Say ‘luxury off-roader’ and the first brand that’ll spring to mind will no doubt be Range Rover. After all, for decades it has been firmly associated with upmarket, capable 4x4s and high-end lifestyle.
Land Rover’s flagship Range Rover is entirely deserving of its accolades, too, for its reputation is based upon far more than looks and comfort alone. As is entirely appropriate for a Land Rover product, the Range Rover – and subsequent modern derivatives, such as the Velar – has always packed serious off-road credentials.
When the first generation of Range Rover arrived in 1970, in sleek two-door form, it featured a 3.5-litre V8 that put out a then-stout 135bhp and 185lb ft of torque. Drive was sent to all four wheels via a centre differential, which could be locked to boost traction on rough or slippery surfaces, while a transfer case offered up low-range crawler ratios for when the going got really tough.
Driving all four wheels wasn’t a new concept at this point, as it’d been around since the late 1800s and been used in numerous niche, production and military applications – but the Range Rover blended comfort and civil road manners with impressive rough-road capabilities, which struck many as new and innovative.
Land Rover would later boldly dub the Range Rover ‘the world’s first fully capable luxury 4×4’. However, in its earliest iteration the car was comparatively basic – and, more prominently, it was beaten past the post by an American contender that arrived almost eight years earlier.
A STRONG ‘STATION WAGON’ STORMS THE MARKET
The Jeep Wagoneer, unveiled in late 1962, was a new type of vehicle. Primarily, it was designed to capitalise on the brand’s off-road expertise by offering it in a form that would appeal to a wider audience. This would help fend off increasing competition from rivals including Ford, which was starting to make use of four-wheel drive in pick-ups such as the third-generation F-Series.
In order to achieve such a feat, the Wagoneer’s designers graced it with a more conventional, lower-profile estate-style body. To make it easier to drive and more refined, the Jeep also initially benefitted from independent front suspension – unlike the later Range Rover, which relied solely on solid axles. Four-wheel drive was available, of course, and a durable separate chassis and powerful engines bolstered the Wagoneer’s appeal.
Both two- and four-door versions were also offered, as well as less complicated two-wheel-drive models, further widening the potential market for what was dubbed a ‘station wagon’.
You could even argue that the Jeep Station Wagon, built by Willys and preceding the Wagoneer, was the first luxury SUV. It was far more agricultural, however, featured few creature comforts and many variants were two-wheel drive. The flagship 3.8-litre straight-six models, that said, did at least produce more torque than the early Range Rover’s V8.
Search for a used Jeep on CarGurus
LEADING THE WAY IN LUXURY
American cars, back in the 1960s and 1970s, were often routinely dramatically revised, restyled and upgraded to stay ahead of their rivals and take advantage of new technologies – and the Wagoneer was no exception to the rule. Its styling would continue to evolve and, more importantly, it would also be further packed to the nines with modern equipment.
In 1966, for example, the ‘Super Wagoneer’ was launched. It had a 270bhp 5.4-litre V8, a three-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, a powered tailgate, power steering, a tilt steering wheel and a radio. As a result, the Wagoneer was a far more luxurious beast than its upcoming British rival. It would also take several years, following its launch, for the Range Rover to offer anywhere near the same degree of equipment and refinement.
It wasn’t until 1987 that a later generation of Range Rover officially arrived in America, too – almost quarter of a century after the debut of the Wagoneer, the car which unquestionably set the production luxury SUV ball rolling in earnest.
Search for a used Range Rover on CarGurus
In the market for a used car?
CarGurus makes it easy to find great deals from top-rated dealers. CarGurus compares price, detailed vehicle data and dealer reviews to give each used car a deal rating from great to overpriced, and sorts the best deals first. Find out more and begin your used car search at CarGurus.