January 4. Cobo Hall, the Motor City. The arena lights are dimmed and high power spotlights illuminate the center stage. Fog fills the arena. From the far right, a pair of headlamps cut a swath through the haze. Ceiling mounted spotlights dance across the arena floor, now and then illuminating the moving headlamps affording us tantalizing glimpses of the vehicle prowling the stage. As the music rises to a crescendo, sixty five hundred journalists from around the world hold their collective breaths, as Range Stormer climbs to the limelight of center stage. It is unmistakably a Range Rover, but it's not like any Range Rover we’ve ever seen. After the briefest of hesitations (the Detroit Auto Show is after all a SHOW), the vehicle's doors begin to pivot upward in an elegant curve. The Range Stormer features gull wing doors! As Mathew Taylor, Land Rover's Managing Director, steps out of the "Stormer" the hall erupts in cheers. Taylor walks a short distance and as the stage's turntable begins to spin the 'Stormer, he just points at the car and smiles.
And so Land Rover made history. Never in the company's history had it built and showed a concept vehicle. For the next 2 days we walked around, looked under, sat in, and thought about the Range Stormer. We also met with Land Rover's chief designer, Geoff Upex, and other senior Land Rover executives to get Land Rover's vision of the future. But before we talk about the implications of Range Stormer, let's talk about the vehicle.
Range Stormer is a high performance, high technology "sport-tourer" concept vehicle. It sits on an all-new platform, that combines the torsional rigidity and strength of a monocoque design with the advantages and versatility of a body-on-frame chassis (think of it as an evolved version of the current Range Rover's platform).
The 'Stormer is powered by a supercharged V8, developed for Land Rover from the engine used in the Jaguar XJR and XKR models. While Land Rover engineers have kept the engine's power and torque outputs, they have modified the engine to meet Land Rover's own criteria. For example, the engine runs smoothly at acute fore/aft and side angles and has substantial waterproofing for safe wading.
Power flows to all four wheels through a ZF six-speed electronically controlled automatic gearbox. Four-wheel drive is engaged permanently, and an electronically-selectable low-range is standard.
'Stormer introduces a bundled set of technologies Land Rover calls "Terrain Response". Terrain Response is a fully integrated system that configures a variety of vehicle systems for optimum performance on one of six "terrains" specified by the driver. The system configures the engine (including engine mapping), gearbox, air suspension (ride height and firmness), driveline controls (such as differential settings), traction control functions (including Dynamic Stability Control and Hill Descent Control) and the brakes (ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) to best deal with the terrain/driving conditions specified by the driver. The driver chooses from among the following 6 different terrain setting:
The vehicle looks like no other Land Rover, yet it is instantly recognizable as a Range Rover thanks to its clamshell hood with castellated corners, "floating roof", straight waistline, and short front overhang. Headlamps feature "crushed ice" glass lenses. "You can tell we spent too much time in the pubs" joked Upex. These diamond-like lights throw out an excellent light spread from Bi-Xenon bulbs and also swivel with the steering wheel to help the driver "see" around corners. Side-mounted LEDs also illuminate at appropriate steering wheel angles, further improving the driver's ability to see where the car is heading.
The interior is pretty much all concept vehicle and together with the fancy doors, designed to catch the attention of automotive journalists as we rush from one vehicle introduction to another. Don't expect to see either in future Land Rovers. The rest of Range Stormer, however, you will see and much sooner than you may think.
The new platform will "be the basis for future full-size Land Rover models" said Taylor; think New Discovery due out in a few months.
It's no secret that Ford would much rather have Land Rover use Jaguar than BMW engines, so expect to see Jaguar powered Land Rovers soon.
Land Rover has always been at the forefront of 4x4 technology and the "terrain response" system keeps Land Rover at the cutting edge and light-years ahead of the competition. We expect to see "Terrain Response" throughout the Land Rover line-up. Much as "Hill Descent", created for the Freelander, has found its way into the rest of the models.
How about "Range Stormer" itself? For months there have been rumors of a "baby Range Rover", an "X5" fighter. Well, 'Stormer is it! 'Stormer is Land Rover's entry into "the booming high performance SUV segment" according to Taylor. When may we see the vehicle "storming" our shores? Again, much sooner than one might expect.
Are the Range Stormer and its production equivalent a real departure for Land Rover? We think not. After all, Land Rover created the Range Rover back in 1970 as a vehicle that combined unparalleled off road capability with "saloon car" comfort AND "touring car" handling and performance. Although Range Rover has, through its 33-year history, always delivered awesome 4x4 capabilities, the other two original design elements were a bit short-changed. Range Stormer (I do hope they change the name) seeks to remedy that. Yes, this model will be biased towards on road driving. Should this cause great consternation among the "bleed green" crowd? We think not. Think of the Land Rover's spectrum anchored on one end by the Defender and at the other by the 'Stormer. The Defender doesn't take on road capability away from the 'Stormer, nor does the Stormer take 4x4 capability out of the Defender. And the better Stormer sells, the more money Land Rover will have for developing its other models. Much more important than the introduction of this "X5" fighter will be the "New Discovery" as it will replace an existing model. The New Discovery will show the direction Land Rover is moving in. If New Discovery is "all wheel drive" and lacks low-range, then "we've got a problem" as this would signal a radical shift in Land Rover's direction. Such a vehicle would clearly indicate a move away from Land Rover's own roots and heritage as the premier manufacturer of 4x4 vehicles and into a maker of glorified station wagons and minivans.
For all you Defender owners and wanna-be owners, we did ask a number of Land Rover executives about this much beloved model. We were given "good news – bad news". The good news: Land Rover has no plans to abandon the model, and when Defender comes up for re-design (which will be not in the too distant future, as the model will soon run afoul of EC vehicle rules) the new Defender will be designed with the North American market in mind. The bad news: when pressed for a time frame we were told 1 to 3 years.
Later that day, after an extravagant dinner and a few lubricating libations at one of Detroit's finest establishments (the lengths we go to get a story!) a senior Land Rover executive, when asked when we may see "the goods", nodded and winked and said: "Let's just say you shouldn't miss this year's New York Auto Show".
Next Stop: New York City. Stay tuned and we’ll bring you the Land Rover story as it continues to unfold.
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