The new model is the fourth generation of the classic Range Rover line, which has held an iconic position within the global motor industry for over four decades.
Developed to be the world’s most versatile motor car, the Range Rover was the first fully-capable luxury 4×4 when it was launched in 1970, and a milestone in the evolution of the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV).
Since that time, the popularity of the Range Rover concept has continued to grow around the world, and today it remains the ultimate choice for the luxury SUV customer.
“For everyone here at Land Rover, the Range Rover is a very special product,” said John Edwards, Land Rover Global Brand Director. “Originally launched over 40 years ago, the Range Rover holds a unique place in the history of motoring, and we are confident that this new model will continue that proud tradition.”
Evolution of a motoring icon
The Range Rover is firmly established as one of the most significant vehicles in the history of motoring, and was the world’s first vehicle as good on-road as off-road.
There have been three previous generations of Range Rover. The original, now known as the Classic, went on sale in 1970 and continued in production, with numerous upgrades and a multiplicity of variants, for just over 25 years.
The second-generation vehicle, known as the P38a, went on sale in 1994 and was replaced in 2001 by the current model. The continuing appeal of the unique Range Rover concept has ensured that this version has enjoyed higher annual sales than any previous models and continues to be popular around the world.
Sold in all key global markets, from London to Los Angeles, Sydney to Shanghai, Turin to Tokyo, the Range Rover remains the ultimate choice for the luxury SUV customer.
“The Range Rover is really four vehicles in one,” says John Edwards. “It’s a seven-days-a-week luxury motor car; a leisure vehicle that will range far and wide on the highways and noways of the world; a high performance car for long distance travel; and a working cross-country vehicle.”
From princes to politicians, from rock gods to rock climbers, from footballers to farmers, the Range Rover has always appealed to a diverse group of customers who value its unique breadth of capability.
Combining saloon comfort with Land Rover off-road ability
The inspiration for the original Range Rover came from the Rover car company’s engineering chief for new vehicle projects, Charles Spencer ‘Spen’ King, who worked mostly on Rover cars, not on Land Rover (at the time, Rover’s 4×4 wing).
“The idea was to combine the comfort and on-road ability of a Rover saloon with the off-road ability of a Land Rover,” said King. “Nobody was doing it at the time. It seemed worth a try and Land Rover needed a new product.”
Work on the first prototype Range Rover, then known as the ’100-inch station wagon’, began in 1966, inspired partly by the growing market for 4×4 leisure vehicles in North America.
“It was going to be a premium leisure vehicle, but not really a luxury vehicle,” says former project engineer Geof Miller. “It was also intended to be technically adventurous. Spen was convinced the vehicle must have car-like coil springs front and rear for on-road ride comfort, and no other 4×4 offered them. It needed very long travel suspension for off-road suppleness.” Other technical novelties would include an aluminium body (like the Land Rover), an all-aluminium engine and disc brakes all round.
Only 10 prototypes were built before the first production vehicle came down the Solihull production line. The actual Range Rover name was coined by stylist Tony Poole, after other model names – among them Panther and Leopard – were rejected.
Simple and iconic shape
A central element of the model’s appeal has been its iconic design – the shape of a Range Rover is instantly recognisable.
“It’s not difficult to see why it was so successful. Like the current version, the original Range Rover is such a simple and iconic shape,” said Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern.
Those iconic details are all there for a reason, for the Range Rover is a highly functional vehicle. The bonnet castellations improve the driver’s ability to see the corners of the car. They’re helpful in congested city driving, in parking, and when driving off-road. The ‘floating’ roof is partly an upshot of those comparatively thin pillars, to improve visibility.
The comparatively flat sides, and lack of ‘tumblehome’ curvature, allow driver and passenger to sit as far out as possible, improving visibility. Those relatively flat sides also improve the driver’s ability to judge vehicle width, important for manoeuvrability on- and off-road.
Even though it’s become a design classic – a model was displayed inside the Louvre in Paris, while an actual vehicle was simultaneously shown just outside – Spen King claims that ‘we probably only spent about 0.001 per cent of our time on the appearance’. Like many design greats, form followed function. The superb functionality led to a simple style and a simple shape.
The concept and basic shape – flat sides, thin roof pillars, short overhangs, all dimensions including wheelbase, upright nose and tail – was determined by engineers, principally King and chassis engineer Gordon Bashford. The initial press kit didn’t even talk about ‘design’.
The design, for King’s concept, came from David Bache, Rover’s design boss. He tidied up the King/Bashford proposal, adding his design ideas to the inherent functionality. In particular, he changed the grille and headlamps, and the tail lamps. He also altered the window surrounds and side swage lines. They were not major details, but they made a huge difference to the car’s presence and aesthetic appeal.
The Range Rover’s design has remained evolutionary. “The original vehicle was such a classic, that it made sense to retain the basic shape and keep the car’s classic design cues,” explained Gerry McGovern.
The second-generation vehicle, the P38a, was a ‘clean sheet’ design, but it soon became clear to the design team that they radically changed the style at their peril.
