Curbside Classic: The 2003-2012 “L322” Range Rover – New Heights & Horizons

A History of the Range Rover

The Range Rover debuted in 1970, under the Land Rover brand. While it was nicer than the existing “Series” Land Rover truck, it was still a fairly agricultural, basic thing even by contemporary standards. The original Range Rover was a two-door proto-SUV; the four-door did not arrive until 1981. US customers had to rely upon grey-market imports until Land Rover officially brought the truck to the country in 1987, and by then, it had become quite a tony thing to drive. The first-generation model, retroactively known as the Range Rover Classic lasted until 1996, or so, but its successor arrived in 1994.

A 1994 Range Rover Classic


That successor was the second-generation Range Rover, known as the P38A (named for the building in which it was developed). The body was completely new and more modern than before, but the chassis was an updated version of the one that underpinned the Classic. It enjoyed improved V8 engines and modern electronics, and as such, it found further market appeal, especially among celebrities and in the trendy hip-hop scene. I’m reminded of the song Doin’ It by LL Cool J, which was apparently so nasty that the man’s wife ignored him for a month when she heard it (why I was allowed to listen to that as a young child, I’ll never know). Nevertheless, the music video featured LL Cool J himself driving a P38A.

The P38A Range Rover


And that brings us to the mid-nineties, during which time Land Rover found itself in an interesting position.

In January of 1994, BMW Group purchased the struggling Rover Group in 1994. In addition to the Rover and Land Rover, brands that conglomerate also included Austin-Healey, MG, Mini, Riley, and Triumph. BMW’s reasons for doing so were unclear, but the £800M paid for the whole lot was seen as a bargain. Rover Group’s former owner, British Aerospace, also made off well. It had purchased the lot for just £150M in 1988, formed an allegiance with Honda that reduced development costs substantially, and mostly canceled whatever didn’t fit into that mold. That’s a pretty tidy profit for having done so little. So, while it was too late for BMW’s massive engineering resources to have any impact on the P38A—which was on the eve of its market release—the upcoming third-generation Range Rover would certainly benefit. But even that was a complicated story.

The L30 Enters Development Under BMW Group

Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle, the no-2-in-command at BMW, oversaw the new project.  Development of the third-generation Range Rover began under Reitzle as early as 1995, right after the BMW acquisition. BMW’s philosophy was that the Rover V8s, ladder-frame platforms with solid axles and general electrical architecture were dated and unsuitable, and that the P38A was more of a holdover than anything. The new Range Rover would come along sooner than expected (canceling a planned major update of the P38A in 1999) and would be their first opportunity to integrate Land Rover with BMW. So, in keeping with BMW parlance, the car was immediately given a letter-and-two-digits project/chassis code, “L” representing Land Rover. Further Land Rovers would have used that template.

It was decided early on that the L30 would use as many BMW parts as it could, notably powertrain packages and electronics. At the time, BMW was already in a partnership with Rolls-Royce Motors (the then-makers of Bentley and Rolls-Royce vehicles), and was busy stuffing those brands’ soon-to-be-released core P2000 (Bentley Arnage) and P3000 (Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph) models full of BMW engineering. So, they were already familiar with sharing their technology with other brands, and this one would be even easier since they now owned Land Rover.

The 1998 Bentley Arnage (Left) and 1998 Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph (Right) would represent BMW’s first visible involvement with Crewe. The Arnage got a 4.4-liter “M62” V8 modified with a pair of turbochargers by Cosworth, while the Silver Seraph received an off-the-shelf 5.4-liter “M73” V12.


At some point, BMW declared that the L30 would need to be a stiff unibody vehicle with independent suspension, rather than the traditional body-on-frame arrangement. Whether that was because BMW itself had no real expertise in BOF vehicles or because of a unibody and independent suspension’s actual advantages in blending capability with road comfort and handling is unclear. But it wasn’t exactly a novel concept. Jeep’s Cherokee and Grand Cherokee had been doing it since 1984 and 1993, respectively, and the new-for-1995 Nissan Pathfinder had also switched to unibody. Everyone on the L30 project was also determined that the vehicle should remain at least as capable as the P38A was, so standard air suspension, a two-speed transfer case, and a locking center differential were givens. As far as the engines, those would assuredly come from BMW. The core unit was to be a version of BMW’s 4.4-liter M62 V8, as used in the later -40i vehicles (540i, 740i/iL, 840i), with a specially designed oil pan so that it didn’t starve for oil at any of the L30’s intense approach or departure angles.

