Get used to Range Rovers made for on-road driving, says design boss
If you're tut-tutting at a new generation of Range Rovers that aren't built for hard-core off-roading first and foremost, Gerry McGovern reckons you might be a bit behind the times.
This is a favourite topic for McGovern: he's Land Rover's chief design officer and a member of the board. He's also the man that created the original Land Rover Freelander (1997), which was arguably the company's first-ever "soft roader".
Speaking to media at the August launch of the Range Rover Velar in Norway, McGovern characterised Land Rover as a company on a "journey of transformation" - one that must look ahead more than it looks back.
"We tend to look at Land Rover through rose-tinted glasses. [We see] the original Defender in the most arduous places all over the world; it seems to be synonymous with jungles.
"The reality is that we are now operating predominantly in the urban jungle. Go to London and you'll see Range Rovers everywhere and that's replicated in many other places: New York, Shanghai or Sydney.
"Our roots are in functionality. But the desire [now] is to create products that are less specialised; we've come from a background of being a very specialised brand to being a universally appealing brand.
"The idea is to not lose our uniqueness, to maintain the essence. We have great respect for heritage... but the world is changing very quickly and have to make sure we're flexible. Authenticity is very important in the world of luxury - and remember, we produce luxury and premium products - but we can't be harnessed by it."
The first Range Rover to come from this design strategy was the entry-level Evoque (2011), a compact SUV that's available in both front and four-wheel drive. It's intended mainly for urban driving, but the 4WD versions still have class-leading off-road ability - even if they don't have the off-road ability of Land Rover's more specialised models.
Velar is in the same vein: larger, more luxurious and much closer to a full-size Range Rover in presence, refinement and sheer luxury. It's based on the platform of the Jaguar F-Pace, so it's a RWD vehicle for most tarmac driving and has road-car suspension. But it's still much more capable off-road than its Jaguar sibling, with more sophisticated traction systems and better axle articulation.
The new Velar is also more about the look than any Range Rover that has come before.
"We have put design at the core of our business," says McGovern. "Engineering has always been at the core, but one of the things I've campaigned for is to educate people that design is not just the icing on the cake, it's not just on the surface; design is the glue that holds everything together. We have fundamentally changed the way that we design vehicles in our business and that's taken a culture change. Evoque was the vehicle that started us off.
"Design is not a democracy. Creating a car is a multi-disciplined activity, but design is not a democracy. Board and management do not sign off designs in our business - that is done by the CEO, chief design officers and Mr Tata [Ratan Tata, head of Land Rover's Indian parent company]."
Range Rover is just one of three families in the company. "Land Rover is the master brand," explains McGovern. "The individual families are Range Rover (refinement, sophistication), Discovery (versatility) and Defender (durability).
"Most of our focus to date has been on Range Rover. There will be more from Discovery and the [new] Defenders are still to come. To be honest, this story won't be complete until then.
"One of things I've been asked to do is to stretch the business and go into areas that we haven't been before.
"I think Velar has surprised quite a few people. What I would say is that there are quite a few more surprises on the way."