Generation Gap: Ranking each and every Land Rover Range Rover

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We rank the family tree of one of the most interesting sport-utilities ever built

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The Range Rover is the priciest and best-known member of Land Rover’s family of SUVs, and it’s undergone an interesting journey that has seen it graduate from farm-hand to franchise player among the super-luxury set.

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Along the way, there have been more twists and turns in the Range Rover story than you’ll find in perhaps any other SUV’s origins, as the truck found itself buffeted by the economic realities of 1990s Britain before twirling in the winds of international ownership like some kind of 4×4 hot potato.

Here’s what we think of each and every generation of the Land Rover Range Rover, as we rank the family tree of one of the most interesting sport-utilities ever built.

1969-1996 Land Rover Range Rover Classic

A cutaway illustration of a classic Range Rover
A cutaway illustration of a classic Range Rover Photo by Land Rover

The truck that made Land Rover’s reputation in North America took an astonishingly long time to get here—’officially,’ that is. After just over a decade of sales as a two-door, utility-focused hauler suited for country-dwelling Brits and their open-minded European counterparts, Land Rover added an extra set of entry points to the Range Rover and watched as the rest of the world began to import the rugged, yet stylish SUV in surprisingly large numbers.

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Convinced of their potential in the United States thanks to this healthy grey market, Land Rover began official sales on this side of the Atlantic in 1987. All of those vehicles featured four doors and were initially outfitted with a 3.5-liter 150-horsepower V8 engine (with a larger 4.2-liter mill available by the end of its product run; and a 3.9-liter unit appearing as a bridge in 1989). Older trucks and Euro-sourced models had a wider range of drivetrains to choose from, but no version of the Range Rover could ever be accused of being a speed demon.

Instead, the Range Rover delivered go-anywhere ruggedness paired with an increasingly comfortable interior and an exclusivity not found in any of the Detroit- or Japan-built sport-utilities of the era. Featuring full-time four-wheel-drive and a four-speed automatic transmission, Land Rover’s leading light introduced an entire generation to genteel off-roading and played a major role in building an audience for its expanding line of SUVs in the 1990s.

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2013-present Land Rover Range Rover L405

A 2013 Land Rover Range Rover
A 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Photo by Land Rover

From the first to the last: the current version of the Land Rover Range Rover is by far the best of the breed, and only takes second spot in our rankings due to the cultural and business significant of its original ancestor.

When it appeared as a 2013 model the fourth-generation Range Rover (known internally as the L405) it was a veritable revolution for the brand’s top-tier truck. Now featuring an entirely-aluminum body, the Range Rover was nearly 700 pounds lighter than the third-gen SUV without sacrificing any strength or rigidity. It carried over the older model’s 5.0-liter 375-horsepower V8 engine that could also be had in a 510-horsepower supercharged edition, but it felt much fleeter of foot thanks to its serious weight drop. A supercharged V6 eventually took the place of the base V8 (nearly matching its output), and a turbodiesel and hybrid four-cylinder also found themselves entering the line-up. A long-wheelbase model further satisfied the needs of those for whom more is never enough.

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Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the current Range Rover is how well suited it feels to almost any driving mission. As a plush daily, it’s perfect, but it’s just as nimble parsing difficult terrain as it is pulling up to the valet stand. Quick enough to startle a sports sedan, quiet enough inside to enjoy the faintest strains of your favourite symphony over its stereo, and with enough room to haul whatever doesn’t fit into the Ferrari parked beside it in the garage, the latest Range Rover is perhaps the most versatile flagship ever conceived.

2003-2012 Land Rover Range Rover L322

A 2005 Land Rover Range Rover
A 2005 Land Rover Range Rover Photo by Land Rover

Things got weird for Land Rover in the early 2000s as the company’s ownership changed hands from BMW to Ford to Tata, all in the space of the L322 Range Rover’s lifetime. As a result, despite having been initially developed under BMW’s watchful eye, the vehicle’s engine bay was also graced by Ford-derived Jaguar power plants. This included a number of V8 and turbodiesel options, depending on which market it was sold in, generally creating a confusing mess for second-hand owners at the parts counter.

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That being said, the L322 was nearly as important as the Classic in terms of putting the Range Rover over with a new set of buyers. With dramatic looks that eschewed the conservatism that had come before it and a new performance mandate that considered straight-line speed and on-tarmac handling to be as important as fording streams and climbing over boulders, Land Rover was able to get the L322 in front of deep-pocketed customers who couldn’t find anything else like it on the market. It’s a short leap from this model Range Rover to the serious upshift in power and presence from Mercedes-Benz and BMW in the SUV segment starting in the late 2000s.

1994-2002 Land Rover Range Rover P38

A 2000 Land Rover Range Rover
A 2000 Land Rover Range Rover Photo by Land Rover

That production overlap you’re noticing with the Classic? It’s a reflection of the somewhat turbulent state of affairs at Land Rover in the mid-’90s. The second-generation Range Rover claimed to be a complete redesign versus the Classic, but its subdued looks (the result of a tight budget) didn’t push any boundaries in terms of style, nor did the vehicle follow through on any of the fantastical drivetrain promises made (V12 SUV, anyone?) in its early development stages.

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Instead, the P38 Range Rover kept on keepin’ on with pretty much the same set of attributes as the vehicle it replaced, featuring the choice of either diesel power; or one of two V8 engines that topped out at 225 horses. Interior trappings were modernized, and the vehicle’s air suspension system carried over from later versions of the Classic, where it was given a set of finicky computer controls for ride height adjustment.

Is there anything ‘wrong’ with the P38? Not really, aside from its glaring lack of reliability, a feature common to almost every Range Rover generation. Rather, it’s the lack of imagination behind the design that seems destined to keep the second go-around languishing at the back of the used car lot rather than claiming a front-row position at the local show-and-shine.

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