Isles of Wonder

Take me back to dear old Blighty…

Image: autoevolution

In July 2012, the London Olympic Games was officially opened with a spectacular opening ceremony created by a team under the curatorship of film director, Danny Boyle; a skilful weaving of a complex historical tale, combining creation myth, popular culture and a few pointed semi-political thrusts, not to mention no small measure of beauty, humour and outright whimsy to craft a compelling vision of a modern, pluralist Britain at peace with itself and its often troubled past[1].

At the time, there probably was not a more quintessentially British automobile extant than the Range Rover, with its unique blend of the time-honoured and the contemporary; with roots both of the land yet above it, despite more latterly forging a identity as a distinctly urban-centric creature. These qualities, while present from the outset, were both underlined and vulcanised by the 2002 L322 iteration, a car which despite its Anglo-German bloodline[2], maintained an insouciance, which successfully tempered its studied formality and ever-increasing mass. But by 2012, its successor was ready, and at that Autumn’s Paris motor show, an all new Range Rover[3] made its world debut.

Love it or loathe it, but the generational reinvention of the Range Rover remains not only a genuinely noteworthy automotive event, but from a purely creative and engineering perspective at least, one of the industry’s tougher gigs. Few cars have such a broad remit, carry such a hefty weight of historical baggage or are required to exhibit such a breadth of capabilities; for a Range Rover which cannot at least putatively tackle the Cairngorms or traverse the Gobi desert really is not up to the marque.

Image: Land Rover

During its predecessor’s gestation, Land Rover had changed hands, so it was somewhat uncanny that amid L405’s development, it was to do so again, this time (along with Jaguar) being purchased by Tata Motor, forming the Jaguar Land Rover combine. And while L405 may have been scoped, planned and defined under Ford’s Premier Automotive Group’s oversight, it would be the first new product which JLR could rightly claim as their own, with development taking place almost solely at Gaydon.

By then the Land Rover styling studios were headed by Gerry Mc Govern[4], no stranger to Warwickshire having cut several teeth at Gaydon prior to his Millennial sojourn in Detroit. Following him back across the Atlantic in 2007 was Phil Simmons, the designer responsible for the L322’s original styling theme, to head up the Range Rover design studio[5]. Under Mc Govern’s leadership, there would be a shift towards a more modernist aesthetic, one bearing (and still bears, one could argue) a homage, or a least a respectful nod towards the work of former Rover design lead, David Bache[6].

Image: autoevolution

Architecturally speaking, the L405’s foundation was an aluminium monocoque bodyshell, shared with the Range Rover Sport model which followed in 2013. Aluminium was also used extensively below-stairs, and amid the drivetrain in particular, which resulted in significant weight savings over the decidedly portly L322 predecessor. Technically, it was largely as before[7], with enhancements aimed at greater passenger comfort, refinement and isolation, befitting a luxury car – which the L405 unquestionably now was.

The L405 style was constrained jointly by the demands of tradition; the Range Rover visual identity had to be maintained, and ever-advancing regulatory mandates. As befitting a car intended for the second decade of the Millennium, efficiency would play a significant role in L405’s shaping, and since weight saving only goes so far, aerodynamics became more of a design priority. So too did a more commodious cabin, meaning a longer wheelbase to improve rear passenger accommodation.

The successful external design theme, credited to Frenchman, Samuel Chuffart, retained the core signifiers of RR identity, but the overall silhouette was sleeker, with cleaner flanks, a lower roofline, a more swept-back nose and a longer rear overhang – to allow for a larger luggage compartment. Detail niggles aside, no pooches were screwed.

The cabin design, overseen by LR Interior Design Chief, Adriana Monk, continued the clean-lined theme of its predecessor, but with greater refinement in materials, a reduced button count[8] and a further emphasis on the infotainment console. The trademark ‘command’ driving position was quite naturally retained, but the extra interior dimensions made for additional lounging space.