BMW and Dr. Reitzle also had final say in the design of the vehicle. Design efforts were spearheaded principally by Geoff Upex (Head of Rover Design) and his lead, Don Wyatt. The BMW overlords tasked the two men with the challenge of coming up with a design that was at once new—as in, not based upon the Classic or the P38A—and yet immediately recognizable as a Range Rover. In addition, they would compete with BMW’s own designers (notably Chris Bangle) and with Design Research Associates (DRA), an outside firm. Because of the context of increasing involvement from German automakers on storied British brands, there was a healthy dose of Anglo-Saxon competition in the design challenge. The Land Rover team wanted to make sure that their car at least looked British. And so Upex and Wyatt asked their designers to take all the most recognizable Range Rover motifs: the linear front and rear fascias, the crenellated clamshell hood, the floating roof, the upright greenhouse, the sloped rear, and the two-piece split tailgate…and bring them forward into the 2000s. To make a long story short, the greenlit exterior design ended up coming from one of the Land Rover designers, a man called Phil Simmonds, with only light involvement from BMW. That approval came from Dr. Reitzle in December 1997.

An early design sketch for the L30


Less is known about the gestation of the interior design, but early sketches show that the vehicle was always going to have a strong vertical, architectural theme that played with textures and contrasting colors. It would continue to look masculine and truck-like, but would also be world-class and inviting for anyone lucky enough to sit in it.


An interior sketch for the L30, somewhere in the process

The L30 becomes the L322

For reasons not strictly specified, by 1999, BMW found itself disillusioned with the whole Rover project, and particularly Land Rover. But it wasn’t difficult to guess why. The L30 had already cost significant sums of money to develop, and really the whole lineup needed redoing. Even the newly introduced Discovery Series II was an update on the Series I would soon need replacement. And the new Freelander, while a hit with the public, relied upon low-volume and soon-to-be-phased out technology from the Rover days. To say nothing of the positively ancient Defender. There were also political forces within BMW at play, and external market pressures, such as the Sterling’s large increase in value during the late nineties. Most damning, BMW’s expected outlay on all the upcoming projects from Rover, MINI and MG looked like it was about to devalue BMW’s own stock prices. That was a no-go.

And BMW had another expensive project to finance. Remember Rolls-Royce Motors? Well, it’s a whole story, but basically Vickers, the then-current owners of Rolls-Royce Motors (henceforth referred to as Crewe, as that’s where they were based) placed the companies for sale in the late 90s and began accepting bids. BMW was the favored buyer, since it already had a relationship with the company as a key supplier, but Volkswagen Group swooped in at the last second and outbid BMW, paying £430M for the lot. Or so VW thought. While it did indeed win the Bentley brand and trademarks, the factory and headquarters in Crewe, and the non-BMW intellectual property…it did not win the use of the Rolls-Royce name or trademarks. Apparently, Vickers and Crewe didn’t own those; they were licensed from Rolls-Royce Aerospace and the license did not transfer to VW. BMW shrewdly swooped in and licensed the Rolls-Royce trademarks for automotive use, for just £40M. VW certainly had egg on its face after that, because many pundits believed that the Rolls-Royce name and trademarks were the most valuable portions of the deal.

What followed was a 10-month, acrimonious battle between BMW and VW in which BMW threatened to sue VW for continuing to build Rolls-Royce cars and to exercise its right to cancel its supplier agreement to Crewe with a year’s notice. Eventually, the two Teutonic enemies came to an agreement. VW needed time to phase out all the BMW technology on the Bentleys, while BMW needed Crewe-under-VW to continue to make Rolls-Royces until it could essentially relaunch the brand under a new company and with new products and a new factory. That company was Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, and its debut was the striking 2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom (VII). What used to be Rolls-Royce Motors/Crewe, the old company, is now Bentley Motors and continues to make Bentley cars and provides parts and support for the pre-BMW Rolls-Royces. But it was a truly pricey undertaking for BMW to relaunch Rolls-Royce, and I’m confident that’s one of the reasons the Rover Group enterprise got the old heave-ho. While BMW retained MINI, having already invested a ton into that brand’s rebirth, it sold the other brands to the Phoenix Consortium. And as for Land Rover? Read on.

The 2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom (VII). This bad boy couldn’t have been cheap to develop.


In 1999, Dr. Reitzle left BMW under auspicious circumstances and joined Ford Motor Company, where he became in charge of the company’s newly formed Premier Automotive Group (PAG). PAG included all the existing FoMoCo premium brands: Aston Martin, Jaguar, Lincoln, Mercury, and Volvo. This is likely the connection that made Ford a suitor and spurred it to purchase Land Rover from BMW in 2000. It helped that Ford already owned Jaguar and Aston Martin—also British—and there could potentially be some engineering and manufacturing sharing between the three, particularly Jaguar and Land Rover. Plus, Jaguar and Land Rover had both been part of British Leyland, in the past, before British Leyland spun off Jaguar in 1982 and then Ford acquired it in 1990. So, buying Land Rover was sort of like Ford adopting “the other orphan.” But either way, Dr. Reitzle got his baby back and Ford now had an interesting new product in its portfolio.

