Off-road in style
Published: 01/12/2008 11:33 pm
From a prototype in 1967, the Range Rover has come a long way
A majority of the world's 4X4s command a certain degree of respect on the roads from other drivers. Some even have the effect of being intimidating, especially when viewed through the rear view mirror of a smaller car travelling at a slower velocity. The Range Rover would have fallen in with the rest of its four-wheel driven ilk except for one thing - it displays sophistication.
From the classic sloping D-pillar to the way in which the designers of the latest generation of this vehicle have retained its resemblance to the original, everything about the Range Rover is old money compared to some of the brash young upstarts we see on the roads today. Although the Range Rover Sport is, technically speaking, not THE Range Rover, the above still holds true. The truth is that the Sport badge on the tailgate only adds to the glamour quotient of the 4X4.
Although one is itching to grab the steering wheel, fire the engine and munch away the miles it is worth the time to take a moment or two to just look at the vehicle. At first glance it looks as if it sits lower on the road but a look at the specifications sheet reveals that in its Sport avatar, the Range Rover actually has more ground clearance than a stock one when the latter is being driven at standard settings.
In the off-road mode, of course it is the non-Sport variant that wins by more than a fair margin. But technicalities can follow. First, the exterior. The Range Rover Sport could well be a study in subtlety. Everything that could announce its Sport credentials is understated and it is easy to think that this is just a standard Range Rover with a honeycomb front grille.
As with the original, the designers of the Range Rover Sport made a good job keeping the lines clean and uncomplicated: straight, simple lines combined with angles with just a few curves thrown in here and there to soften things up.
Despite a clear move in the 4X4 and SUV-world towards complex curves in design philosophy, the Range Rover Sport's simple geometry is pleasing to the eye. This effect is further enhanced by the combination of the roundels of the bi-Xenon headlamps with the rectangular clear lens headlamp cover.
Personally speaking, the air vents on the front side panels don't appear very appealing but then that would be a matter of personal taste rather than an objective criticism of a product under test.
Inside, the Range Rover Sport is anything but simple. Cushioned in the eight-way adjustable fine grain leather seats with memory function the interior of the Range Rover Sport is as far a cry from the vinyl seats and the plastic dashboard of the original 1967 prototype as can be imagined.
There are no ungainly levers or switches for engaging 4WD mode. Instead a terrain response dial, which does the job of selecting the desired mode for a variety of preset off-road conditions, is neatly integrated into the central tunnel behind the gear selector.
It makes its appearance only when the driver presses down on the silver disc that is the top of the selector when it raises itself from its hitherto unobtrusive position.
While such features can only add to the driver's comfort, the designers have given more than just sufficient thought to passengers as well who are cossetted in similar leather seats. And of course for those long drives into unexplored territories when you are bound to get thirsty, there is a cool box integrated between the driver and the front passenger seats.
Other creature comforts include a rear screen entertainment system as an optional fitment and a standard six-CD changer with Harman Kardon speakers. There is also a personal telephone integration system with Bluetooth facility as a standard fitment.
Ergonomics in the Range Rover Sport have been kept mostly top notch. The leather wrapped steering wheel with controls for the audio system and cruise control function feels nice. The stalks for the indicator lamps and the wipers are always within easy reach. This contributes towards a good driving position with just the right relation between the pedals, steering wheel and gearshift lever. Room is also never a concern and even an individual of generous proportions would find little to complain about.
What can be a grouse though is the little dial for adjusting the wing mirrors. Located at the far end of the windowsill on the driver's side, it seems just out of reach until one moves forward.
Under the bonnet this 4X4 nestles a 4.2-litre supercharged V8 engine. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode it produces a healthy 390 horsepower, sufficient for powering the three-ton vehicle to an electronically limited 225kmph. But what is truly remarkable about this engine's abilities is the way it develops approximately 80 per cent of its torque between 1,500rpm and 3,500rpm.
This means that throughout the day of driving around in the test vehicle crossing the 2,000rpm mark on the tachometer was a rare occurrence. As expected, the power delivery is smooth and available from low in the engine's rev range. Under standard driving conditions the six-speed automatic transmission does a fine job.
For the sportily inclined driver, however, the recommendation would be to try out what is labelled as Sports mode, manual mode to the layman. Land Rover has endowed the Range Rover Sport with a 'positive torque' technology, which enables quicker downshifts ensuring a more immediate power delivery to the wheels.
For steep downward inclines it comes equipped with a hill descent control function where a computer regulates the brakes, throttle and gears to maintain a slow and steady speed. On less steep inclines one could always flick the transmission to manual mode and then use engine braking.
Although most people get caught up with discussing how many horses are harnessed to their latest four-wheeled acquisition, what really makes a difference to any vehicle's driveability or ride comfort and stability is its suspension system. And here, the research and development at Land Rover's Solihull facility have done a job that can only be described in superlatives.
The Range Rover Sport's electonic air suspension does a superb job of maintaining a relatively constant ride height irrespective of load. Over and above that the computer-controlled air springs adjust themselves to a softer or firmer setting depending on road, track or off-road conditions while a dynamic response system keeps the vehicle's handling taut.
Apart from ensuring a certain degree of smoothness this also makes the car more stable. Even while going through bends at relatively high speeds this 4X4, despite its high centre of gravity, remains well settled with little hint of body roll.
Add to this a function wherein the vehicle can be lowered by 55 millimetres to facilitate easy entry, exit or loading and you have a clear winner in the vehicle's suspension department. The adaptive steering remains precise throughout and provides plenty of positive feedback to the driver.
Even under off-road conditions the vehicle remains poised and comfortable, inspiring confidence with every kilometre.
Stopping power on the Sport is provided by four-piston Brembo disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA). While EBD distributes the brakes' power to achieve optimum braking ability without locking the wheels or destabilising the vehicle, EBA helps in enhancing brakeforce and reducing braking distances when one is required to stand on the brakes.
In addition to this, safety comes in the form of eight airbags and an integrated body frame where the body of the vehicle has been integrated with the chassis making it stronger and stiffer than a conventionally constructed body and chassis.
Other safety technologies in the Range Rover Sport include an active roll mitigation (ARM) system and a dynamic stability control (DSC) system. The ARM system anticipates the moment at which one side of the vehicle is likely to get lighter during cornering and uses the braking system to stabilise the vehicle.
Meanwhile the DSC monitors key indicators and corrects any tendency to oversteer or understeer. One could go on and on about the many technical aspects of the Range Rover Sport but that would be pointless.
Eventually it all boils down to a question of value for money. Is the Range Rover Sport worth its pricetag? The only plausible reason to say no would be the issue of finding a parking space in a crowded area like CBD, but that aside the answer is obvious. The Range Rover Sport is certainly a vehicle that owners would not regret buying.
|MIN Ground Clearance||227mm|
|Type||4.2-litre, 32-valve supercharged|
|Max Power||400hp at5,750rpm|
|TORQUE||550Nm at 3,500rpm|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||88 Litres|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed adaptive automatic transmission with CommandShift and active|
|Front||Electric Air Suspension|
|Rear||Electric Air Suspension|
|Front AND Rear||Brembo ventilated discs with four channel RBS|
|Available At||Mohsin Haider Darwish|
INSIDE - OUTSIDE
The dashboard is kept clean and uncluttered with all buttons and knobs within easy reach of either the driver or the passenger.
The gearshift lever, apart from looking nice with a chromium top and a chrome band, is ergonomically placed.
The tail lamps of the Sport are one of the key exterior features that distinguishes the car from a standard Range Rover.
The vehicle's bi-Xenon headlamps have adaptive technology providing better illumination when going through bends.