What do Queen Elizabeth II, Richard Branson and Barry Manilow reportedly have in common besides fat bank accounts? They all drive Range Rovers.

The British luxury SUV, along with its sibling Land Rover brand, has been a favorite of the pheasant hunting and winery-owning class, as well as rappers, rock stars, oil sheiks, private-equity managers and Hollywood elites. And in the last fifteen years or so in the U.S., it made the jump to American suburbs, almost never tackling terrain more adventurous than the speed bumps at Neimen Marcus parking lots.

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But while the vehicle has long represented a kind of indulgent luxury, exacerbated by the truly awful fuel economy that flashes at the driver as you drive--12mpg, 13 mpg--an all-new 2013 Range Rover that will hit U.S. dealerships early next year is lighter, more fuel efficient and sleeker looking without straying from the muscular curb-side presence of the iconic SUV. "We definitely set out to make a Range Rover that is more relevant than our current model to the luxury buyer now and for the next decade," says Range Rover design director Gerry McGovern.

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The statistics that are most impressive about the new Range Rover is 771 and 39, as in the whole vehicle is 771 pounds lighter than the current model, which will give it a huge boost in fuel economy, and the basic platform is 39% lighter. Those are huge reductions in weight without shrinking the car, a feat achieved by engineering a light-weight aluminum frame instead of steel. 'The aluminum structure actually makes it stronger," says McGovern to those who would question whether Range Rover has gone soft.

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In addition to making the car lighter, Range Rover has reduced the complexity of the vehicle's telematics and infotainment systems, cutting down the number of knobs and switches. We will have to wait for our test drive to say whether they got it right.

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The whole Range Rover and Land Rover product lineup is experiencing a renaissance under the ownership of Indian auto-making conglomerate Tata Group, which also owns Jaguar. The company bought the car and SUV business from Ford in 2008. THose brands got kind of lost amidst Ford's broader problems. For Tata, which makes vehicles under its own brand name for developing markets like India, South America, as well as buses, military vehicles and commercial vehicles, Jaguar and Range Rover are the company's only true global brands and ownership is focused on improving their sales worldwide.

The expectations for the new Range Rover are high considering the company's most recent new model design, the Range Rover Evoque, a smaller SUV that earned "SUV of the Year" honors from AOL Autos in 2011.

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McGovern, in a recent interview with AOL Autos, also confirmed that the company plans to re-introduce the "Defender" model to the U.S. The Defender, perhaps as iconic a design worldwide as the Jeep Wrangler, was discontinued in 1997. The Defender counts among its fans and followers the Lara Croft comic-book character, who was known to drive a Defender.

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The Defender will be a part of a wave of new products. For the first time, "we know what we're going to be doing over the next five, six, seven years," says McGovern, explaining why he sees Tata's ownership of the company more successful than Ford's.

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