Celebrating the achievements of one particular trim level in the Range Rover’s small line-up could be a bit tenuous, to say the least. However, as David Morgan reckons, it is the Vogue SE variant that has played the biggest role in taking Solihull’s ‘Car For All Reasons’ ever more upmarket over the last 30 years.
This year’s Geneva Motor Show was something of a trip down Memory Lane for me, especially when reading through the press blurb for the new Range Rover SV Coupe. With a price tag of £240,000, this is not only the most expensive Range Rover ever built, but it comes with just two doors. Wasn’t the original three-door Rangie a hose-out affair with no carpets or power-steering in the first few years of production? And, as for opulence, wasn’t that the role of the four-door version that followed from 1981? How times have changed.
The 1980s were, of course, one of the biggest transitional points for Solihull’s finest. Thanks to a glam Lancôme and Jaeger photoshoot in Biarritz with Vogue magazine in 1981, the Range Rover suddenly became even more in vogue. Metallic paint, burr walnut door cappings and a picnic hamper were some of the new found trappings of sophistication offered on no less than three series of ‘In Vogue’ limited edition models built between 1981 and 1983.
Well liked they were, too. As a consequence, by the end of 1985, the Vogue name was firmly sworn in as the Range Rover’s mainstay figurehead. Even at this level, the Vogue still wasn’t enough to equal the opulence of a Rover saloon, let alone convince would-be buyers that it was a worthy alternative to a more premium priced luxury car. It would take the arrival of the Range Rover onto North American shores from March 1987 and the demand from their buyers for even more luxury to change all that.
North America’s love of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) is legendary, with Detroit’s ‘Big Three’ not exactly holding back on meeting that demand. However, it seemed there was still room for a premium-priced offering from Europe to tempt more affluent buyers.
Was it an alternative to a luxury saloon, but with greater versatility? Or was it viewed as an upmarket estate car? Whatever, North America loved Land Rover’s ‘Car For All Reasons’ and it was soon charging out of showrooms nearly as fast as its stateside-built rivals were downing a gallon of gasoline. North America couldn’t get enough of this recipe and they were soon demanding even more luxury.
Land Rover clearly listened to its customers’ feedback and responded quickly by offering refinements such as electrically adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, an electric sunroof and metallic paint for the 1988 season.
Back home, and Land Rover was initially more reserved about the sales success of a fully-laden version for European markets – even more so when they calculated that, for the home market, it would command a premium of more than £5500 over the retail price of the existing Vogue. However, they need not have worried – the new Vogue SE (as in ‘special equipment’) would quickly allay those doubts.
Special appeal or just ‘special equipment’?
Unveiled at the 1988 Geneva Motor Show, the Range Rover Vogue SE was pitched as the new flagship variant. Possessing all the aforementioned luxuries found on the North American spec cars, its standard accoutrements also extended to air conditioning and automatic transmission. The choice of exterior colours was initially limited to just two metallic colours – Caspian Blue and Cypress Green – which also extended to the three-spoke alloy wheel design. Adding a further touch of distinction was a single pinstripe along the body’s sides.
With a retail price of £27,349.78, the Vogue SE was over 25% more expensive than the existing Vogue. However, any doubts about its sales success were soon dispelled as it seemed as if Range Rover buyers were keen to pay to enjoy even more opulence – so much so that, by the end of 1988, Range Rover production had exceeded 24,000 examples, representing a near 16% increase on 1987’s impressive figure. By the end of 1989 production had climbed by a further 19% over the previous year to 28,507. The onwards and upwards approach and withdrawal of certain lower-spec variants in some markets was working.
By November 1989, the Vogue SE complete with the newly-announced 3.9-litre V8 engine for all markets had a retail price of £31,949.39, making it over £6400 more expensive than the Vogue. Yet it still continued to take a greater share of overall Range Rover sales in a number of markets, including the UK.
The Vogue SE would also help showcase numerous new features for the Range Rover, which were usually fitted as standard on this variant. This included anti-lock braking for the 1990 Model Year, heated front seats and for the 1993 Model Year, height adjustable electronic air suspension. Where would it end?
Stretching its appeal
The 1993 Model Year would see the launch of a new long-wheelbase variant called the Vogue LSE. Priced at £38,393 the Vogue LSE featured a 4.2-litre version of the V8 engine for the majority of markets it was sold in. It was based on the Vogue SE’s specification, but featured Italian Poplar wood trim and a unique five-spoke alloy wheel design.
This was followed in late 1993 by the new Autobiography personalisation programme aimed at those Vogue SE buyers wanting even higher levels of individuality from the ability to select bespoke colours of leather and exterior paint choices.
A further strategy Land Rover had embarked on was to unleash a number of limited edition variants. Most of these drew on the Vogue SE’s specification, such as the 1990 ‘CSK’ based on the three-door bodystyle, the 1994 4.2 Vogue SE Autobiography and the 1995 25th Anniversary Final Edition.