But that left the L30 in a precarious position. It was somewhere toward the tail end of development. This is where we get into a bit of unverified lore, but it’s too juicy not to share. You’ll recall the eventual 2002 “E65” BMW 7 Series, which was a lot of firsts for BMW. Notably, it was the car that debuted BMW’s iDrive and the new-generation electrical architecture and the ZF 6-speed automatic. The 2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom also shared that electrical architecture and the ZF 6-speed. Allegedly—as a flagship BMW Group vehicle—the L30 was also supposed to get that electrical architecture (including iDrive) and the 6-speed. But when BMW decided to sell Land Rover to Ford, it supposedly canceled those plans and then finished development early with a mixture of E38 (1995-2001 7 Series), E39 (1997-2003 5 Series) and E53 (2000-2006 X5) electronics, reskinned for Land Rover duty. BMW did not want to give its new cutting-edge tech to a competitor. But, according to this particular rumor, the L30 might have been a very different car if BMW hadn’t sold the brand.

Remember the infamous E65 (2002-2008) 7 Series? The L30/L322’s tech stack probably would have looked more like this if BMW hadn’t sold the company. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate.


It also certainly wouldn’t have been called the L322. One of the first things Ford did was change the chassis code, since it was still in development. Ford’s chassis-code scheme was usually a letter, designating the brand, and then three numbers. So, L322 it was. Part of the agreement with BMW included a clause that BMW would continue to assist Land Rover with developing the Range Rover, under contract. Ford obviously wasn’t thrilled about having to purchase a bunch of BMW components to manufacture the new Range Rover, but it was too late in the development cycle to do anything. So that would have to wait.

2003-2005: The L322 Arrives

Like my Jaguar article, this is where I will again state that this is a North-America-centric view of the L322. Timelines, options and engines differed somewhat for, say, UK and EU buyers. One final note: the keen among you will note that BMW would have begun development of its original E53 X5 around the same time. The X5 had an altogether different mission, which was to be the SUV of BMWs, so it had a much sharper focus on sportiness and on-road drivability. That means that while the E53 X5 shared some elements with the L322 Range Rover, they were on separate platforms and didn’t have anything in common structurally or dimensionally.

By the time the third-generation, L322 Range Rover arrived, the luxury SUV market had proved to be booming. For sheer flagship SUVs, Toyota had done a fantastic job with the modernized “J100” Land Cruiser and its Lexus LX 470 clone, and those had already been facelifted by 2003. Mercedes-Benz had made excellent inroads with its new M-Class SUV and taken the G-Class to stratospheric levels of luxury and desirability. there was the relatively new BMW X5 to contend with. Specifically in the US, the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade had captivated the interest of rap and fashion culture, and a similar vehicle (the QX56) would debut at Nissan/Infiniti in 2004. Archrival VW was even cooking up some 4x4s of its own, which would be similarly unibody with rugged capabilities and two-speed transfer cases; these were the VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne sisters, and they were also on the eve of being released. So how would Land Rover’s new L322 Range Rover fare in such stiff competition?

A 2003 Range Rover


Very well, it turned out. The 2003 L322 Range Rover arrived in 2002, to critical acclaim. First, there was the styling. It looked at once authoritative and inviting. The design was full of the familiar (the clamshell hood, the sloped rear end, the dramatic dash-to-axle ratio, the tall greenhouse), but design details like the circular front and rear lighting elements, matte silver trim details, and subtly curved panels made it feel fresh. Inside, the L322 eschewed chrome and glossy fru-fru details seen on competing luxury SUVs, in favor of an interior theme that would have felt at home on a high-end yacht. The shape of the handbrake and the center-mounted ignition let you know you were in a capable vehicle. And the ride was said to be sublime, especially because the L322 was one of only four vehicles at the time with full independent suspension, front and rear, that had any serious level of off-road capability (the others were the Mitsubishi Montero and the Ford Expedition/Lincoln Navigator twins). And the tow rating, 7,700 lbs, was seriously impressive for a midsize SUV.

