Land Rover instigated the whole luxury SUV market that has experienced so much growth in recent years with the Range Rover model that debuted in 1970, arriving in the U.S. for 1987. It has always remained a true Rubicon runner. Even as its live axles gave way to independent front and rear suspensions, it retained low-range capability and 7700-pound towing capacity while innovating the Terrain Response system that is finding imitators today and a state-of-the-off-road-art air suspension system. The company chose to launch its fourth-generation, all-aluminum Range Rover in Morocco -- where the original was supposed to be launched before logistical dilemmas moved the launch to Cornwall. Our drive coincided with Hurricane Sandy’s lashing of the American east coast, just as a smaller freak storm was lashing northeast Africa. But flash floods and road washouts are pretty easily taken in stride in a Range Rover.

After madly dashing to the test vehicles and plodding through growing puddles from the kite-surfing paradise of Essaouira to an area of coastal sand dunes, we get our first taste of the new Terrain Response 2 system. Its optional automatic mode empowers the computer to make decisions for the novice off-roader about throttle, transmission, differential locking, and hill-descent control (HDC) operation strategies based solely on the input from myriad sensors. For climbing these sodden dunes, we engage low range and raise the air suspension by 3 inches to its off-road mode. We also engage Sand mode to sharpen throttle response, disable HDC, and automatically lock the center and rear differentials at rest for maximum breakaway traction.

Because its 39-percent lighter aluminum bodyshell contributes to a total weight savings of about 700 pounds, there's less Rover to haul up these impressive dunes, and closer gear spacing in the ZF eight-speed automatic makes the job even easier for the largely carryover engines. Both dash displays can show the off-road info panel that indicates percent lock of the differentials, and peripherally monitoring their progression from green to orange provides a useful indication of changing grip conditions. The sand grip afforded by the closely spaced tread blocks on the Goodyear Eagle F1 AT (all terrain) tires is amazing at a reduced tire pressure of 25 psi.

After an hour or more in the soggy sandbox the terrain turns to shale and rock. The hearty Land Rover technicians braving the elements air our tires up to 38 psi for this stretch and I depress the Terrain Response 2 knob to engage automatic mode. Now HDC is operating and the speedometer is shaded green for 20 mph, the relevant range for rock crawling. Following my spotters' directions carefully, the new Range Rover tiptoes up and down impossible looking rocky paths with the surefootedness of a Himalayan tahr. Ground clearance and approach/departure angles are all improved (to 11.7 inches and 34.5/29.5 degrees) and a smooth, flush underbelly provides nothing for a rock to snag on.

Former gullies have become raging rivers, but they are of no concern to the new Rover's intake system which now has a wading depth of just under 3 feet; 7.9 inches deeper than before. With CNN footage of knee- and hip-deep roadways back home still fresh in my mind, this suddenly seems the new Rover's most pertinent advance.

All morning, video producer Rugg and myself have been coddled in the guilt-inducing comfort of our Autobiography model ($130,950 to start), swathed in twin-needle-stitched semi-analine leather accented by carbon-fiber trim, listening to 1700 watts of 3D surround Meridian audio through 29 speakers (a $4450 option). Our guilt comes from looking out the windows at our waterlogged hosts and imagining how so many of our friends on the northeast coast could better utilize the 3-foot-deep wading and interior comfort we're enjoying in Morocco.

Eventually we hit the toll-road toward Marrakech and marvel at the utter lack of road noise coming from tires that were slinging sand so effectively just hours ago. The combination of a super-low 0.35 drag coefficient (0.36 on S/C models) and nearly flush acoustically laminated side glass and windshield delivers library quiet at 70 mph. A cleaned-up touch-screen interface like the Evoque's makes do with half as many buttons as before and its screen gives Rugg the option of watching a movie on the same screen that's showing me the navigation. He could climb in back to enjoy electrically reclining heated and cooled seats (Autobiography model) boasting 4.7 inches of much needed additional legroom. Equipped with optional 22-inch tires, the Rover tops out at 155 mph, but our more off-road oriented tires are limited to 130. And the slipperier, lighter bodywork and eight-speed automatic improve fuel economy (and range) by about 8 percent. Traffic in suburban Marrakech affords a chance to sample the active cruise control's new traffic-jam stop-and-go capability, which scares me into hitting the brakes myself once.