By 1995, the first generation Range Rover’s (now known as the Range Rover Classic) days were looking increasingly numbered given the popularity of the recently launched second-generation P38A model. As a consequence of the new model’s growing approval in many markets, sales of the Classic began to decline. In response to this the U.K. market’s line-up was rationalised from March 1995 to just the Vogue Tdi and 3.9 Vogue SE, with the latter model having a showroom price of £37,230.
The Vogue SE would underpin the Range Rover Classic’s final model derivative for the home market – the limited edition 25th Anniversary Final Edition, which was announced in October 1995 and had a showroom price of £40,000.
Reserved for special guest appearances
With the last example of the first-generation Range Rover being completed in February 1996 and Land Rover having a different trim level identity strategy for the P38A, the Vogue SE identity would be given time off for loyal service.
However, by September 1998, the Vogue SE nameplate was back; this time on a special edition version of the flagship 4.6 HSE to offer buyers even more tailored luxury. Limited to 220 examples and offered in a choice of just four exterior colours, the 4.6 Vogue SE featured elements of the Autobiography personalisation programme such as additional interior wood trim, painted bumpers and sill treatments. Whereas the first-generation Range Rover Vogue SE had been noted for its colour-coded alloy wheels, for the P38A version the colour-coding influence instead centred on the seat’s edge piping, transmission shift handle and handbrake grip corresponding to the exterior colour.
Even with a showroom price of £53,750 the 4.6 Vogue SE didn’t struggle to find keen buyers. It seemed as if buyers rather warmed to the return of this nameplate as it was soon found adorning a second limited edition variant from December of that same year. Limited to just 100 examples, this time the colour-coding influence linked the seat edge piping with the Lightstone main interior colourway. The showroom price for this latest version was £54,495.
Eight months later and there was a third edition of the 4.6 Vogue SE for the home market, again based on the range-topping 4.6 HSE, but limited to 150 examples.
For the 2000 Model Year the 4.6 HSE variant was renamed as the Vogue in many markets. So, when Land Rover decided to offer an even higher specification limited edition version for the 2002 Model Year, it came no surprise to find it called… yes, you’ve guessed it – the Vogue SE. On sale from September 2001, each of its four exterior colours influenced the colour of the interior’s seat edge piping, carpets and even the premium extended wood trim finish. Limited to 300 examples, the price was £53,995 for the ‘standard’ 4.6 Vogue SE, rising to £57,995 when specified with the TV and DVD system. Clearly P38A owners couldn’t get enough of more opulent Range Rovers and the Vogue SE nameplate.
Back to stay
The Range Rover P38A was replaced by the all-new L322 generation model from February 2002, with the Vogue name being carried forward as the figurehead trim level. As for the Vogue SE? The moniker was on an extended holiday until October 2005 when it assumed its regular role as the Range Rover’s mainstay flagship. Priced from £63,000 with the Td6 engine and £68,500 when specified with the 4.4-litre V8 petrol, the Vogue SE represented a £6,000 premium over the Vogue versions.
Distinguishing the Vogue SE from the lesser variants beyond the tailgate decal required the observer to be something of a seasoned L322 enthusiast, as it mainly focused on equipment specification and the style of alloy wheel fitted. The Vogue SE trim level would also herald the availability of a supercharged 4.2-litre V8 petrol engine which took the model’s showroom price to £73,000. This, in turn, would underpin the limited edition 35th Anniversary priced at £82,000.
In July 2008 – just over 20 years after its launch – the Vogue SE nameplate would no longer be the flagship variant for the Range Rover. Land Rover announced at the British International Motor Show their intention to introduce the Autobiography name as a regular mainline build variant for the 2009 Model Year, to sit above the Vogue SE.
Despite this, the Vogue SE variant continued to be the bigger seller over the Vogue and higher specification Autobiography in a number of markets for the L322 line-up. Even now, with the latest L405 generation Range Rover, on sale since the autumn of 2012, sales of the Vogue SE continue to outperform most of the other variants.
In recent years the Autobiography nameplate has undoubtedly been reaffirmed as the head honcho for elevating the Range Rover’s presence even further upmarket. Beyond the regular line-up, there’s now also a long-wheelbase bodystyle and Special Vehicles Operations prepared SVAutobiography and SVAutobiography Dynamic variants. Yet for many markets it was the Vogue SE that established those foundations for an off-road vehicle which could deliver the same level of opulence as a luxury saloon, but without compromising on the Range Rover’s versatile appeal.
So maybe the announcement of the £240,000 Range Rover SV Coupe (below) shouldn’t come as a surprise or be seen as a bold step in elevating the Range Rover’s presence into such an exclusive terrain. Perhaps it should be seen as the pinnacle of opulence and exclusivity which has come about through a progressive journey started by the Vogue SE all those years ago.
Happy 30th birthday to the Range Rover Vogue SE!
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