Range Rover unveils a more streamlined (and less hefty) SUV.

When one thinks of the rugged range rover suv, Weight Watchers is not the first thought that comes to mind. But this time around, the range rover team put its collective mind to not only making major changes, But to reduce the vehicle’s Weight footprint.

With lots of aluminum substituted for steel, the U.S. model has lost a rather spectacular 700 pounds. Most of the dieting will be unnoticed since the reduction as been applied to the chassis.

Truly everything else, except the power-plants, has received a substantial makeover. The engines are both V-8s with the standard version producing 375 horsepower, and in the Range Rover Supercharged edition going with 510 horses. Unlike the last model, the engines are tied to a brand new 8-speed automatic. With the loss of weight and the new transmission, acceleration improves from zero to 60 on both models-to 6.5 seconds with the standard engine (0.7 better), and 5.1 seconds with the upgraded model (0.8 better).

All-wheel drive is, as one would expect, standard on all models. Not only has the suspension been enhanced with aluminum components, but also wheel travel has been lengthened for a better ride and control. And for the true off-roaders, the suspension, unlike the last generation, automatically analyzes the road conditions and selects the appropriate terrain program. The range goes from general to grass/gravel/snow/ or mud or sand or rock crawling.

Exterior styling leaves no doubt that this is still a Range Rover with its rectangular lines. But when compared side-by-side, the newest version comes across as more modern, particularly in the headlight and taillight areas. Also airflow is improved, and the overall look is more refinned.

With the key on you, merely pulling the handle can open the driver door, and with that the new interior in laid out before you. Double-stitched leather is mixed with wood veneers and aluminum resulting in a clearly luxurious look and feel.

Dominating the dash are two video displays. The dash pod is about 12 inches wide and is supplemented with an 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment and other functions. This time around, Range Rover eliminated 50 percent of the buttons and switches to reduce clutter and confusion.

A new audio system has been added which is available with up to 29 speakers and 1,700 watts of earth scattering power. Additional options or features pending on model include massaging front seats, a small cooler in the front console, and two video screens for the rear passengers to watch DVDs.

For those in the rear compartment, overall legroom has jumped by almost 5 inches. And Range Rover has kept the unusual split rear gate with its true tailgate as well as a separate liftgate. Fortunately, it is completely electrically powered.

Interesting options include a huge full-size sliding glass roof with a dark tint to handle the sun. An electric-powered fabric cover can be employed for complete sun protection. A park-assist option will not only identify a parking space, but also maneuver the vehicle into the stall. Also available is a finve-camera system so you can see 360 degrees around the Rover.

With lots of sound insulation revisions, the interior is whisper-quiet even with power thrusts. Ride is comfortable and controlled. With the cleaned-up controls, the manipulation of data and functions is relatively easy.

So this time around, the distinctive Range Rover maintains its identity with more interior room, lighter weight, and greater luxury. Not bad for this fourth generation version.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Podium Raceway: it may appear to be child’s play, but the opposite is true. We wanted to take our niece and nephew to do something fun for their birthdays, and we ended up in Kapolei. The moment we walked into the indoor raceway and saw the electric karts whizzing around the track, our adrenaline started pumping and we signed up, too. After an initial brieThng and being outThtted with the proper gear, the kids raced away in the smaller k a r t s.

As soon as their race Thnished, we zoomed onto the track in our full-size karts. Race after race followed, and we all kept at it for over Thve hours. We whizzed, we slid, we crashed, we outpaced each other, and we laughed our heads off. Now, we go to Podium Raceway every chance we get- with or without kids. We’re a little embarrassed about this addiction, but not enough to stop…

Podium Raceway is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., except Fridays and Saturdays when it opens at 10 a.m. You have to be at least six years old and 55 inches tall to drive your own kart. All Thrst-time drivers are required to go through a brief introduction on how to operate the electric karts and a review of the safety rules. For more information, call 682-RACE or visit www. podiumraceway.com.

-Kitty Lagareta