Land Rover is less than two years from launching its new flagship model, which will replace the current Range Rover. The sport/utility makes a switch from a steel hull (with some aluminum panels) to a full aluminum monocoque. The aim is to cut at least 1100 pounds from the current 6000-pound mass, which would place it in the Jeep Grand Cherokee weight class. The company also intends to cut consumption with radical plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle powertrains.

Even so, the vehicle will instantly be recognizable as a Range Rover. The design, done under the auspices of design director Gerry McGovern, has been frozen. McGovern's first full Range Rover design is the Evoque, which sticks very closely to his LRX concept car. McGovern is keen to introduce more jewelry into Range Rovers, making them less minimalist and overtly functional, and the Evoque shows this.

"But the Range Rover itself must maintain elegance and formality," he says. Its basic forms will be "even more pared down [than the current model's]." McGovern told Motor Trend he will enhance its premium look with more and better-crafted external detailing. This is likely to include the jewelry around the lights, grille, and air vents.

The Range Rover's visual design will not be simply an upscaled Evoque. Rather than using the wedge stance or full surfaces, it will retain the formal and upright stance of the current model, with a deep greenhouse, sheer sides, square corners, and a level hood and roof. The interior will focus on higher-quality materials. Real metal will be used for large visible elements in the cabin, as well as switchgear and handles. Land Rover has employed ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, who has a successful fashion business, as a consultant to give the team new insights into high-value materials. Backseat comfort is a priority. Reclining climate-controlled rear seats will be an option, since many customers in emerging markets like as China and Russia use chauffeurs.

The aluminum monocoque is a major shift from the current model's steel chassis. Jaguar Land Rover has immense expertise in the area, with two generations of aluminum XJ under its belt. The structure will be pressed and riveted, with large, intricate aluminum castings for items such as the front suspension towers and cross beams. Certain areas of the XJ's understructure can be used, but the majority will be new to give the strength and wheel articulation required for an off-roader.

Land Rover has continuously upgraded the current Range Rover over the years, and its electrics and mainstay powertrains will remain largely unchanged because they are modern. For example, the new electrical architecture of the current model, shared with Jaguar, includes TFT virtual instruments and the unique "dualview" screen that allows the driver and front passenger to view entirely different content on the same screen, depending on their viewing angle. For North America, the 5.0-liter, direct-injection V-8 and its 500-plus-horsepower supercharged variant will remain. The ZF six-speed transmission will be ditched for an eight-speed with idle-stop. Combined with the reduced vehicle mass, this transmission should offer significant fuel savings.

Sustainability is becoming one of Range Rover's core values, so the company is testing several hybrid configurations. It already has a fleet of Range Rover Sport prototypes running diesel V-6s (the company's mainstay engine in Europe). These have an electric engine/generator incorporated in the transmission for full parallel hybrid drive. The system has a battery large enough to give plug-in capability, allowing about 20 miles of gentle urban running and cruising up to about 70 mph with the combustion engine switched off. The North American market is likely to get a gas V-6/electric hybrid, with the ZF eight-speed automatic, by 2013. This version is rumored to have a plug-in, electric-only range of 20 miles and a top speed of 120 mph.

The company is researching more radical range-extended EVs. It has built electrically driven Jaguar XJ prototypes with an elegantly simple lightweight 1.2-liter range extender engine designed by Lotus. Also, the company has recently started a U.K. government-funded program with Bladon Jets to incorporate an ultra-lightweight gas turbine as a range extender -- an engine that's very efficient when running at constant revs, as range extenders usually do.

The next Range Rover Sport will follow the 2013 Range Rover by a couple years. It will be based on the same aluminum body matrix, which is again a radical change because the current model is a relative of the LR4. The design of the next RRS will be curvier and have more obvious visual affinity with the Evoque.

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