Just A Box, But A Svelte Box.
The Range Rover has been the class act in 4x4 vehicles since its inception in 1970, although the original concept of a luxuriously trimmed four-wheel-drive station wagon must be credited to Kaiser-Jeep's Wagoneer back in the '60s, with honorable mention to International Harvester for its Travelall. The Range Rover has always had a patrician air no other SUV can approach, not even those from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Lexus may have higher build quality, but that company's top model still looks more like a tarted-up clumsy truck than a luxury vehicle you'd proudly drive to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.
The latest Land Rover product, the LR2, manages to preserve the visual aspect of the Range Rover in a smaller, lighter, and far more affordable form, more a rival to the Toyota RAV4 than to the biggest machines. The late David Bache brilliantly shaped the original two-door Range Rover, setting the tone for the next thirty-seven years, but almost all of the current range can be credited to design chief Geoff Upex, who retired at the end of last year after more than two decades in the trenches, serving British, German, and American owners of the iconic Land Rover brand.
One of the key design elements of the Range Rover and the best of its successors is that the overall formal volume is basically a box-a box with subtle and beautifully modulated surfaces, but still something simple and straightforward. The LR2 has a surprising amount of tumblehome. That is, the side windows lean inward at the top, rather more like what we expect in sport coupes than in 4x4s, which helps emphasize the fact that this is a passenger car, not a go-anywhere workhorse. It can and will go a lot of places, but its vocation is basically being a stylish family station wagon. For example, aluminum wheels seem unsuitable for serious off-roading, liable to break rather than bend, but are ideal for a trip to the mall.
There are a few things I dislike on this car, including the grille texture, the cowl side vents, and the little round lamps in the front bumper fascia. It's basically decent looking, however, and because the ensemble is simple and well-executed, it is apt to stay that way for years to come, just as the 1948 Land Rover did. The quality problems that have bedeviled Land Rover for decades need to be surmounted, because what was easy to fix with pliers and screwdrivers fifty years ago now requires elaborate computer equipment for diagnosis and rectification, and the slapdash fabrication that served for generations is no longer remotely acceptable. Land Rover functionality was so good that owners would manage to keep their vehicles going despite their weaknesses. That no longer applies, so let's hope that this latest version, although less capable in extremis off-road, is fully up to the task of holding its own with American, German, Korean, and Japanese 4x4s.