Auto Evolution: From Hunting Partner to Huntington Beach – The Range Rover Story

Imagine a vehicle capable of taking you from a wild outdoor adventure to a relaxing cruise in the city. Easy, right? That's because the Rover Group already accomplished that by making Range Rover history in the '60s. Here's how a rugged off-roader became a symbol of royalty and prestige.
Land Rover Range Rover Evolution 16 photos
Photo: Land Rover/Edited
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British automaker Rover is known for producing various iconic automobiles, including one of the first 4x4 cars in the world to be available for general consumers – the Land Rover. These boxy all-terrain vehicles were very spartan instead of luxurious and were primarily utilized for agricultural and industrial purposes during the '40s. It wasn't until the '60s when Spencer King began developing a new model that would expand the usability of such vehicles. As chief engineer and nephew of the company's founders, King envisioned an unprecedented lineup combining the off-road chops of Land Rovers with the comforts of Rover sedans.

That idea turned into reality in the early '70s when the first-generation Range Rover hit public streets as a rugged yet posh two-door utility vehicle. Since then, the Range Rover family has expanded into multiple subcategories: the compact Evoque crossover, the midsize Velar, and the punchy Range Rover Sport.

For over 50 years, this luxury nameplate has been attaching itself to some of the most popular SUV models in the market, often overshadowing the rest of Land Rover's entire inventory. What started as a project that hoped to breathe new life into the nascent luxury SUV market ended up becoming a status symbol for celebrities and corporate executives alike. However, there's more to the Range Rover history than simply being an all-in-one solution for the upper class to get around.

First-generation Range Rover (1970 to 1996)

First Generation Range Rover
Photo: Land Rover
Range Rovers themselves already represent an evolution of the original Land-Rover, but that doesn't mean they stopped growing into something even bigger. The first-generation model is the perfect example of such progress, taking the company to greater heights. It was the first car exhibited in France's renowned Louvre Museum, the first to cross the infamously inaccessible Darién Gap, and even won the Paris-Dakar rally twice. As if those accolades weren't enough, the original Range Rover was also the first model to feature the company's permanent four-wheel drive system.

As for performance, the original Range Rover engine choices were quite beefy eight-cylinder power plants: 3.5 to 3.9-liter V8s capable of reaching up to 185 horsepower. The original Range Rover added a slew of upgrades throughout the years, making it the first 4X4 vehicle in the world to have electronic traction control, air suspension, and anti-lock brakes (ABS).

Production of first-gen Range Rovers ran for over two decades, transforming from a sporty two-door to a roomy four-door luxury cruiser within the same generation. It was so popular it resumed production even after its successor was introduced, bearing the "Range Rover Classic" name to avoid confusion. That said, it's no surprise why the first Range Rover was regarded as an "exemplary work of industrial design."

Second-generation Range Rover (1994 to 2002)

Second Generation Range Rover
Photo: Land Rover
After 24 years of redefining the image of luxury SUVs, it was time for the British marque to take its famous nameplate to its next step in evolution. While the second-generation Range Rover (AKA the P38A) might've kept some of its predecessor's external design cues, it improved on almost every aspect on the inside. Heated windscreen, satellite navigation, adjustable suspension, and a wealth of new interior tech features were now all part of Range Rover history. A longer wheelbase and five-door configuration became the new standard, along with receiving an oomph in power. The second generation Range Rover engine options featured upgraded 4-liter and 4.5-liter V8s, with output ranging from 185 to more than 220 horsepower.

Second-generation models were also the first Range Rovers to offer engine choices courtesy of BMW's turbo-diesel six-cylinder motors. The Range Rover successor served as a turning point for the company, marking the start of its new ownership under German automaker BMW. Unfortunately, this generation didn't last as long as its predecessor, eventually halting overall production in less than a decade.

Despite its shorter production run, the second generation still provided a glimpse into the Range Rover's future. Let's just say whatever happened afterward had more to do with glitz and glamour than outdoorsy adventure.

