Range Rover Makes the Best SUV in the World

Range Rover is about to release its all new Range Rover Velar, a not-quite-full size SUV that will fill a gap in the Range Rover lineup that you may not have known existed—right there between the Range Rover Sport and the wee Evoque. Built on a stretched version of the Jaguar platform that serves the F-Pace, XE, and XF, the Velar is a visual stunner, and will no doubt ably fly the RR brand flag of elegance, sophistication, on-road performance, and exquisite ride quality.

The Velar in not a game changer for Jaguar Land Rover or its parent company, Tata Motors. It’s more like a quadrupling down on what RR has already mastered: the art of the modern SUV. That’s not to say there isn’t some truth to the old Range Rover saw, If there’s no fluid under ’em, there’s no fluid left in ’em. If you know only one thing about the Range Rover, it’s that they’ve battled reliability issues for years. If you know two things, it’s that they’re expensive and perhaps unreliable. But the most important thing—the truest thing—that you should know is this: Right now, the planet around, Range Rover builds the best SUVs in the world. Period.

Recently, I drove the 2018 Land Rover Discovery solo on a multi-hour holiday weekend drive with two young children, a recipe for disaster. Go ahead and feel for me. I left at night, as the kids were theoretically falling asleep. The LR was the diesel V-6 variant, with a 22.5-gallon tank topped off, and Moana loaded onto a thumb drive plugged into the InControl infotainment system.

All arguments about the future or morality (or even criminality) of diesel aside, I love a diesel engine: That Discovery gave me a range of 500-plus miles. No stopping. Just me and my sleeping girls gliding through all that traffic atop our crappy, patchwork American interstate system. When I finally pulled into the driveway in Maine six hours later, they were still asleep, and the Disco’s tank was half full. I could have driven to Canada.

But what makes the Land Rover Discovery good is also what makes the Range Rover great. From the little Range Rover Evoque, with its surprisingly charming droptop option, to the mid-size Range Rover Sport, to the magnificent full-size Range Rover, which represents the ideal to which all SUVs must certainly aspire, there are qualities that are consistent. They are powerful, precise, luxurious, thoughtful, and unmistakably sui generis. Like the Basque language and basketball, the Range Rover has no antecedent. If you sit in the driver’s seat of a Range Rover, it is impossible to mistake it for any other SUV ever made.

And the brand has endured multiple owners across multiple continents (from North America to Europe to Asia), where it was smothered by varying degrees of absenteeism, sabotage, or crisis. Despite engineering disasters and some uninspired redesigns, the Range Rover retains all the things that made it so special and original to begin with.

First, a little history about the Range Rover brand.

The first Range Rover rolled off the factory floor in Solihull, England, in 1970. Rover, which became British Leyland in the late 1960s, had been looking for a new larger vehicle for a decade or so. So they developed a secret test vehicle and gave it the internal name “Velar” (a play on the Italian word, velare, which means disguise). Until the mid-’80s, the Range Rover had a single, two-door configuration with a boxy design that remains essentially intact today. JLR execs would argue all night long about the radically improved drag co-efficiency of the 2018 model. Fine. But it’s still a box. And that’s not a bad thing. No one has ever bought a Range Rover for the fuel efficiency.

The Range Rover wasn’t supposed to be a luxury vehicle, just a larger version of the Land Rover Series trucks. The seats were vinyl, the dash a spartan plastic affair. It was powered by a detuned, 153-horsepower version of Rover’s 3.5-liter, aluminum block V-8, which was originally developed by GM for Buick.

After years as a grey market staple, the Range Rover officially arrived in the United States in 1987, and sold just enough to capture the imagination of well-heeled America.

The 2018 Range Rover ($103,895)

It all starts with the Range Rover. Very little appears to have changed in this SUV since it first arrived in the US 30 years ago. It is still a big, boxy, gas guzzler with a greenhouse vast enough to grow row upon row of rose bushes inside. But the truth is, Range Rover has gone to great lengths to rebuild itself—and shed its reputation as unreliable—without tampering with the alchemy of the user experience. For starters, the new version saves weight after switching to an aluminum monocoque from steel, it is still a heavy ride.

The engine is a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 that makes 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is an 8-speed automatic. There are other variants in the full size Range Rover, including an economical V-6, but get real. You want the big guy. The fuel efficiency is characteristically poor (I never got better than 15 mpg driving around Brooklyn), but I didn’t really care. Everything else about this SUV had me in its thrall.