The result then, was a more relaxed demeanour, which perhaps lacked some of its predecessor’s gravitas, but overall, the 2012 RR still looked like money. A whole lot of it.

Bigger. Image: Amlu

However, while never a compact car, L405 saw it become a distinctly large one; arguably too much so for European cities, to say nothing of its more confined home market. But with the bulk of sales now stemming from the US, Gulf States and China, where these matters were not a consideration, this iteration marked the point where the full-fat Rangie became more of a ‘not for the likes of you’ proposition.

This was placed into even sharper relief by the 2013 introduction of a longer wheelbase version; the extra length[9] being concentrated aft of the centre pillar, making the RR a very large vehicle indeed, and in lavish Autobiography form, every inch the luxury limousine, with all the accoutrements of high living that entailed.

By the L405’s inception, rival premium luxury players were edging close to the RR’s positioning amid the upper echelons, but with Range Rover pushing ever further above and beyond, Gaydon retained its pre-eminence. But life would become more complex still towards the latter portion of the decade by the advent of Bentley and Rolls Royce dipping their hand-tooled Oxfords into the super-luxury all-terrain field, although both Bentayga and Cullinan served only to illustrate how little there truly was to be gained from spending a small fortune.

Image: dieselstation

The 2012 Olympic ceremony told a story of an idealised Britain, rather than the more divided one that actually existed and similarly, the L405 Range Rover wasn’t quite as advertised. Because just as Danny Boyle’s wide eyed vision of a broad-minded, open hearted Britain was rent asunder in the political and culture-war ferment that convulsed the nation later in the decade, this quintessentially British vehicle would become more illustrative of the United Kingdom’s lurch away from the utopian values so eloquently portrayed at London’s euphoric 2012 opening ceremony[10].

Nevertheless, putting aside some of the less palatable by-products of the Range Rover’s latter pre-eminence, one is left with an inescapable truth. For all of the might of JLR’s rival marques, and their €multi-billion efforts at unseating the Range Rover from its lofty perch, there is nothing which combines its mix of qualities and the sheer breadth of its abilities. The Range Rover, despite everything remains an isle of wonder – nobody does it better.

[1] In this instance, the past truly has become a foreign country.

[2] Well, if it was good enough for the House of Windsor…

[3] The 2012 RR was dubbed L405 internally.

[4] Mc Govern rejoined Land Rover in 2004 as Director, Advanced Design. He was appointed as overall Director of Design replacing Geoff Upex in 2006.

[5] Given the timeline, the degree of Simmons’ design influence on L405 is unclear.

[6] In the 2012 RR’s flanks one could perhaps discern faint reflections of the Rover P6. Similarly, in the grille’s graphic elements. 

[7] The RR was initially available with two diesel engine options: a 2993 cc V6 (254-296 hp/ 443-479 lb/ft) or a 4367 cc V8 (335 hp/ 546 lb/ft). Later, an SDV6 Hybrid was offered with 335 hp and 516 lb/ft). Petrol units ranged from 2995 cc supercharged AJV6 (335-375 hp/ 332 lb/ft) or the 4999 cc AJV8 in normally aspirated (370 hp/ 376 lb/ft) or supercharged (503-557 hp/ 461-516 lb/ft). In 2019, a 1999 cc four cylinder Ingenium petrol hybrid unit was introduced in selected markets (398 hp/ 472 lb/ft). All were mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission. The L405’s air suspension was electronically controlled, with automated load levelling. The Terrain Response system was also enhanced over that of the L322 model. Elements of the car’s electrical system and electronics was shared with Jaguar’s contemporary XJ saloon.

[8] Down by 50% allegedly. 

[9] All 8 additional inches of it – 7.3 inches being reserved for rear seat passengers. 

[9] Other views are available. 

In 2018, JLR displayed a two door Range Rover Coupé, which was to go into limited production. This however was cancelled owing (it was stated) to altered priorities at the JLR parent company. Few tears were shed. 

