The Height of Luxury.

Image: caradisiac

Be it in art, commerce, cartography or simply behind the wheel of a large automobile, there has always been something to be said for an elevated position. Because in the motoring field (not to mention stream or bridleway), not only does stature have much to commend it, but on the thoroughfares and highways a loftier perch also serves to convey a distinct aura of superiority over the huddled masses below.

Despite Land Rover’s time-honoured marketing tag line[1], the modern Range Rover evokes images, less of the wild yonder so beloved of advertising creatives, but a distinctly more built-environment aesthetic. Certainly, when Gordon Bashford and Spen King defined the parameters for the 1970 original, the creation of a luxury car was furthest from their minds. Yet to a great extent, that is what the Range Rover evolved into, a matter which became solidified by its third and perhaps now definitive generation. Because regardless of where you might dwell upon the subject, the advent of the L322 marked the point where the RR truly came into its own.

The original car was by no means unique, but at its 1970 introduction, and for some considerable time thereafter, it was one with few meaningful rivals. This, and its inherent rightness in both conceptual and design terms ensured that the Range Rover became perhaps the most genuine and enduring success of the otherwise almost wholly lamentable British Leyland era.

Such was the parent company’s straitened circumstances during its gestation that when the second-generation (P38A)[2] RR emerged in 1994, it proved something of a disappointment, leaving many lamenting lost opportunities, not least new owners, BMW. The acquisition of Rover Group therefore, provided an opportunity for a once and for all resetting of boundaries, a matter entered into with some gusto in 1996 by an Anglo-German team of engineers and designers, reporting to Forschungs-und Innovationszentrum chief, Wolfgang Reitzle.

The Vierzylinder’s research and development supremo tasked design teams in both Munich and the British Midlands to propose competing design schemes for the new car, with a brief demanding nothing short of a complete restatement for the new Millennium, while maintaining a recognisable form language. The Munich team was headed by Briton, Ian Cameron, reporting to director of design, Chris Bangle; while at Gaydon, it was American, Don Wyatt, overseen by Rover Group design chief, Geoff Upex.

Top drawer. Image: netcarshow

The completed exterior design, based on an initial proposal by LR designer, Phil Simmons would prove a spectacular amalgam of both Munich and Gaydon craft. Modernist, yet wholly respectful of tradition; from its perfectly judged forms, careful detailing and superb proportions to its masterpiece cabin design, courtesy of Alan Sheppard, the third-generation RR would prove a design statement of the highest order.

With a development budget well in excess of anything Land Rover’s previous brand-stewards could have cobbled together, the engineering team were able to imbue the new RR, dubbed L322 internally[3] with a state of the art mono-body chassis design, with all-round independent height-adjustable air suspension. Full off-road capability could be taken for granted, with the the Munich connection allowing Land Rover to employ the most up to date electronic systems[4]. Rack and pinion steering was also a novelty in RR terms, making for a good deal more assurance on the open road. With so much engineering and creative input from Germany, it was little surprise that Land Rover also adopted several below-stairs items from Milbertshofen; the in-car entertainment system for example being shared with the contemporary 5 Series, as were the powertrains[5].

Image: Autoevolution

By the time the Range Rover made its global debut in 2001, the Bavarians had relinquished the driving seat, BMW having sold the entire Land Rover operation the previous year to Ford’s Premier Automotive Group for $2.6 billion. Ironically, Land Rover’s fortunes within the blue oval would once more be directed by none other than Wolfgang Reitzle, the former R&D chief having departed Milbertshofen in 1999.

Having by then a solid foothold amid the upmarket 4×4 firmament, L322 would have succeeded in the marketplace regardless, but in a world where passenger airliners could become weapons of mass destruction, affluent carbuyers who might previously have chosen a luxury saloon, began to feel more secure surrounded by castellations and turrets. Furthermore, with Porsche’s Cayenne entering the fray at the more emboldened end of the offroad spectrum, the paradigm was irreparably altered. So for Land Rover and its PAG stewards, the L322 couldn’t have arrived at a more apt moment – a matter which was reflected in strong sales.

Image: caradisiac

Having already supplanted BMW power with that of the Coventry cat, 2007 saw PAG put their stamp upon L322, with a surprisingly deep facelift, which belied first-glance scrutiny. Perhaps the least obvious, but most extensive of the changes was to the C-pillar, which on revised cars was hidden behind extended three quarter glazing[6]. New headlamp/ indicator units, a deeper, more imposing grille and an indented bumper/ apron to accommodate it were other more obvious changes. The cabin too received further trim and equipment enhancements, but was left fundamentally unchanged.

