Land Rover? Is that Britain's answer to the Jeep?
Few cars evoke more vivid images than a Land Rover. Statistics suggest that the first car, one in six people in the world see, is a Land Rover. It's been in all kinds of theatres, from the Amazonian jungles to escorting despotic dictators to transporting meat across the vast Gobi desert. It's one of the most recognised brands... so what if they move just 200,000 units a year!
So if the entire range is rugged, isn't the Range Rover Sport an anomaly- a hairdresser's car?
Essentially, it looks like a sporty version of the Range Rover. Its genesis is the Discovery 3, a large family off-roader and not a soft-roader, mind you. The Disco3 is absolutely awesome around an off-road course and can do mind-numbing and boulder-bending stuff that dreams are made of. The Sport carries nearly all the vital underpinnings from the Disco, acquires a sloping roof, low-profile tyres on 20-inch wheels and some class.
You mean low-range and lockable diffs?
Yes, you've read that right. The lockable diffs, also called Terrain Response, for instance, is suited for five different types of terrains - regular road use, slush and snow and gravel, sandy terrain, rocky terrain and mud and ruts. The centre e-diff locks and unlocks depending on the situation and accordingly transfers torque between the front and the rear. It all sounds complicated, but you can view what the car is up to on the centre console touch screen. Hmm, but won't it still have low ground clearance?
No, it won't, because it has adaptive suspension that allows you to choose between three different settings - a standard setting, a lowered setting to shove in luggage and a raised setting to let you tackle all the rough stuff. The standard setting has a ground clearance of 172 mm while the extended height is 227 mm. The interesting thing is if you choose the lowest or highest setting and accelerate to above 30 kph, it will ask you to set the suspension back to the standard setting or will do it by itself if it continues to detect a speed over 30 kph.
Okay, so we are convinced that it can do some serious off-roading. But does it have the go to match the show?
Absolutely! The Range Rover Sport we tested was the TDV8, a 3.6-litre longitudinally mounted V8 with 272 bhp of peak power and a staggering 65 kgm of peak torque. With all that power transferred to all four wheels through a ZF six-speed automatic gearbox, the SUV is capable of some serious speeds. In our acceleration runs, it registered 9.3 seconds to 100 kph, which is nearly three seconds quicker than even the Toyota Landcruiser V8 diesel with similar power, despite the Rangie being tested in the wet and the 'Cruiser in the dry. We also saw speeds of nearly 200 kph and it felt like it could go up to 210 kph, so it is genuinely quick, with a sweet V8 rumble for company.
Fine, you got a straight piece of empty road and it proved its mettle. But what about in the real world?
You would be surprised to note that it's absolutely docile. In bumper to bumper traffic it is relaxed and doesn't threaten to spool its turbos and launch you into the unsuspecting cab in front. Neither is it loud, so occupants don't even have a whiff of it being a diesel. The gearbox is relaxed, albeit slightly slow on the offtake, but never painfully slow, the steering doesn't tire you out and there's acres of space and supportive seats to revel in. The only negative is the slightly stiff suspension that gets telling over small ruts or paver blocks on the road. Of course you will get stiff suspension because it's called 'Sport', right?
Exactly. The stiff suspension means it can handle, and handle it does. Because its centre of gravity is lower than the regular Range Rover due to the sloping roof, it concentrates all its mass lower, so it's almost car-like. With electronically linked front and rear roll bars there's less roll than most other SUVs. Because it puts its power down cleanly and the gear ratios are well matched, you don't feel any lack of power mid-corner, so you can carry a lot of speed around them. The grip levels are pretty good, and even though it might not be in the league of a BMW X6 or Porsche Cayenne, the gap is very narrow. High speed stability is decent, the ESP only coming on a couple of times during hard braking or high speed cornering on wet surfaces.
So it has the kit to take it off-road but also has the bits to take on road conditions. Something must have been compromised?
Come on, don't be so pessimistic! It's really good off-road too, and we actually drove it on testing terrain and came back mighty impressed. It dismissed the rocks underneath like they didn't exist. The Hill Descent Control worked like a charm, even on a near 45 degree downwards slope with ruts. It's as if it just laughs at you and keeps asking 'Do you have the guts for more?' With all that torque, it's also pretty capable of some fun in the grass as you dig your own path, going sideways like a happy baboon in the park.
Fine, so does it look the part of a luxury off-roader for its price of nearly Rs 78 lakh?
You bet it does. Fine British wood and leather stitching apart, it also has a whole host of features, like a Harman & Kardon stereo with nine speakers, automatic climate control, steering wheel mounted controls, electrically adjustable seats with warmers and seat memory, auxiliary ports, Bluetooth connectivity... the works! Besides, it's a head-turner with that styling, those adaptive headlamps and all the chrome and badging in the right places. It feels completely worth the money!
So it's the best luxury SUV then?
Without a doubt! The BMW X6 and Porsche Cayenne handle like they were on rails, and look good too, but aren't a patch on the RR Sport's off-road ability. The Toyota Landcruiser is a great off-roader but can't handle as well on tarmac and doesn't have the badge value. Until either of those manufacturers shore up their products or someone else steps into the ring, this is the best of the lot.