The key qualities they protected, as explained at launch, were: the command driving position, the floating roof, the deep glass area and low waistline, wrap-over bonnet (including ‘castle features’ on front edge), distinctive rear ‘E’ pillar, two-piece tailgate, the straight feature lines (no wedge or step in side styling) and the close wheel cuts (to improve stance).
All these classic Range Rover design cues continued with the third-generation model launched in 2001. The new car was bigger and more spacious. It also included eye-catching modern ‘jewellery’, including distinctive head- and tail-lamps and ‘Brunel’ finish power vents on the flanks.
This model was a more integrated ‘purer’ design than the P38a. Although subsequently upgraded with improved lights, grille, wheels and many other changes, the essential shape has stayed the same, and remains one of the most modern and desirable designs in the luxury 4×4 sector.
The interior saw a big improvement over its predecessor. The design team took inspiration from products as diverse as audio equipment, ocean-going yachts, first-class airline seating, fine furniture and jewellery. This was combined with the classic ‘wood and leather’ Range Rover experience. The result brought new levels of luxury to the Range Rover, and to the 4×4 market. It was subsequently described, by a number of commentators, as the finest cabin in motoring.
Through its development, the Range Rover also pioneered a wide range of key technologies within the SUV market, and was the first 4×4 to include features like ABS anti-lock brakes, electronic traction control, electronic air suspension, lightweight aluminium bodywork and advanced displays including TFT ‘virtual’ instruments and a ‘dual-view’ centre screen.
Global adventures and celebrity owners
Spectacular global adventures have been a regular part of the Range Rover heritage, and the vehicle followed in the wheel tracks of other Land Rover models in crossing deserts, climbing mountains, wading rivers and traversing swamps. That luxury touch in no way diminished the car’s adventurous spirit.
Even before the car went on sale, the Range Rover completed an arduous crossing of the Sahara driven by project engineers and technicians. Subsequent journeys took the vehicle across impenetrable swampland between Panama and Colombia called the Darien Gap; on the world’s first circumpolar journey around the globe; along the Great Divide, following the peaks of the Rockies; through the challenges of the Paris-Dakar and London-Sydney Marathon rallies; and on the arduous Camel Trophy events.
The Range Rover’s unmatched breadth of capability and iconic style have made it a favourite choice for countless celebrity owners, from princes to politicians, from rock gods to rock climbers, and from footballers to fashion models.
The many famous owners have included the British royal family, sports stars Greg Norman and Michael Jordan, musicians Bruce Springsteen and Madonna, movie stars Jack Nicholson and Keira Knightley, amongst countless others.
Range Rover timeline
A brief history of the iconic Range Rover line, from the earliest ground-breaking prototype in the 1960s to the arrival of the exciting new fourth-generation model in 2012:
1966 Work began on the first Range Rover prototype, known as the ’100-inch station wagon’
1970 The original two-door Range Rover – known as the Classic – goes on sale
1971 Range Rover receives the RAC Dewar award for outstanding technical achievement
1972 The Range Rover is the first vehicle to cross the Darien Gap on a British Army Trans-America expedition
1974 Range Rover completes west to east Sahara desert expedition – 7,500 miles in 100 days
1977 A modified Range Rover wins the 4×4 class in the London-Sydney Marathon, a gruelling 30,000 km (18,750 miles) event and the longest ever speed-based car rally
1979 A specially modified Range Rover wins the first Paris-Dakar rally (a Range Rover wins again in 1981)
1981 First production four-door Range Rover appears along with the first factory-produced limited-edition Range Rover – the ‘In Vogue’
1982 Automatic transmission becomes available on Range Rover
1983 Range Rover 5-speed manual gearbox is introduced
1985 The diesel-powered Range Rover ‘Bullet’ breaks 27 speed records, including a diesel record for averaging more than 100mph for 24 hours
1987 Range Rover launched in North America
1989 Range Rover is the world’s first 4×4 to be fitted with ABS anti-lock brakes
1990 Limited Edition CSK – named after founder Charles Spencer King – is launched as a sportier Range Rover
1992 Range Rover Classic is the world’s first 4×4 to be fitted with electronic traction control (ETC)
1992 Long-wheelbase LSE (known as County LWB in the US) launched
1992 Automatic electronic air suspension introduced, a world first for a 4×4
1994 Second-generation (P38a) Range Rover goes on sale
1996 Range Rover Classic bows out after total production of 317,615 units
1999 Limited Edition Range Rover Linley appears at London Motor Show
2001 All-new Range Rover (L322) launched
2002 Half-millionth Range Rover produced at the Solihull plant
2005 Second model line – the Range Rover Sport – launched
2006 Terrain Response® and TDV8 diesel introduced
2009 Range Rover features all-new LR-V8 5.0 and 5.0 supercharged petrol engines and technology updates
2010 Range Rover celebrates its 40th anniversary; new 4.4-litre LR-TDV8 diesel introduced with 8-speed automatic transmission and other enhancements
2010 All-new compact Range Rover Evoque revealed at the Paris Motor Show
2011 Range Rover Evoque enters production; vehicle receives 110 global awards and strong demand leads to production boost at Halewood facility
2012 All-new Range Rover (L405) revealed