In the coming months, Land Rover will reveal the fifth-generation Range Rover. It will sit on the company's new Modular Longitudinal Architecture and be powered by a range of internal combustion, plug-in hybrid and, eventually, full-electric powertrains. It will be the most sophisticated and connected Range Rover yet.
Jaguar Land Rover has already invested billions into the MLA platform, which will underpin its luxury cars for years to come. On that ultra-modern architecture, the all-new Range Rover will arrive before the end of the year ready to punch back at a whole raft of luxury SUV rivals that simply didn't exist when the current L405 model arrived in 2012.
Perhaps more than any other brand in any sector of the market, Range Rover has been a marque under siege in recent times. For decades it had the ultra high-end 4x4 market more or less to itself, but in the years immediately after the L405 was launched the likes of Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Aston Martin all brought their own versions of the same basic concept to market. And that's just the Brits - the Mercedes-Maybach GLS, BMW X7 and Audi Q8 from Germany all piled ever more pressure onto the one-time monopolist.
And yet, there's still something about the old grandee. In 2019 some 53,000 Range Rovers found buyers around the world, barely any decline on 2018's figures. The current model still looks fresh, its cabin is sumptuous and it remains the most capable vehicle of its type away from paved roads. Not for a moment does that mean, however, there isn't room for improvement.
In fact, if the fifth-generation model isn't able to move the game on as comprehensively as did the fourth from the third, once-loyal customers might well find their eyes are drawn away from the Land Rover showroom and towards the Bentley, BMW or Audi dealership along the road.
The L405 revolutionised the Range Rover. Parent company Jaguar Land Rover invested £370m into upgrading manufacturing facilities alone, installing a new aluminium body shop at its Solihull site. It claimed the switch to aluminium reduced vehicle weight by as much 20 per cent. In an instant, the third-generation Range Rover appeared hopelessly out of date, its cabin and infotainment system clunky and the steel body punishingly heavy, while its exterior lines were made to seem antiquated by Gerry McGovern's crisp reimagining.
Don't expect the new Range Rover to stray too far from that look first laid down in 2012. The Velar and Evoque are variations on the theme, giving the Range Rover and its derivatives an instantly recognisable identity. We'll see that evolve rather than be thrown out for something new altogether: McGovern is already on record as saying the next Range Rover will be 'sleeker, smoother and sexier', but still understated. How little the L405 has dated in its nine years is testament to the foresight, as it were, of that original vision.
It was during the L405's time that the Range Rover Sport became a Range Rover in more than just name. The original shared its underpinnings with the Discovery 3 but was styled to look like a sportier, slightly scaled-down Range Rover. In fact the two were scarcely related at all. The L405, meanwhile, spawned the L494 Range Rover Sport in 2013 - beneath its similarly minimalist exterior styling was the same aluminium monocoque, making the pair true brethren.
The second-generation Range Rover Sport is unquestionably one of Land Rover's finest pieces of work to date. Cleverly it has outsold the full-size Range Rover two-to-one without ever seeming like the consolation prize. Over the years in these cars I have hammered along a Welsh forest rally stage, edged cautiously through the fuselage of a decommissioned Boeing 747, scrambled up muddy tracks at Land Rover's Eastnor Castle off-road experience centre that I wouldn't back myself to scale on foot, commuted along motorways and through cities, thundered over mountain B-roads I know as intimately as I do my own front room and driven four-up in a day, boot stuffed with snowboarding equipment, from home in Bristol to Mayrhofen in Austria, 924 miles away.
Only now is the L494 starting to feel its age. I borrowed a V6 diesel version last week and found its cabin not quite the rolling five-star hotel lounge I had expected, its ride quality only reasonable despite pillowy tyres and small wheels, isolation of road noise simply not good enough and the body structure too prone to flexing over poor surfaces like a shoe box without its lid.
There will be a new Range Rover Sport along shortly, but not before the Range Rover itself has been replaced. To bid farewell to the L405 in proper fashion, the company has deployed its Special Vehicle Operations division. The Range Rover SVAutobiography is the result. Available in Dynamic and Long Wheelbase specifications they are, says SVO boss Michael van Der Sande, 'the best that Range Rover has to offer.'
The shorter Dynamic is the one customers will drive themselves, while the Long Wheelbase is to be driven in. The latter has reclining rear chairs with acres of legroom, plus a chilled compartment for champagne, exceptionally soft quilted leather, lots of wood trim, a screen apiece for rear-seat passengers and a plush pillow on which to rest one's head. It's more private jet than luxury off-roader.
Both versions ride supremely well and suppress road and wind noise like only the best can. Despite their vast size they are easy to thread along narrow country roads thanks to expertly judged steering and faultless visibility. They also show off the dexterity of Jaguar Land Rover's venerable 5.0-litre supercharged V8. Here it develops 565 muted, well-mannered horses and the kind of surging torque that makes light work of even a 2.4-tonne car. It doesn't quite summon the Range Rover along the road with the effortlessness of gravity the way a silken V12 can, but it gets damn close. Elsewhere and as we know, this engine is a roaring, cackling, blood-thirsty beast. Odd to think these Range Rovers and the Jaguar F-Type R share a power unit. It's like having twins and watching one become a butler and the other a cage fighter.
Impressive though the SVAutobiography variants are, they too would benefit greatly from a stiffer body structure. Their cabins still feel opulent but also ripe for a total redesign - after a while, what was familiar just begins to feel old. With the new model's powertrains (including BMW's 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 to replace the supercharged 5.0 'AJ' unit, which is expected to be culled when the Euro 7 emissions regulations are introduced), communications systems and connectivity, Land Rover will probably take the greatest forward steps.
As the L405 prepares to bow out, its replacement waits in the wings. If Land Rover is able to take the same strides in 2021 as it did in 2012, the Range Rover will reign for another decade.
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