Third-generation Range Rover (2003 to 2012)

Third Generation Range Rover
Photo: Land Rover
Under BMW's wing, the third-generation Range Rover (AKA the L322) went into a crucial transition period that launched it into pop-culture stardom. Thanks to its yacht-inspired design, BMW's ubiquitous marketing promotions, and oodles of technological improvements, the Range Rover turned into a highly-coveted status symbol. It featured fully independent adjustable air suspension, shared various parts with BMW's top-of-the-line models, and carried more power than ever. The third-generation Range Rover engine options included everything from a 300-plus horsepower 4.4-liter eight-cylinder engine to a monstrous 500-plus-horsepower 5-liter supercharged V8.

During its decade-long production run, the celebrated nameplate underwent numerous phases. After all, it was a time when Land Rover was sold to Ford before finally being purchased by Indian automaker Tata Motors shortly after. All these changes contributed to the third gen's growth, while highlighting the Range Rover's eclectic evolution. This generation built the modern luxury SUV image the model is known for today. With its wider single-body design, refined square headlights, and updated interior, the new Range Rover was unlike any of its predecessors. It's been a Royal Family car for a good reason; a third-gen model was in the late Queen Elizabeth II's possession for a long time, with Her Majesty even taking a ride in one on her last birthday.

Fourth-generation Range Rover (2012 to 2021)

Fourth Generation Range Rover
Photo: Land Rover
Just when you thought the Range Rover had already reached its peak form, the fourth generation (AKA the L405) showed up at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, looking a lot sleeker. Land Rover's iconic SUV now sported a sharper front fascia, more efficient hybrid powertrain, and a lower weight. In fact, it was lauded for being the first SUV in the world to utilize an entirely aluminum uni-body chassis.

Doing so helped shed the Range Rover's weight by nearly a ton. The addition of a new Terrain Response 2 system helped these luxury SUVs crawl over rocks, tread sand, and even wade through up to 3 feet of water. Although the Mk4 Range Rover might be considered a "hybrid" at this point, it never stopped churning out even more power.

Its most potent configuration incorporates a massive 5-liter V8, now rated at a staggering 557 hp (565 PS). In comparison, its smaller 2-liter Ingenium inline-four hybrid counterpart puts out almost 400 horsepower – still enough to give top-shelf P38As a run for their money. From its redesigned LED headlights and lighter frame to its driver-assistance features and steering wheel-mounted touch controls, the fourth generation turned an already modern SUV into a cutting-edge marvel. Three face-lifts later, it was finally time for the L405 to make way for its successor, but not without first becoming one of the company's highest-selling Range Rover generation.

Fifth-generation Range Rover (2022)

Fifth Generation Range Rover
Photo: Land Rover
If previous models showed how well Range Rovers adapt to the ever-changing trends, the fifth generation (AKA the L460) shows how it will shape those trends in the future. The Mk5 represents the epitome of Land Rover's technological prowess, utilizing everything the company has learned so far to produce the most robust luxury SUV lineup yet. From an assortment of petrol and diesel engines to plug-in hybrids and the upcoming Range Rover EV, choices for the latest model are abundant. Performance-wise, the new Range Rover engine options comprise 3-liter turbo I6 hybrid power plants and 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8s generating up to 530 horsepower. While it might not be setting new power output records so far, the L460 did get a bump up in the handling department.

Its upgraded all-wheel steering setup has a smaller turning radius, making it the most maneuverable Range Rover ever made. L460s are now equipped with larger 23-inch wheels for the first time in Land Rover history. The esteemed nameplate seems to never stop evolving, as it continues making history more than half a century since its conception.

Of course, it never fell out of the Royal Family car fleet, either, with a certain Prince driving a 2022 Range Rover before it was even released. Gone are the days of rugged off-road 4X4s being driven predominantly by farmers and mountaineers. Considering how modern the fifth-generation Range Rover has become, its natural habitat has now evolved into an urban jungle rather than an actual one.
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About the author: Kyle Encina
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Kyle still remembers the times when people read magazines, after all that's what sparked his passion for cars and tech. In 2016, he's turned that passion into a journalism career fueled by a unique view afforded by his mix of philosophy and business degrees.
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