London to Marrakech and back in Range Rover’s own branded private charter. Well, my mother used to say, “firstly, get all the help you can in life, and secondly, when you travel, always do things you don’t get to do at home”…Well, this Marrakech weekend sure made these mere thoughts that cross your mind stick.
A smooth flight over Europe, fully-fuelled by the care and attentions of the hostesses, brought us into Marrakech Airport in perfect time for an evening reception planned at the newly opened Boutique Hotel, the Delano. The landing strip, still warm from the 38° day that went before us, was lined with welcoming ground-staff in pristine white uniforms, and the Salle d’Honneur, the VIP room which receives the “private-jet entourage,” had been readied for our arrival. A red velour passport control table had been set up, for our quick and easy Visa registrations, run by one of the main airport staff. But this November shift saw him merrily stamping our passports, as he sat beside a medley of refreshments, prepared to accommodate any possible need we might have wished for….transport??
Once checked and stamped, the warmth of the evening enveloped us on the other side of the VIP terminal. ”Please do not take any photos,” I was told in my ear, as I gasped at a line-up of 20 or more gleaming All-New Range Rovers, parked up in perfect alignment waiting to whisk us away… “There is nothing official going on…” Good, all clear, I thought, and walked, as ushered, towards a deep navy blue 4X4 – our time would come for wild photography, no doubt!
We are in for a full-on drive the next day. Gerry McGovern, Design Director for Land Rover and Range Rover, allows us an interview where we discuss the interplay of the heritage and the contemporary design of the All-New Range Rover. He knows his customers, and he knows his subject, and a factor which makes this off-roader so desirable is its successful design, comfort and the lightness of this first ever all-aluminium construction. It has total credibility.
An early start required sharp attention and in no time at all, I found myself negotiating manic Marrakech traffic – scooters, donkeys, bicycles, taxis, cars, lorries, hay-bales and leap-of-faith round-abouts – in a stunningly elegant All-New V8 Range Rover. This wasn’t my first visit to this town, but I would never have thought I would embrace such chaos with such calm!
The car took an unassuming position of grandeur in these busy roads, and seemed to be able to diplomatically make its way, almost as if communicating in the required terms that the locals instantly grasped. From the bustle of the city, past the madness of the suuqs and along the Menara gardens, we headed up into the Atlas Mountains. All the while, I am listening to the gentle briefing in my ear beside me. I could not be in better hands. My induction is very thorough and Chris Fox, Project Leader for the Chassis Engineering and my co-driver for the day, sticks by me and shares the challenges of the drive, as he too is here to get the most out of the car. His instructions: notes on crossing deep riverbeds, awareness about the children clambering onto the cars as we drive through the villages in the Atlas mountains, massive weather fronts looming and the previous week, the highest rain-fall in the last 18 years, so grounds are mobile and extreme ravine terrains challenging. This is going to require some nerves and steely confidence. Think best to let this highly anticipated 4X4 take charge, and watch its underpinning go to work.
Well, for all those who have owned and discovered all the best cars in the world, here is another that needs to be added to the wish list. As I drive down mud and stones into a river, I glance over the car window and see rapids rushing below, along with rocks and broken trees. I then bring back my focus to the job in hand to cross this raging riverbed, and wonder if it is not a Rolls Royce I stepped into by mistake, and I am now taking it on a wild-water rafting drive! The elegance of the car’s interior, its stealth-like control panels, indicating every inch of tyre-traction and the all Terrain Response System selected with a smooth rotary dial are in such harsh contrast to what is going on outside. What bodes to be a rocky ride is in fact as smooth and secure as the car’s design and technology all wrapped in one – a peerless ride! The car co-ordinates it all: engine, transmission, transfer case, suspension control, anti-lock braking and power steering.
We reach heights of 1825 metres in this region in Northern Africa. This is unquestionably one of the most outstanding regions of natural beauty, and as the backdrop to this unparalleled experience, it offers all the most challenging terrains to put this iconic new car through its paces. Back down at ground zero level, towards dusk, we head for one more exceptional drive outside Marrakech, which is the ravine drive. Parking up at the edge of a drop, to do another routine tyre check after the mountain runs (or so I think) is actually the start of the life-time experience in what can only be described as a real-life Playstation war-fare terrain, where we challenge the Range Rover to come through a hostile ravine unscathed by the massive boulders, rocks, gaping crevasses and broken trees. The engineer at the top of the ravine instructs me to “drive-on” into the void ahead, and NOT brake under any circumstance. After some questioning, I have to commit, and edging forward I watch the bonnet drop down into the ravine, and the car seems to level up the ground below. The fear of toppling the car sets my pulse rate soaring, but again Chris assures me this is impossible as the chassis has all areas covered down below, one tyre independently from the other. It is an absolutely breathtaking ride, and if there had been a scratch, Range Rover has brought out the entire body workshop and repairs unit to put any close shaves straight.
In the ravine, we set the car into Auto, the new TR2 function on the All-New Range Rover.
Selecting the Low Range & HDC manually, we drove on down! The car, sensing the angle and speed, engaged to operate in Hill Descent Control – completely self-taught.
Halfway along the ravine, we then manually selected Rock Crawl, which kept us in Low Range but also had first gear held up to a relatively high speed (12-15kph). Rock Crawl gave me complete optimised traction, composure (!!) and capability to tackle boulders and other large obstacles in my way, giving me extreme axle articulation. I would never attempt any of this without my newfound Rock Crawl!
Once we get back to base, the All-New Range Rover is parked up beside its Land Rover ancestors, which have also been brought out to the Palais Namaskar along with a pride of Land Rover Lions, designed and created for the Born Free Foundation. Richard Woolley, Studio Director at Land Rover Strategic Design, relays in his conversation with me that the key brief came from the long-standing and loyal client base who quite simply said: “Don’t change it; just make it better,” and he put pen to paper!
After dinner, at the most exquisite hotel Marrakech has on the map, the Palais Namaskar, I am given a smart beige golf-caddy to get myself back along the wet béton-ciré corridors dripping with jasmine flowers – no worries! But I do think I need a full-time intelligent 4WD system!
To watch our film about the All-New V8 Range Rover, click here.