But times are changing, even for Land Rover, which is also perhaps the most luxury-oriented of SUV manufacturers. The turnabout is caused by government regulation and the profitable application of science.
Governments worldwide are demanding that makers of cars and trucks deliver more fuel-efficient vehicles that also produce less in the way of tailpipe emissions. Vehicle manufacturers worldwide, despite expensive lobbying efforts to thwart or delay government regulation, have decided to comply.
In complying, the car companies have discovered several things they are not willing to speak loudly about for fear of tarnishing their muscle-bound, high-horsepower images. To wit:
●If they reduce the overall weight of their vehicles, they can reduce the size and fuel consumption of engines without undermining performance.
●They can use sensors and computers to more efficiently do what cables and gears once did.
●Big gasoline engines — V-12, V-8 and even V-6 models — are unnecessary at best and foolishly wasteful at worst in a world willing to kill for the next drop of oil.
None of this means that fuel-guzzling engines will disappear completely. As long as there is someone able and willing to buy a V-12, there will be someone to make and sell it. Logic in the automobile industry, as in almost everything else, inevitably yields to profit.
But big engines in the future will be the exception rather than the rule. The new Range Rover LR2 is the latest indication of that. Thanks to an increased use of high-strength, lightweight aluminum and other metals — and advances in engine design and computer controls — a smaller engine does not mean less fun for the driver in this case.
The base LR2, this week’s subject vehicle, sits at the bottom of the Range Rover line. It is equipped with a turbocharged (forced air) 2-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that develops 240 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque. Compare that with the 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine in the 2012 LR2, which delivers a maximum 230 horsepower and 234 foot-pounds of torque.
The new four-cylinder engine delivers more power and better fuel economy — 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway, compared with 15 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway in the 2012 model.
The new engine also weighs 88 pounds less than its predecessor and produces 12 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions.
The improved fuel economy is welcome, although neither set of mileage numbers is much cause for cheering.
But most people buying Range Rover vehicles, with prices ranging from $36,400 for the base LR2 to $75,645 for the Supercharged V-8 HSE, aren’t particularly concerned about fuel economy. They are attracted by the prestige of the marque, which apparently is a very strong selling point.
For example, in the Washington area, the fourth-largest market for luxury vehicles in the United States, Land Rover dealers are struggling to keep up with demand for their products, especially the high-end Range Rover HSE models and the new, compact Range Rover Evoque.
That could be a problem for the compact Range Rover LR2, slightly revised for 2013. It was not a hot seller with the old in-line six-cylinder engine. Better fuel economy may or may not do much for it with the new four-cylinder engine, especially when it’s lined up against the compact Range Rover Evoque, which shares the same engine.
Sex still sells in the automobile industry. By that measure, the Evoque obliterates the LR2 in terms of exterior and interior styling — and at least the illusion of overall better performance and handling.