6 August 2004

Two all-new models in the next 24 months will make 2005 and 2006 two of the busiest years in Land Rover’s 56-year history. The cars will fuel an expansion which will eventually grow the firm’s range to five model lines, its biggest ever.

For the first time, Solihull’s premium off-roader range will expand to include a second model, the baby Range Rover revealed in our artist’s impression (above). The £35,000 five-seater is tipped to be called Range Rover Sport and is a step into new territory for Land Rover: territory in which performance, styling and looks are as important as boulder-crushing or deep wading.

Land Rover’s first venture into softer models, the Freelander, is due for its first complete revamp, too. It will be replaced by an all-new model (right), one which corrects the quality and dynamic deficits of the current car and which should maintain the Freelander’s six-year record as Britain’s best-selling SUV.

This pair of newcomers will be joined by the new Discovery, on sale this November and the first Land Rover to be developed under Ford’s ownership. Its concept, styling, quality and execution tell us much about the next generation of Land Rovers. The Range Rover flagship will be upgraded next spring, too. These are busy times at Solihull.

Range Rover Sport

Prototypes of Land Rover’s ‘baby Range Rover’ have been pounding the world’s test circuits for more than two years. But, for the first time, Autocar has stripped off the disguise to reveal the details of the car that is poised to take on the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne.

Due to be revealed at January’s Detroit Motor Show, the Range Rover Sport won’t arrive in dealers until May ’05. Land Rover insiders admit they have had time to get the car right because it is an additional model, rather than a replacement for an existing car.

Styling has been the work of a team under design chief Geoff Upex, who created the car alongside the new Discovery. Distinctive Land Rover family features – the jewelled headlights, floating roof and strong, upright grille – are evident, but insiders report that the Sport is sufficiently different to have its own distinct look.

The rear hatch is inclined at a more rakish angle than usual on a Range Rover and the window line rises gently towards the tail to create a ‘wedge’, a sporty design feature not used before by Land Rover. Another break from tradition is positioning the door handles below the horizontal swage line that runs the length of the Sport.

The bodysides are free of cladding, although the overall look isn’t quite as simple and clean as the Discovery’s. ‘There’s a lot more shape than in a Range Rover and it looks shorter and lower,’ said one insider.

It’s striking to note the similarities between the Range Rover Sport and the previous-model (P38) Range Rover. At 4.7m long and sitting on a 2.7m wheelbase, it even has similar proportions to the old Range Rover, while some of the styling detail appears inspired by the old warhorse. But there the technical similarities end.

Underneath the Range Rover Sport is a short-wheelbase version of the new T5 platform used on the new Discovery. With double wishbones at the front and rear, and air springs all round, the Range Rover Sport is engineered for sharp on-road handling.

Performance will be a strong point. The range-topping engine will be a Land Rover version of Jaguar’s 4.2-litre supercharged V8, with a peak output close to 400bhp. That won’t be good enough to outrun a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but it will make the Range Rover Sport V8 Supercharged, as it is expected to be badged, the fastest factory-built Land Rover ever, with a near-150mph top speed and 0-60mph in around 6.0sec - spectacular figures for a 4x4 that can also tackle tough terrain.

But the highest-selling model in Britain is likely to be the diesel powered V6 TD, with a 190bhp single-turbo 2.7-litre V6. The third powerplant is a 295bhp 4.4-litre V8, borrowed from the new Discovery.

The lower roofline and tighter dimensions will make the cabin of a Range Rover Sport a cosier place to be than its bigger namesake. The basic instrument panel will be shared with the Discovery, but Land Rover’s designers have had the freedom to redesign many of the parts. To separate the Sport from the Range Rover, the quality of plastics and wood trim won’t be quite as luxurious as in the bigger car.

The seat design differs from the new Discovery’s, too. The high-back, sports design dispenses with the Disco’s head restraints. A range of sportier, contrasting leather trims will be optional.

