For the third-generation Range Rover, codenamed L322, design director Geoff Upex and his team were given a clean sheet of paper by then-owner BMW. And when the new model was launched in 2002 – albeit under the guiding hand of Ford in the new millennium – a mix of big dimensions and traditional detailing gave it a stylish edge that its predecessor could never hope to emulate.
It was the first Range Rover to ditch a separate ladder-frame chassis in favour of monocoque construction, while four-wheel independent air-suspension was standard across the board. The L322 delivered a masterclass in on-road refinement and off-road ability, which was further enhanced with the introduction of Land Rover’s excellent Terrain Response system in 2007.
The company’s changes in ownership failed to have an impact on this Range Rover throughout its decade on sale, and the luxury 4x4 went from strength to strength. Early cars were powered by BMW-sourced petrol and diesel engines, but the later models benefited from Land Rover’s tie-up with Jaguar, so big petrol and diesel V8s were the order of the day.
The best of the bunch was the Ford-sourced 4.4-litre twin-turbodiesel V8 fitted to the car you see here. With 700Nm of torque it had plenty of pulling power, and while fuel economy of 30.1mpg isn’t anything to write home about, it’s far better than the 19mpg achieved by the 5.0-litre V8 supercharged version.
Inside, the Range Rover was more luxurious than ever, and its premium fit and finish only got better with age. It could easily rival the best limousines for comfort, and by the time of the final facelift at the end of 2011 the tight rear seats were the only things to let the interior down. As you’d expect, the cabin is trimmed from ceiling to floor in traditional wood and leather, yet the dials in front of the driver use hi-tech LCD technology. It’s a far cry from the utilitarian interior of the seventies original.
The car in our pictures is one of the last off the line, but a series of mild facelifts has ensured the L322 still looks fresh after a decade on the road. And those design flourishes mean it can’t be mistaken for anything other than a Range Rover. With its distinctive ‘floating roof’, clamshell bonnet and neat split-opening tailgate, the outgoing car’s bloodline is clear to see. Yet details such as the LED-encrusted bi-xenon headlamps and huge 20-inch alloys bring the styling bang up to date. The L322 is good to drive, too.
Both the supercharged petrol and V8 diesel provide deep-chested performance, allowing you to breeze past slower traffic in the blink of an eye, and the recently added eight-speed gearbox delivers silky-smooth shifts. Yet the virtual absence of wind and road noise means the Range Rover always seems like it’s travelling much slower.
It doesn’t feel as light as its successor, but the L322 is surprisingly agile. A high-set driving position, excellent visibility and faithful steering inspire confidence, while the permanent four-wheel-drive system delivers virtually unbreakable traction. And while there’s a fair amount of roll in corners, the payoff is an incredibly supple ride over bumps. Yet it’s the big Brit’s ability to mix this limo luxury with unstoppable off-road prowess that has always marked it out as something special – and the L322 is no exception.
As the first car to receive electronically controlled Terrain Response, it made heading into the rough stuff even more effortless. Using a simple rotary dial and a variety of buttons, drivers can choose between various settings – including Rock, Sand and Mud – that automatically tune the suspension and traction control to suit the conditions.
It’s testament to the brilliance of the original design that the car still feels at the top of its game, nearly a decade after making its debut. And while the all-new model sets even higher standards, the beautifully engineered L322 deserves its place on the list of all-time greats.