A 2003 Range Rover HSE (with Luxury Pack) Interior


US buyers got a single trim level, the HSE, and a single powertrain. That was the aforementioned BMW “M62” 4.4-liter V8 with 282 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, coupled to a ZF 5-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive was, naturally standard, as was a two-speed transfer case, an electronically controlled locking Torsen differential, and air suspension with 3.7 inches of total travel between its three levels. There was even a new Hill Descent Control (HDC) feature, developed in conjunction with Bosch (and also used on the X5) that allowed the Range Rover to descend tough terrain at a controlled, limited speed. The HSE otherwise included tri-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a 6-disc CD changer, a navigation system, a rearview camera, a power sunroof, and plenty more. Options included upgraded 14-way power seats with premium leather, heated rear seats, and a DVD player. In 2005, Land Rover offered a special Westminster model with unique badging and colors, and a few other niceties.

As I mentioned, a lot of the components in the car were basically BMW parts in disguise. The instrument cluster was essentially that of an E38 7 Series, but with Land Rover’s green color scheme. The steering column was also BMW, with uniquely shaped stalks, and the seat controls, overhead console, key fob, light switch and navigation system were essentially pulled right out of the E38 and E39. Land Rover did, however, get the benefit of investing in its own climate control switchpack, an important element in the vehicle’s personality.

A comparison between the L322 (top) and E38 7 Series (bottom) instrument clusters. They are just about identical


2006 – The One-Year-Only Bastard

A 2006 Range Rover Supercharged


By 2006, it was clear that a lot of the Ford PAG program wasn’t working. Lincoln and Mercury had returned to the Ford brand’s direct control; Lincoln had previously had its offices based elsewhere and was run by a European. Also speaking of Lincoln, its attempts at making a RWD car out of a platform co-developed by Ford and Jaguar had failed, and the replacement car (the Zephyr/MKZ) would be built from a modified Mazda platform called CD3, rather than a premium one from PAG, and would therefore share a ton of commonality with its Ford (Fusion) and Mercury (Milan) counterparts.

But one thing that did seem set to work was a new synergy between Jaguar and Land Rover. It started in 2005 with the first fully-in-house Land Rover, the new Discovery 3/LR3 (L319). That truck, which replaced the aged and unreliable Discovery Series II, rode on an all-new platform that a weird mix of unibody and ladder frame, but—crucially—it had an optional Jaguar engine, an enlarged 4.4-liter V8, making a sound 300 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque. It also had a ZF 6-speed automatic transmission and the new Terrain Response system. Terrain Response let drivers use a simple knob with pictograms of driving modes, to control everything from throttle response, to ride height, to ABS force distribution and differential locking rates.

In 2006, the Range Rover got a baby brother, in the form of the Range Rover Sport (L320). It had nothing to do with BMW and was built on the same platform as the LR3, but with a shorter wheelbase and a sportier shape. It got the Jaguar V8 and Terrain Response standard. It also got a swankier Supercharged trim, with a 4.2-liter supercharged Jaguar V8 that made 400 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque.

And then there was the full-size 2006 L322 Range Rover. It got a major facelift that year, incorporating completely new front and rear fascias and wheel designs. There were also new colors on offer. Mechanically, it had the same 4.4-liter N/A engine on HSE models and the 4.2-liter on Supercharged models, the latter uprated to 400 hp and 425 lb-ft. The Supercharged engine also got you Brembo brakes, a mesh grille, unique wheels, clear rear taillamps, variable damping on the front air struts and a locking rear differential, a heated windshield and the better interior. That said, the interior niceties could be added to the HSE trim with the Luxury Package. The Westminster trim did return, though in similarly negligible numbers. And the new 6-speed ZF 6HP26 was present and accounted for on all models. The L322’s interior remained mostly unchanged for 2006, though it did get a new instrument cluster and a new infotainment system. Still, because of the changes to the electronics and mechanicals, the 2006 was a particularly odd mix of Jaguar and BMW electronics.

2007-2009 – The Middle Years

Inexplicably, Ford and/or Land Rover chose not to update the L322’s interior until 2007. It got yet a different instrument cluster from the 2006, the Terrain Response system from the Range Rover Sport and LR3, and an entirely new dashboard. The controls ended up shuffled around, many of them moving to the center console, and that was redesigned too, with a sliding drink cover and an electronic parking brake. The ignition slot even moved from the center console to the dashboard. That mostly expunged the BMW electronics from the interior. There was also a single exterior change: the quarter-panel windows had previously been separated from the rear doors by thick strips of plastic trim, but the 2007 update extended the glass forward so that it touched the rear doors.

The interior of a 2008 Range Rover


Throughout the 2007-2009 model year run, options came and went, but the main portions were unchanged. In 2009, Land Rover introduced a new Autobiography trim, with such extravagancies as a leather-upholstered headliner, unique fascias and adaptive cruise control.