The two most important components of the Range Rover’s success are its imperiously luxurious design and its precision performance off-road and on. You know you’re in a big SUV because you sit above everything else on the road, and you feel wrapped in glass, with a better field of vision than any other car on the road. But once you fire up that V-8 and start weaving through traffic, the steering shrinks the SUV: It is sharper, more precise, better balanced than any other SUV, crossover, or even most sports cars on the road. No matter the road conditions, no matter the maneuver, there’s never a moment where the steering doesn’t place the big 5,000-pounder precisely where you want it. It’s like watching Jackie Gleason dance a tango.

Range Rover has a design language that seems to have evolved over centuries rather than decades. Even the power window switches, stubbornly placed atop the door sill rather than down by the handle like every other car on the road, emphasize the very Roverness of this SUV. It is a luxury vehicle first, and an SUV second. No one else has drawn the equation like that before.

The Range Rover Sport ($81,650)

Some people can’t handle the dimensions of the full size Range Rover. For them, the Range Rover Sport was introduced to compete directly with the top-selling Porsche Cayenne. It has all the leather-clad comforts of the Range Rover, and all of the distinctive design elements.

But it is, arguably, more manageably proportioned. It has two engine variants—a 340-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, or a notably quiet 254-hp 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6—and an aluminum monocoque. Beneath the unfussy and elegant cladding, an air suspension system with aluminum chassis arms, active shocks and anti-roll bars all conspire with new “low-hysteresis” air springs on the front axle. The aim was to arrive at a more serene ride. This has been achieved, in ways that every other carmaker is chasing.

The Range Rover Evoque ($43,000)

They said it shouldn’t be done: A baby Range Rover that comes with a ragtop variant. This is the most controversial of all Rovers, and in some ways the most courageous. A convertible crossover? Nissan tried that once with the hideous Murano CrossCabriolet. But in the end it sacrifices all too many practicalities (starting with, but not limited to, cargo space) in favor of making a fashion statement. If you have a house on Nantucket, you would consider buying an Evoque and leaving it there. Otherwise, it’s a decent all-season city car.

Range Rover Velar (starting at $50,000)

Will the fourth Range Rover, due in showrooms in a month or so, hue to the same high standards set by the full size Range Rover? We’ll see. It is expected to be the most high-tech of the four, available in three engines—a 247-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4, a 380-hp supercharged 3.0-liter V-6, and a 180-hp 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four. From the outside, its design is impeccable, with a floating roof, unbroken waistline, and the distinctive rounded corners of the modern Range Rover.

The expectations are high. After all, Range Rover makes the best SUV in the world.

Volkswagen Jumps on the V2V Bandwagon, Plans to Launch System in 2019

Your next car may not be able to drive itself, but it might be able to “talk” to other cars. Automakers like Cadillac are beginning to deploy vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V) systems that allow cars to send information back and forth using a WiFi-like communications band.

Now, Volkswagen is jumping on that, err, bandwagon. VW will begin selling cars equipped for V2V beginning in 2019. Initially, they will warn drivers of traffic hazards like construction zones. But Volkswagen hopes to partner with governments and other companies to expand the use of this tech.

At launch, VW claims its system will have the capability to warn drivers of potentially hazardous traffic conditions or weather. Some examples include warning nearby drivers when a car makes an emergency stop, or using onboard sensors to detect black ice, then sending that information to other cars.

Eventually, Volkswagen hopes to partner with emergency services to allow its cars to tell drivers when an emergency vehicle is coming–even if it’s too far away to see. It also wants to connect cars with infrastructure like traffic lights. VW’s Audi luxury division demonstrated a system that used similar to tech to predict when lights go green last year.

Volkswagen’s V2V pitch echoes that of other automakers, but VW will also have to deal with the same issues those companies face in implementing V2V. Because it relies on a network of cars transmitting and receiving information, V2V only becomes effective when a large number of “talking” cars are deployed.

VW may try to address that by making V2V standard, although it will still take awhile to amass a significant number of V2V-equipped cars. Another major issue is the government and emergency-service partnerships Volkswagen discussed. It will have to develop a lot of them in order to ensure all V2V features are available in all areas.

