I've been driving a Discovery 4 this week - a brilliant vehicle, incidentally - and it made me wonder how Land Rover can sprinkle some of its magic on the company’s other seven-seater, the L486.
Also known as the ‘seven-seat Freelander’, L486 has quietly been slipped onto the back-burner, even though LR at one time planned to reveal it at Geneva earlier this year.
In fact, the 486 was so close to being green-lighted that its production numbers were once included in the post X-type factory plan at Halewood that will bring us the baby Range Rover in 2011.
Unfortunate as its delay is, I wonder if this break in the link between the Freelander, the L486 (let’s call it the ‘compact seven-seater’) and Halewood might just be what the project needs for Land Rover to do a neat strategic U-turn on this important new model?
I don’t know what clever stuff the LR engineering team is planning for the baby Range Rover, but one thing is for sure: the powertrain will be derived from Ford/Volvo units, be transverse-mounted and major on four-cylinder units. This should be great for fuel economy and weight, of course.
But I reckon the company ought to be trying to make the most of the brilliant Jaguar-derived 3.0 V6 TD and ZF six-speeder in the Disco 4.
That powertrain could lift the new ‘compact seven-seater’ right to the top of its class.
Even though LR faces ever-increasing competition - BMW now has three SUVs and Audi is heading that way - they only have one seven-seat model each.
So what better way for LR to fight back than a unibody seven-seater with a premium powertrain that’s aimed at urban drivers?
As well as featuring the 3.0-litre V6, the ‘compact seven-seater’ needs a more compact footprint, which a week with the Disco 4 suggests should be a couple of inches off the three main dimensions, maybe more on the height.
Soften the styling to reduce the ‘compact’s’ visual profile. That will also reduce weight and wind resistance.
Then take the four-wheel drive and axles being developed for the new alloy-bodied Range Rover and Range Rover Sport and take some mass out to better match the smaller footprint of the ‘compact’.
I reckon that’s a winner as a Volvo XC90 competitor. There’s still a huge appetite for the XC90, even as it approaches its eighth birthday next year. Amazingly, Volvo will sell 3000 this year in the UK, three times last year’s sales!
The bulk of those are £30k entry-level XC90s, which is a big difference from the near-£50k Disco 4 I was driving.
The shift down in size would also allow the Disco to get bigger next time around - the inevitable result of having to compete in the US - and maybe ditch its LR badges to become the Range Rover Family or some similar name. Range Rover Seven? Range Rover Ventura?
Maybe the compact seven-seater could even get Discovery badging to complete the circle?
It's easy to let the mind run wild on these things when there’s no constraint to actually put it into production and make a profit, of course!
Anyone else out there got a view on the way forward for a compact seven-seat Land Rover?