The next morning, our plan to scale the highest pass in the Atlas Mountains is thwarted by washed out roads, so we set out instead on a one-lane, two-direction gravel ledge hogged out of the mountainside. The "kerb view" camera under the passenger side-view mirror (part of a affords a dramatic view straight down the unguarded drop-off. Today I also sample a naturally aspirated HSE model, the performance of which feels like less of a step down than before. Credit the eight-speed's closer gearing primarily, and perhaps the new variable intake's broadening of the torque curve.

Our run back down the mountain on tarmac provides the trip's only real opportunity to assess on-road handling, and the revised suspension geometry seems to maintain an impressively even keel even without the new Dynamic Response active anti-roll bar system that only comes on supercharged models. The electric power steering feels linear and quick to respond, but provides little feel or feedback. Of course, since steering isolation can prevent broken thumbs when rock crawling, we're inclined to give serious off-roaders a pass here. Both engine variants feel more agile -- narrowing the gap with the Range Rover Sport--and for most drivers I suspect the supercharged engine may not seem $11,450 more capable.

Morocco never used to see three days of hard rain in October, and storms like Sandy used to be incredibly rare, but we're warned that climate change will make weather increasingly harsh and unpredictable. We've always known that buyers of high-end SUVs seldom venture into the wilderness, but if Mother Nature is increasingly likely to make our roads into off-road adventures, then maybe the go-everywhere Range Rover makes more sense than it used to.


2013 Range Rover By The Numbers

Millions and millions: Total unique combinations of Rover's 37 paint colors (22 Autobiography only), 2 contrasting roof colors, 17 interior color schemes, 3 veneers, 3 headliner colors, and 8 wheel designs in 4 sizes.

300,000,000: Investment in UK Pounds Sterling ($490 million) in the new aluminum body shop at Solihull.

750,000: Number of vehicle test miles saved by employing some 1000 years' worth of computer processing time.

175,000: The number of individual design targets established for the 2013 Range Rover based on the design verification process inherited from Ford.

170: The number of countries the Range Rover will be sold in.

75: Number of pounds of recycled plastics in a Range Rover. The automaker expects to divert nearly 10,000 tons of material from landfill during this model's production run. That's equivalent to 3795 Range Rovers.

46: Percent reduction in carbon footprint per square meter of Bridge of Weir leather thanks to thermal regeneration and conversion of daily waste to heat.

What about a diesel?
Europeans have the choice of a nice 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel that produces 255 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque and a 4.4-liter V-8 turbodiesel good for 335 hp and 516 lb-ft. Spinning through the same ZF 8HP70 8-speed automatic, the V-6 is said to be good for a 7.4-second dash to 60 mph; the V-8 does it in 6.5 (same as the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter gas V-8). Sadly, there are currently no plans to federalize either diesel, though chief program engineer Alex Heslop admits there are no technical hurdles to doing so. Perhaps more interesting, and maybe more likely, would be introduction of a V-6 diesel hybrid drivetrain that is scheduled for certain European an Asian markets for later in 2013. Little is known about it as yet, except that CO2 output is 14 percent lower than the TDV-6, and 43 percent below that of our base gas V-8. A halo fuel-economy product like that could command bigger bucks and perhaps more easily clear the business-case hurdle for U.S. sales.


2013 Land Rover Range Rover
BASE PRICE $83,500-$130,950
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 4-5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINES 5.0L/375-hp/375-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8; 5.0L/510-hp/461-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4850-5150 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 115.0 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 196.8 x 78.1 x 72.3 in
0-60 MPH 5.1-6.5 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON N/A
ON SALE IN U.S. December 2012