Implementation of V2V is more an issue of coordination than technology. Getting the various stakeholders together will be a challenge, and if they don’t cooperate, V2V may never get off the ground. After all, what good is a “talking” car if no one is listening?

Blueye Robotics Is Pioneering the Underwater Drone

While drones are increasingly affordable, they’re also starting to be found in more places than just above our heads. We recently covered MIT’s efforts to have drones not only traverse the sky but tread on land, and are now seeing a Norwegian company dipping their proverbial toes—and literal drones—into the oceans.

Blueye’s Pioneer is a “remote operated vehicle” ROV) drone equipped to descend as far as 450 feet and record and stream 1080p videos at 30 frames per second—all while being remotely controlled through a videogame console controller or through your smartphone. It doesn’t stop there, either—the Pioneer was specifically designed to be used in tandem with a virtual reality (VR) headset, which would allow users to immerse themselves into the experience as much as the Pioneer immerses itself into the seas.

With a purposefully lower price point than all other ROVs of its kind, as user-friendly as possible, and clocking in at a mere 18 pounds, the Pioneer will likely be the de facto underwater hobby drone to aim for. Blueye CEO Eric Dyrkoren said that this was exactly his goal— bringing professional underwater drone tech to the people.

“We wanted to make this technology available to many more people, we’ve been focusing on the design, the control system, and the camera,” said Dyrkoren. “It’s like playing a video game. It’s very easy to use and the video streaming is in real-time, we have very low-latency.”

There’s been a massive demand for the combination of drones and VR, and it seems like the Pioneer was birthed from not only a wish to make these underwater drones more affordable, but to capitalize on that niche of drones and gaming we’re all so fond of.

According to TheNextWeb, the Pioneer can be simply chucked into the ocean and easily started therein. There’s no need for a hub, a base, and it’s been tested for resilience and quality assurance for quite some time now. The Pioneer was even deployed in the Arctic, to test its mettle in harsh conditions like below freezing temperate and choppy waters.

Preorders have already begun for the ROV. You can check the product out in further detail here, before the item starts shipping next year, according to Blueye’s CEO. We’ll definitely keep an eye on this thing, as it seems like the first, true hobby underwater drone that some of us could actually afford. Stay tuned.

Porsche Relocating 1.5 Million Bees to Leipzig Factory Grounds

Porsche recently relocated 1.5 million endangered honey bees to an undeveloped patch of land at their Leipzig factory. If you haven’t heard, bee populations are in trouble around the world. And though they may occasionally sting us, we really need them to do their whole pollination thing; bees are beyond vital keeping most things alive on our planet.

The conundrum for the automotive enthusiast (which, if you are reading this at The Drive, most likely includes you) is that our beloved car is not exactly environmentally friendly. Even with electric cars, hybrids, alternative fuels, new emissions-scrubbing technologies, and everything “green” you can throw at a vehicle, your car is a rolling EPA Superfund site. If we want to continue to have nice things, we need to make sure we are doing what we can to help clean up the world. Which is what Porsche is doing with a frightening amount of bees.

According to a press release, Porsche giving a new home to 25 colonies of bees in off-road area of their Leipzig factory property. Porsche has used the land as a conservation area since they acquired it in 2000. The former military site has been completely transformed back to it’s natural state, and is home to many types of critters including birds, frogs, bats, insects, rabbits, wild horses, and 75 aurochs.

The bees can now do all their bee things without disturbing too many people. Plus, Porsche is going to harvest their honey, which will be used for “employee catering” at the Leipzig plant. If my German translation is correct, “employee catering” is a nice way of saying cafeteria. Though, this being Porsche, it’s probably the nicest lunch room you’ll ever see. Customers visiting the Leipzig plant may also get a chance to buy some Porsche honey later this year.

I can’t even imagine what Porsche honey would cost. Given that you can buy 100 Porsche 911-shaped paper clips for $20 versus 5000 regular paperclips for $17 on Amazon, I would guess the honey isn’t going to be cheap. But I bet it’ll be some of the best honey you’ll ever have.

Included in the press release was this great info-graphic about the Porsche bees.

You also might be asking “What exactly is an auroch?” Answer: it’s an extinct cattle that apparently Porsche (or someone) brought back to life. (No really, it was extinct.) Porsche is doing their part to be good environmental stewards, as should we all. So get out there, recycle some stuff, save a bee, and let some extinct mammal roam around in your backyard.