With the arrival of a new two-wheel drive Evoque and rumors of the next Defender being built in India, change is taking place at Land Rover.
Regarded as one of the cornerstones of British engineering and an integral part of its culture, traditionalists have clung on to a nostalgic view of the company’s products for decades. However, the future has arrived and its new Indian owners don’t want to be restrained by old doctrines.
To keep the company relevant, it needs to move forward, and a huge team of engineers, designers and enthusiasts are making that happen as empathetically as possible.
Fortunately, the first big move has been eagerly accepted. The Range Rover Evoque is an international success. Surprisingly for a company that previously designed using a right-angle and ruler, it’s the cutting edge appearance that’s winning fans; the off-road ability is either taken for granted or less important to potential buyers.
However, Land Rover was keen to show us the Evoque goes through the same rigorous design, development and testing process as all its vehicles. During a recent trip to its engineering facility in the British Midlands, we discovered it’s as capable as any Landie before it, and new technology means future products will continue in this bold new direction.
Not since Bruce Wayne has anything useful emerged from a cave, but Jaguar Land Rover’s Virtual Reality Centre is the result of $4 million of investment that has produced a 3D cave powered by 16 computers controlling eight Sony HD projectors. Wearing 3D glasses, you can achieve total immersion in the virtual model. A series of cameras detect your position, allowing you to pass through the model, examining the position of details down to individual cables.
Computer modeling and simulation has allowed the company to reduce the cost and time of model development, reducing physical prototyping by 20% (although clay models are still used). It also allows crash simulation to take place and damage to be visualized. The vehicle can also be placed into simulated surroundings to look at scale, reflections, window apertures, etc.
There are thousands of applications for this new technology and the company is increasing its use.
It’s being employed in concert with new rapid prototyping technology, where physical 3D models can be produced in a matter of hours, saving valuable time in the design process.
A laser, commanded by CAD software, passes over resin powder. The heat builds durable resin prototypes a few microns at each pass. The piece can then be examined and even fitted to a prototype vehicle to ensure fit and finish. Once accepted, the parts can be manufactured but again, significant time and money is saved over traditional methods of prototype construction and modification.
However, the basics haven’t been forgotten. Land Rover is still staffed by engineers able to get a vehicle across wet grass or up an icy slope. They concentrate on seven primary surfaces, with wet grass being the most dastardly with its delicate surface and inconsistent grip.
Of course, they have to consider ground clearance, approach angles and ramp-over angles, but it’s not all off-roading these days. On-road performance is equally important, as is NVH, comfort and handling. Again, simulations are able to define these parameters, allowing virtual modeling to assess a design before the prototype is manufactured.
Once they reach the testing stage, Land Rover can use the Off-Road Dynamics facility at the Cranfield University in England. It has a giant sandpit that allows the content to be changed, but offers a consistent medium for development.
Armed with this understanding of Land Rover development, we were invited to Eastnor Castle, a stately home in the Malvern Hills whose estate provides a venue for the Land Rover Experience as well as product development.
Constructed in 1810, it’s a spectacular faux castle. Open to the public, it’s a wonderful place to visit but is best known as one of the ten venues in Great Britain for the Land Rover Experience.
Taking place around the world, the LR Experience can be a simple introduction to off-roading or an advanced course for driving techniques. Our session would be especially challenging since Britain had suffered one of its wettest winters on record – so it was very wet indeed!
As a result, the dirt roads had become a quagmire of wet, sticky clay, with mud-filled trenches reaching up to the sills. The steep inclines appeared insurmountable, and we were expecting to veer into the trees lining the route. However, these were Land Rovers. We had access to every model, from the new Evoque to the LR2, LR4, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. There was even a long-wheelbase Defender 110 along for company.
Imagining the worst, we were almost disappointed when each vehicle tackled the obstacles like it was a rainy day on a California freeway. Only the Evoque’s lower ride height required a little more thought in your approach angles, but otherwise, our muddy expedition was a breeze.
It was then that the stock road tires were pointed out. We’d assumed each car had off-road tires to achieve the near impossible, but instead we were on all-season freeway tires. This made the feat even more remarkable.
So while Land Rover may have introduced its first FWD model, is looking to replace the Defender with the DC100, is designing in virtual 3D and rapid prototyping in resin, it clearly hasn’t forgotten its history. Each of its vehicles is as impressive off-road as their reputation demands, while bringing you luxury and composure on-road. Where do we sign up?