Bigger news lay beneath the bonnet, with the advent of the Ford/LR developed TDV8[7] diesel unit, providing the kind of imperious motive power the six cylinder BMW compression ignition powerplant, so overwhelmed by the RR’s not inconsiderable mass, struggled to attain. Further changes in 2009/10 (cabin and engines) brought the RR into line with the new for 2010 Jaguar XJ and would mark the final round of alterations before the model was phased out for its L405 successor in 2012.

Image: honestjohn

By then the L322 had become every inch an establishment luxury car, as default a social signifier as anyone’s S-Class. Equally at home amid the cityscape or on the country estate, the RR was a passport to the upper echelons. In many respects a modern day successor to Rover’s patrician P5 saloon; in as much the preserve of monarchs and Prime Ministers, to say nothing of the merely well-heeled; the L322 truly did go above and beyond. After all, everything seems better from a elevated state.

Further reading on L322 can be found in this highly recommended profile.

[1] Above and Beyond.

[2] Unable to afford a wholly new car, the P38A used the outgoing car as its basis. The lack of budget did the car few favours and it remains perhaps the least loved RR derivative of all.

[3] The car was initially dubbed L30 at Gaydon – the L322 designation being appended following the Ford takeover.

[4] The Range Rover gained Dynamic Stability Control, developed with Bosch (incorporating ABS), four-wheel traction control, corner brake control, brake assist, and Hill Descent Control.

[5] The mainstay power unit was a 282 hp (325 lb/ft) DOHC 32-valve 4398 cc V8, or a 2926 cc 170 hp (288 lb/ft) inline six turbodiesel, which was confined to European markets. Both five-speed automatic transmissions had a Steptronic manual override. BMW supplied engines to a unique Land Rover specification; its lubrication system capable of coping with 45° inclines; mountings and intakes were different; and the electronic throttle had two modes, providing longer pedal travel for off-road use.

[6] It’s tempting to view this as Wolfgang Reitzle putting his stamp definitively upon a design he took a great deal of initial interest in, before departing BMW’s FIZ while L30/L322 was still in gestation. 

[7] Jaguar’s DOHC AJV8 supplanted the BMW unit in 2005, available as 4394 cc (301 hp/ 325 lb/ft) in normally aspirated form or 4197 cc (395 hp/ 413 lb/ft) supercharged. The new for 2007 3630 cc TDV8 developed 268hp and a stonking 472 lb/ft of torque. 2009 saw the petrol unit upped to 4999 cc (370 hp/ 376 lb/ft normally aspirated) and (503 hp/ 461 lb/ft supercharged. In 2010 the TDV8 was upped to 4367 cc (309 hp/ 516 lb/ft). For 2007, Range Rovers also gained the more sophisticated LR-developed Terrain Response system.

Sources: The RAC/ Auto-Didakt.com/ Car Body Design/ Car and Driver

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

19 thoughts on “Elevation”

  1. I’ve owned a couple of these, what one might call “phase 1” L322s. On the whole they were a glorious triumph of design and engineering – retaining the imperious driving position from which to sneer at the peasantry; air suspension far superior to mere coil-sprung rivals; a truly opulent cabin etc. etc…

    It was all the BMW bits that let it down. The ZF transmission was right on the cusp of its torque capacity and as such would inevitably suffer a failure of a simple roller bearing that would lead to the whole ‘box requiring a partial rebuild (on one occasion I did this myself – $36 in parts and 18 hours of my life). The BMW V8, like almost anything BMW since 1997, was utter garbage with all the usual plastic bits/ Vanos failure/ coolant leaks inherent in a poor design. The electrics were the usual BMW glitchy, throwing arbitrary warnings on the dash readout.

    The best thing that happened to the RR was the switch to Jaguar mechanicals and the superior ZF 6 speed auto. The Jag V8 is substantially more reliable (less likely to break but more expensive to fix, so they say) even in Supercharged form. The diesel similar (not available where I live though). Were I to get another (I’m not ruling it out) I would go for the n/a Jaguar engine’d one (in lieu of the TDV8 of course).

    1. Jeff: The 3.6 litre TDV8 was a gem of an engine – not a term I’d use loosely regarding a compression-ignition power unit – and one that suited the RR admirably.

  2. The footnotes remind me of Nicholson Baker´s lovely book The Mezzanine where they stretched across several pages. The work done by McGovern and co. amounts to a striking statement of modern car design, both inside and out. When many other companies were cluttering exteriors with swages, making gargoyle faces at the front and channelling Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry on the interior, LR was applying simplicity. Of course there are niggles but not more than that. You need a whole other mindset to like a modern Lexus, for example.

