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Futuristic SUV shoots for the Moon

Range Rover Discovery targets Virgin astronauts and parents headed to PTA

The Toronto Star for
NEW YORK, N.Y.?Range Rover pulled the wraps here from its latest concept SUV ? its most intelligent vehicle yet.

The Range Rover Discovery Vision features cameras underneath the engine compartment that capture the image of the ground the driver cannot see, then relay that image onto a heads-up display that stretches the width of the lower windshield.

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With this, there?s nothing hidden from the driver. It?s intended for extreme rocky terrain, although in practice, the Discovery?s drivers will probably spend more time in shopping mall parking lots than threading through the jungle.

The concept also features a nifty removable tablet that can be used as a remote control to operate the SUV from outside the vehicle. Again, this is supposed to be of more use on a tight mountain track than heading out to Parent-Teacher night.

It also has advanced gesture control, which will open the doors and control the lights and various other things with just a wave of the hand. Land Rover executives demonstrated how it works, but it?s probably best not combined with the remote control while navigating a mountain pass.

More practical is its clever seating for seven, in which the second and third rows are comprised of three seats and two seats that slide and lower individually. This creates all kinds of different configurations to make the very best use of available space.

The smart doohickeys on the Discovery Vision concept may not all come to fruition, but the next generation of the Discovery ? known as the LR4 in Canada and the U.S. ? is due next year and will be called the Discovery Sport.

When it arrives, it will help create a whole new line of SUVs for Land Rover. The company?s naming policy is currently a bit confusing and varies between North America and the rest of the world: there?s the basic LR2 and luxurious LR4, and then the Range Rover Sport and Range Rover.

Instead, there will soon be three families of vehicles made by Land Rover: the Defender series based around the LR2, which will be utilitarian and capable (think of the original ?Landie? used in African safaris), the Discovery series based around the LR4, which will be more luxurious and versatile, and the super-premium Range Rover series.

Although Land Rover was keen to show the world?s press its latest concept, what it really wanted to announce was a new partnership with Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson?s private spacecraft service.

Land Rover is now the official vehicle of Virgin Galactic, and the announcement was made on the U.S.S. Intrepid aircraft carrier in New York harbour, which is a fixed museum. A scale model of the Virgin spacecraft was parked alongside the Discovery Vision, one deck up from the Enterprise space shuttle.

This doesn?t mean there will soon be Land Rovers driving on the Moon. The SUVs will be used at the Virgin spaceport in New Mexico and will shuttle wealthy astronauts to the spacecraft.

Richard Branson intends to go up to space ? actually, five minutes at about 110,000 feet, high enough to be weightless ? later this year, followed by at least 700 people who have already paid $200,000 each for the 90-minute ride.

They will all be driven in Land Rovers and, although the ride may not be as exciting as the flight, they?ll surely be impressed.

Transportation for freelance writer Mark Richardson was provided by Land Rover. Email: