Winter 2021

Range Rover MK5 

The fifth iteration of a car that defines its sector, the Range Rover MK5 ushers in major change alongside technical artistry and the use of plush, but unexpected, materials

Range Rovers don’t come around that often – the 2021 version is just the fifth in 51 years – and like other cars that have become iconic in their sectors, when they do, they tend to be evolutionary. The Range Rover mk5 follows that strategy, but also brings with it substantial change. There is now a plug-in hybrid offering a genuinely useful 62 miles of electric range and an all-electric version from 2024. From a design standpoint, the most obvious exterior change is at the rear, where the slimmer vertical light elements are now neatly joined together by a Range Rover-badged cross bar which makes for a very pleasing ‘dark staple’ graphic and a clear mk5 identifier.  
Of course, at Interior Motives, our focus is on the inside of the car and that too features significant changes, as witnessed first-hand at a preview of the car in early October 2021. Three variants were unveiled there: the short-wheel base ‘regular’ Range Rover, an SV version from the Special Vehicle Operations division offering many more customisation options, and a long-wheel base (LWB) model that offers seven seats for the first time, something Jaguar Land Rover’s chief creative officer Gerry McGovern had previously said would be “over my dead body”, due to the altered exterior proportions that would likely entail. But at the launch he conceded that “now we’ve managed to re-jig the geometries, I’m pleased”.

Either way, from an interior point of view these changes meant major packaging changes and variety for the design team to consider. The project started in 2015, but a significant moment was the re-hire of ex-Rolls-Royce interior designer Alan Sheppard.

Before joining Rolls, Sheppard was at Land Rover for 16 years and worked on the cabins of the Range Rover mk2 and mk3. Becoming Land Rover’s interior design director in 2017, he’s appropriately the one to show us around the mk5. “I got engaged with this project towards the end of the concept phase, about 2018,” he begins. “The first thing Gerry said to me is, ‘I’m glad you’re here, hopefully you’re not too late.’ He has a sense of humour.

When I arrived, we were finishing the Evoque mk2, then we did the new Defender – very different, very product design-y – and then we concentrated on this car. I’m an old boy now, so you have to let the liberal, free-thinking designers come up with stuff, then I cajole engineering, suppliers and manufacturing into raising the bar.”

Judging by the final interior, the 61-year old’s cajoling seems to have worked, as the trio of Range Rovers bristle with new – and in many cases complex – interior features, from event seating and high-end fold-out tables, to delicate marquetry and innovative use of materials like ceramic. Still, if Sheppard only joined the project in 2018, how much did he really influence?

“We picked up a concept that you would find familiar to this, but not this,” Sheppard says. “The theme was fairly fixed and we were already in a very strong place. It just needed a more refinement and polish. Time moves on and people’s aspirations become more sophisticated. As we get exposed to digital technology the standard of all the products we buy nowadays is at a far higher level. The character of a Range Rover is very distinct, it was very-nearly right with the mk4, it just needed to be brought forward into the modern world. We wanted to calm the whole thing down, give a greater sense of sanctuary. It’s the stage you arrive on.”

"There is a level of finesse and jewelry in how stuff works and articulates, where functionality meets art"

In terms of refining that ‘stage’, changes to the front of the cabin were smaller than those in the back. Sheppard continues: “It was about preserving the strength of the mk4 and the ‘command’ driving position – the vision from the driver’s seat and cognisance of the world out there – while absorbing the stuff around you without unnecessary distraction. That was absolutely vital. It’s the core of Range Rover.”

Looking at the IPs of the mk4 and mk5 side by side and the comparisons are more numerous than the contrasts, but there are some subtle changes, on which Sheppard gives his brutally honest opinion: “The relative heights of the fascias are about the same, but it was more about what lies below the topper pad with the mk5. The uprights of the mk4 have a verticality to them, like sitting at a dining table. You were always aware of this kind of ‘fight’ between the verticals and horizontals. In the mk5 interior we really stressed the horizontals, to give a wider and low feel to the fascia. And also, the vents in the mk4 were outboard and kind of large and clunky. In fact, all the ‘sections’ were chubby and the very vertical elements to the centre console – the metal struts – made the car feel, for me, narrower and taller and slightly thrusting upwards. So we changed those elements in this latest model. The mk5 is more reminiscent of a full-width expression that hasn’t been there since the Range Rover mk1. It was very much about getting that purity back into the architecture.”

Technology advances have also allowed change. Where the mk4 had a smaller, integrated screen, the new mk5’s 13.1-inch screen is bigger, floating and curved, while the steering wheel controls feature capacitive elements. In the second row, seats recline gently, there is a tray table option which wouldn’t look out of place within the Business Class section of a plane, plus a complex central cupholder - a detail Sheppard is particularly pleased with. “I’ve very much involved myself in the mechatronic debates and also flush and fit,” he says. “There is a level of finesse and jewelry in how stuff works and articulates, where functionality meets art – ‘form follows function’ is just too easy to say. I’m really proud of how the guys have embraced and delivered that. Take the motorised cupholder, with the lid that opens and the drinks holder that comes up. If you’re the sort of person who never closes it, it still looks as good open, as shut. Similarly with the table, there isn’t a sense that the table lives in a hole, it’s a tray that comes up and fills the space. After 20 years at Rolls-Royce you get very familiar with customer expectations, satisfying millionaires and billionaires and knowing their vocabulary. So it’s about how you bring that to a bigger market.”

The third row seating for the seven-seat version is ‘stadium style’ – i.e. sat slightly higher than the second row – and although access isn’t quite as easy or glamorous as to the first and second rows, space is fine and ambience is decent oncee inside. You don’t feel like you’re sitting in a boot. Another example of a high-end functional feature, usually only found on the highest-priced luxury models, is Range Rover’s new ‘event seating’ – rear-facing, boot-mounted pop-up seats – that can be used when the car is stationary.

“The event seats I’ve worked on before provide ‘fantastic theatre’, but most people want to bring luggage, golf clubs and all sorts too,” Sheppard says. “Most involve a deep cassette, so a 5-6” high layer out of your boot space, which is unacceptable to me. Range Rover’s ones fold flat, and some of the 125 patents on the new car relate to this tech. Its apparent simplicity belies the intellect that went into generating it. A couple of young engineers embraced the challenge and utilised dead space and you can have the feature with the seven-seater too – ‘event seats’ by other carmakers can’t.”

On the colour and trim side, new non-leather materials for the Range Rover include a Kvadrat remix warm wool-blend fabric, and a technical but soft-feel Ultrafabrics material with the tactile qualities of leather but 30% lighter and with a quarter of the CO2 emissions. And for those customers that are not so eco-conscious and crave leather, there is now a ‘near-aniline’ option which uses fewer treatments and has less artificial pigmentation for a natural feel, while still meeting automotive-grade durability standards. 

"The new Range Rover interior is less thrusting and more soothing. It’s a celebration of achievement, rather than an expression of aspiration"

New ‘tick-shaped’ stitching – in a world where basic diamond-quilting has long since been appropriated by the mainstream – adds visual difference to the seating. Real wood features in new ways too, as lightly-lacquered marquetry on the centre console, and with aluminium pinstripes embedded within the door card surface. It is tastefully executed while also bringing an injection of colour and character.

But perhaps the mk5’s stand-out detail for visual originality is the new use of ceramic. On SV models, the smooth and glossy white material layer is applied to the gear selector and other centre console touch-points to great effect. “There have been a couple of carmakers that have used ceramics but in dark metallic colours,” Sheppard explains. “We wanted a more porcelain effect, something the customer can actually see. It’s also a good insulator and there’s not the shock you get with cold metal, or the gumminess you get from something that’s plastic but is trying to look like something else. Ceramic has a familiar touch you recognise from your morning coffee mug. It’s a nice, personal aspect, and it’s extremely scratch-resistant and super durable. If you to chrome-plate something there are loads of process steps, and often a build-up of layers, but with ceramic there’s a purity to it.”
There’s that word ‘purity’ again. It encapsulates about how the new Range Rover feels on the inside. Yes, there are more dressed-up versions as well as more restrained ones, but all feel sophisticated and in keeping with a brand which, although undoubtedly stretching further upmarket, appears to be increasingly confident. Sheppard’s experience seems to have been a great influence on the success of its interior, and he fittingly gets the last word: “The new Range Rover interior is less thrusting and more soothing. It’s a celebration of achievement, rather than an expression of aspiration.”

Chief creative officer, JLR: Gerry McGovern

Design director, JLR: Massimo Frascella

Interior design designer: Alan Sheppard

Colour and materials director, JLR: Amy Frascella

Project started / completed: 2015 / 2021

Launch: London, UK / October 2021

Dimensions (mm):

Length: 5052/5252 (SWB/LWB)

Width: 2047

Height: 1870

Wheelbase: 2997/3197 (SWB/LWB)

Words: Guy Bird