2010 – 2012 – The Final Years

In 2008, FoMoCo decided to sell its various PAG brands, in order to stave off bankruptcy. By that time, Jaguar and Land Rover had been thoroughly coupled together, both in terms of development and actual parts, and so Ford preferred to sell them together. Tata Motors of India emerged as the favored buyer and struck a deal to buy both brands for $2.3B. That deal included a provision for Ford to fund $600M into the Jaguar/Land Rover pension, so it was more like $1.7B. While Tata has been around since 1945, it only entered the passenger market in 1991. In 1999, Ratan Tata had approached Ford to buy his fledgling (and failing) car business, and was turned away. So for Tata to be able to do Ford the favor of taking the two storied British brands off its hands less than ten years later was delicious irony.

So, by the Range Rover’s 2010 facelift, Land Rover had a third owner, as the second half of the Jaguar/Land Rover (J/LR) conglomerate. Of course, all of the engineering had been done under Ford, but it’s still an interesting story. As for the facelift itself, that comprised new front and rear fascias with LED lighting, new wheel designs and new trim. The interior was mostly the same, though the car had new button packs throughout, a redesigned instrument cluster that consisted of a large color LCD, push-button start, and a new infotainment system.

The exterior of a 2011 Range Rover


The bigger news was under the hood. Both the prior engines were replaced with new 5.0-liter Jaguar engines, in either naturally aspirated or supercharged form. The former developed 375 hp and 375 lb-ft, while the figures were an impressive 510 hp and 461 lb-ft for the supercharged unit. The transmission remained a 6-speed, but was the new ZF 6HP28, which had a slightly higher torque rating and some other minor improvements over the prior 6HP26.

As before, HSE, Supercharged and Autobiography trims returned, with a similar content spread as before. Some new options did appear, such as a surround-view camera. Weirdly, though the L322 now had standard push-button start, it did not have keyless access. So owners were still required to unlock/lock the doors with the key fob. Allegedly, this is because keyless access functionality would have required new quick-release door latches, which would have caused Land Rover to have to recertify the vehicle for crash testing in certain locales. It’s likely the existing door handles were some of the few BMW components that remained by this time. Either way, it was an odd omission for the company’s flagship product, especially when every other vehicle in the J/LR portfolio had standard or optional keyless access by then. So was the fact that Land Rover never modified the L322 to include a power liftgate, even though that was a standard feature on many much-cheaper luxury SUVs, such as the Acura MDX.

The interior of a 2011 Range Rover, in Autobiography spec


Although Jaguar/Land Rover was no longer under Ford, Ford remained a key supplier for both brands for years. The 5.0-liter engines, for instance, continued to be manufactured by Ford under contract for J/LR at a special Jaguar-specific section of the Bridgend, UK plant. Not much changed on the L322 between 2010 and 2012, though 2012 models did get body-colored door handles and grille trim, darker headlights, and “Range Rover” wordmark logos in place of the Land Rover emblems on the center caps.

In Conclusion

It was a daunting task to take a cultural icon like the Range Rover and pull it into the twenty-first century. But that’s exactly what the talented designers, engineers and marketers who worked on the L322 did. The move to a fully independent suspension setup and a stiff unibody was a sound one, for unparalleled ride comfort in the segment. At the same time, everyone made sure that the L322 remained as capable of going everywhere as it had, if not more so. And despite Land Rover having three corporate owners across the L322’s existence, it never felt like anything less than a cohesive, desirable product.

Furthermore, the L322’s successor, the L405, took the baton and ran. That model was swankier and more capable than ever, and introduced a lot of firsts (especially in the US), such as aluminum architecture and diesel and gasoline 6-cylinder engines. The L405 also brought back the availability of a long-wheelbase model. And the styling aged just as well as the L322’s did, lasting for a similar amount of time (2013-2022). And the new L460 (2023+) is even nicer. Ironically, the L460 has sent the Range Rover right back to using a BMW V8; the larger engine option was the 4.4-liter twin-turbo N63 BMW V8 engine and, for 2024, is now the newer 4.4-liter twin-turbo S68 mild-hybrid engine block, boasting 606 horsepower. Finally, the Range Rover has become a proper sub-brand. In addition to the full-size model and the aforementioned Sport introduced in 2006, there’s also the Evoque (2012) and Velar (2018).

The current L460 Range Rover


But none of that would be possible if it weren’t for the L322, a crucial turning point within the Range Rover’s timeline and arguably one of the most impressive and comprehensive glow-ups of any luxury car.