    1. For clarity Richard, Gerry Mc Govern was busily crafting a new vision for Lincoln in Dearborn while the L30/L322 Rangie was being designed. He rejoined Land Rover in 2002, so any influence he might have brought to bear would have been upon the facelifted car. But aside from matters of attribution, your point stands.

    2. Eóin, the diesel in its most modern form is/was all but non-existent here in North America. Cars for which Diesel is the obvious choice in Europe (the Range Rover etc.) are all petrol. I had an LR3 (Discovery 3 everywhere else) where the poverty-spec engine was a 4 litre Ford Cologne V6 rather than the diesel option the rest of the world would have got.

  3. Good morning Eóin. I had not noticed the change in the glazing on the facelifted L322, but it’s clear in these two photos of pre and post-facelift examples:

    More generally, I find myself consistently disappointed by Land Rover and Range Rover facelifts. All they ever seem to do is add fussier and more glitzy lights and grilles, which distract the away from the rightness of the original design. The Discovery 3/4 was progressively ruined by such facelifts.

    1. It´s really hard to spot the difference between “before” and “later”.
      About the facelifts, none have troubled me especially. It´s hard to do much to a design where there´s so little flab to begin with.

    2. Hi Richard. How about this, then? Original Discovery 3, followed by facelifted Discovery 4:

    3. Daniel: yes, it´s not as good. It´s still not terrible and in the streets doesn´t stand out as much as it does in the side-by-comparison.

  4. What really upsets me about that Disco, more than the dodgy ‘facelift’, is the black band inside the base of the screen. It is radiused where it meets the A pillar, and that looks so very wrong.

    1. Yes, this site spoils almost every new car purchase.
      Even if I had ever intended to buy a Disco, I definitely can’t now.
      Thanks to DTW, I have saved a lot of money again.

      And before I’d buy the big Range Rover because I want to sit higher, I’d rather get a ’51 Pontiac straight-8 – a good one is probably in the same price range and the driver’s seat is about the same height. (I’d still have to endure some jokes at the DTW annual meeting – if I could find out the place by bribery – because of all the chrome ornaments, but at least I could talk my way out of exclusivity).

    2. Since my first licence pre-dated HGV licenses, I did a few trips between England and Ireland in Lorries, and subsequently a lot more in Transits, so a “loftier perch” does not convey a feeling of luxury to me. The only time I drove an RR ( a Mk 1 ) I thought it rather like being on horseback – that is to say I felt less than safe, like I might fall out through the deep window.

    3. On the facelifted Discovery, that black band at the base of the windscreen is the inspiration for the equally awkward black gloss ‘U’ shaped trim around the front grille. Two wrongs…

  5. Dearest RR, I forgive you for being an SUV because you are the real deal (still, I think, maybe), although if I owned you, I’d never think to rinse you out with a hose.

    I forgive you for being shaped like a brick, because off-roading, nor for that matter, posing are at all about swiftness. I forgive your increasingly tasteless and baroque and obviously unnecessary wing vents because surely Ian Callum is a beloved mentor of GMG, and because they aren’t even on the wings anymore, so even five year olds aren’t fooled.

    I identify with your ever expanding girth and mass, just like the paunch I didn’t have when I was twenty either.

    I hope you don’t feel forlorn in a sea of siblings and as always, imitators who pale when compared, and I wish you more fortunate future facelifts than you’ve been accustomed to of late.

    I am comforted by the thought that there will always be an England, and likewise English cars, although apparently I’ll never be able to afford any of them going forward.

  6. It’s funny – I live in a fairly rural area and I’ve noticed that most people have pretty ordinary vehicles – not SUVs. I think those who live a ‘mud & manure’ lifestyle like to try to pretend that there is a more normal aspect to their existence by buying ‘normal’ cars. I guess the novelty of sitting up high wears off if you regularly drive a tractor.

    Conversely, those who live in urban areas seem to like to shut themselves away and look down at others in SUVs. Mind you, I always enjoyed travelling on the top deck of a bus, so I can see the attraction.

  7. with this generation, Range Rovers started to encapsulate all that is wrong with this world. It’s the horror on wheels, almost always driven by ruthless wannabe (or indeed real) oligarchs or their fully upholstered wifes and mistresses. Or spawn.

    I hate it.

    1. I have owned 10 RR from a 2 door up to the l322 witch I have 2 at the moment both have BMW engine’s witch I think is the most reliable engine ever put in to the RR it’s the 5 speed auto box 5l40e which is total junk I have had to rebuild it twice on 1 and once on the other I have got so feed up with the auto’s I am now making one them a manual.

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