Sources: Carbodydesign/ Offroadrover/ Land Rover Media

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Isles of Wonder”

  1. I never liked, nor could I see the reason for, those silly ‘gills’ on the leading edge of the front doors. There is no rational reason for their existence. At least with the L322 the ‘gills’ were ahead of the doors, they could function as engine bay air outlets, (or at least look like they could), and their shape echoed the original Range Rover’s door handles. I really wonder why they are there. That, combined with lowering the lower edge of the bodyside groove, so much so that the ‘Bache groove’ ceases to exist, grates every time I see one.

    1. Don’t get me started on those headlight and tail-light ‘extensions’. If headlights are ‘eyes’, those are infected tear ducts. Again, what is the reason?

    2. David: From a guess, I would say the ‘extensions’ at both front and rear lamp units were to facilitate the fitment of US mandated side marker lights, rather than having to tack them on later. There may have been other reasons, but this makes the most sense to me. Like you, I never liked it aesthetically.

      I notice the designers have come up with a neater solution on the new model.

      The ‘gills’ are indeed a strange one. But there would have been a rationale. There always is.

    3. Yep, agree with that too. Here’s my cleaned up ‘classic’ L405, with the original first for comparison:

    4. That, IMHO, is much better. In classical modernism less is more, not a bore.
      Now it just needs the lower edge of ‘the groove’ at ‘rubbing strip height put back in and connecting the front and rear.

  2. Good morning Eóin. Looking at your photo of the L405 LWB in profile, it struck me that the imperious, upright proportions of the passenger cabin are not a million miles removed from this:

    It’s little wonder that Range Rovers are popular with those who are (or think they are) a class above the rest of us!

  3. Range Rover remains a remarkable tour the force, I think. It being the original, it’s the only SUV I can really stand. It’s probably also the only (or at least a very rare) non-German brand that gets true “premium” cred (usually being driven equally badly as well). For me, the design – including the most recent iteration – is an almost unqualified success, gill-shaped niggles aside.

    As for the state of Britain, the Green and Pleasant Land is slap bang in the middle of international trends, what with polarisation, a fractured political landscape (and a genuine threat to the democratic order) and an equally fractured social landscape being the norm in much of Europe and the US.

  4. Here are a couple of pictures of the two door Range Rover Coupé to which Eóin refers in the footnotes. The consensus view of the assembled commentariat was “Marina Coupé”, even though Land Rover HAD gone to the bother of making the doors longer.

    1. And another one:

      A few yards away, Peter Horbury was avoiding the great and the good and the media, and having an amiable chat with the bloke who was sweeping the floor of the JLR enclave.

      Geneva 2018 was also the show where the Centoventi and Toenail were shown as concepts. Good times.

      As Housman put it: “The happy highways where I went, and cannot come again.”

    2. Even they saw the need to resolve the ‘gills’ properly.

      As did Dutch based Niels van Roij Design in reviving the three-door Rangie. They left them off their Adventum Coupe.

  5. Though this is the first generation of Range Rovers I can’t really see anyone taking it off road for any sort of serious off-roading? Has anyone ever seen it off a gravel driveway even?

    1. The ones around here in rich farmer’s Hawkes Bay remain resolutely dirty. As if to say, ‘I’m rich enough to treat my Range Rover as a work vehicle, which it is.’

  6. For many years now the Range Rovers’ place on the farm and high street has been taken by the Discovery. The main reason for buying a new Range Rover these days is to show off your wealth, and you buy a Bentayga or Cullinan to show you’re wealthier than the bloke with the Range Rover.

    1. Well to the point.

      It reminds me of a quote attributed to Ferry Porsche: “We buy cars we don’t need, from money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”

  7. I like the L405, for reasons that have little to do with prestige or image.
    a) The seats are really, really good. This , plus the driving position makes it a very comfortable car to sit in.
    b) When fitted with the standard 20′ wheels, the ride quality is impeccable, both in terms of isolation as well as acoustics

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