mesh for an absolutely hedonistic interior, completely at odds with the river of mud that often flows over its hood when it is mid-adventure. New this year is a much-welcomed 120 mm of increased rear legroom and an optional Meridian audio system that boasts 29 speakers and 1,700 watts. No, that wasn't a typo.
Thus far, the new Range Rover seems like a winner and, indeed, in all terms pragmatic, it really is significantly superior to the machine it replaces and at least the match of any of its peers (of course, Land Rover would tell you it has no peers). My only caution would be the company's ultra-conservative approach to the redesign. While I, for one, love the look and, according to Gerry McGovern, the company's style guru, consumer feedback suggested "don't change it, just make it better," there is some possibility that customers will eschew styling they see as not advancing. After all, that's what happened with Jaguar's first-generation aluminum XJ: It engineered a dramatically new lightest-in-class undercarriage and mated it to a retro- looking visage. Unfortunately, it flopped. People may have said they wanted continuity, but they were seemingly only willing to pay for new.
I don't think that's going to happen here. Jaguar mistook its customers' love of previous XJs as a sign for stylistic conservatism when in fact they actually appreciated that Jaguar had been, at the time, at the avant-garde of design. In Land Rover's case, the intended customers are, in fact, conservative and really do, I suspect, want their old trusty Range Rover, only updated with the best automotive technology can offer. That's just what Land Rover delivered.
The 2013 Range Rover Supercharged will cost $114,750 and go on sale this December.
-- Postmedia News