Lightness is a car maker’s best friend. Sounds simple, really, but it’s not been that evident at the forefront of many firm’s minds in recent years, as legislation has forced cars to bloat ever upwards in weight.
But one of the most spectacular recent gains has been made by Range Rover, whose new model is upwards of 400kg lighter like for like over the outgoing model. That’s a startling amount that’s easy to gloss over.
Yesterday, I got to sample the fruits of these missives as we rode in the Range Rover around the outskirts of Paris. It was, as you’d imagine, a fascinating experience, but also one you can read about in more depth in Steve Cropley’s 2013 Range Rover ride story which took in far more challenging terrain on and off-road in Dubai.
My driver in this final spec pre-production car (people outside the company get to drive it next month, all being well) was Alex Heslop, chief programme engineer for the car, which he has lived and breathed for the last few years.
Heslop says he and his team soon acknowledged the divergent requirements of customers – chiefly demands for better fuel economy yet a desire for more performance. The answer came in the form of weight saving, not just in terms of the aluminium body structure, but also in paring down everything as far as they could go.
The end result was a virtuous circle of benefits. Every bit lighter the car was, the more performance and efficiency potential it had. And the further they went in removing weight, the further they could go in cutting engine size and therefore weight, gaining yet more benefits. This was a victory that kept on giving, and one that inspired his team to even smarter ways of weight saving.
One example is the location of the compressor for the air suspension. Traditionally, it had sat in the boot area on a mass damper to remove vibrations, but now it sits on top of the car’s battery. The mass of the battery and its rubber base do the job of the compressor, opening up an opportunity to cut out weight. On such innovations ground-breaking cars are made.