Freelander

At the end of 2006, the Freelander will be nine years old, a long life for a vehicle conceived in the dark days of British Aerospace’s ownership of Rover and Land Rover. Today’s Freelander is loosely based on the archaic Rover 200 platform. The new model will be a very different beast with a new platform, state-of-the-art powertrain, clean, crisp styling and, hopefully, unprecedented build quality thanks to a switch to Jaguar’s Halewood plant.

The most noticeable change for the new Freelander is its chunkier proportions. The car sits on a much longer wheelbase and is wider, too. Overall length is very close to today’s 4.4m but, with the wheels pushed closer to the corners, insiders report that the car’s stance is much-improved.

‘Overall, the look is not quite as style-minded as the new Discovery,’ said a source familiar with the car. ‘We have to remember that most people come to the Freelander from cars, so we’re not trying to be a small Discovery.’

Key details like the one-bar grille and stepped roof will remain. Other important features are the absence of body cladding and a strong styling swage line along the car’s front wings, retaining the Freelander’s clean and classical styling. The beltline rises towards the rear haunches, like on many cars.

Just a single bodystyle – a five-door hatchback – is currently being engineered. Low sales have killed the three-door soft-back model.

Codenamed L359, that five-door will be based on a development of the new Focus platform. Known as EU CD, the same platform will underpin the replacement for the Volvo S60, XC60 soft-roader, Ford Galaxy and Ford soft-roader, dubbed MAC.

Like on the Ford Focus/ Mazda 3/Volvo S40 project, the term ‘platform’ is really shorthand for a component set that each brand’s designers can delve into when creating their own distinct vehicle, providing commonality of parts hits around 40 per cent. Usually, the target is 60 per cent, but Land Rover’s specific engineering needs have reduced this figure.

The new Freelander will stick with a car-derived four-wheel-drive system that eschews a separate low-range transfer gearbox, an omission that saves both weight and complexity. But this second-generation off-roader is expected to be more sophisticated than the current Freelander and is rumoured to include an optional limited-slip rear differential.

Engines will be picked from within the Ford empire and tweaked for a torquey SUV application. Land Rover will be able to choose from three four-cylinder petrols: a 115bhp 1.6 litre, 130bhp 1.8 and 145bhp 2.0, which replace today’s single choice of a Rover-derived 1.8. The platform is engineered to take Volvo’s five-cylinder units across the engine bay, although Land Rover will prefer a Ford V6 petrol for the US market.

Common-rail turbodiesels from the Ford/Peugeot ‘Lion’ family will replace the BMW 110bhp 2.0-litre unit. An entry-level 115bhp 1.8, mid-range 136bhp 2.0 and 173bhp 2.2-litre are all potential choices for Land Rover’s engineers. A version of the 2.7-litre V6 TD is also under consideration.

The chief weakness of the current Freelander is its cabin quality, despite a clever revamp in 2003. Expect higher-grade plastics and fabrics to bring a more quality feel to the cabin. The design itself is understood to be a little less formal than the Range Rover’s and Discovery’s, in a bid to appeal to car buyers who have to be teased out of their hatchbacks and saloons.

The Freelander will be pitched as one of the few junior SUVs with off-road ability, but Land Rover is also keen to stress its ability on Tarmac, where most will spend the majority of their time. The car-derived rack-and-pinion steering should make the new Freelander a sharper drive. And, although the exact suspension set-up is still secret, it is reasonable to assume that the EU CD platform’s suspension of front struts and rear multi-link will be heavily upgraded for 4x4 applications.

New Freelander’s wider stance and revised four-wheel-drive system should bring welcome increases in grip, roll resistance and high-speed stability. And the new platform and powertrains should improve refinement at speed, the main weakness of today’s Freelander.

‘We might be sharing a platform, but this is a real Land Rover,’ said a senior source. ‘We have the freedom to do just about what we want.’ Sales kick off in late 2006 with prices from around £16,500.

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