Is it still King of the off-roaders?
Revisiting a vehicle a few weeks or months after we initially tested can go either way.
There’s always the chance a drive on a different day, on different conditions could tell a different story. It’s a worthwhile exercise though, and one I recently had the opportunity to do with the new Range Rover Sport V6 TDi diesel.
Our own Jacqui M reviewed this a few months back, but that was in summer, on sealed, city roads. I on the other hand have decided to try some light mud-plugging aside the Waikato river and venture south to Port Waikato via Klondyke Rd: 23kms of infamously winding and elevated gravel road. Conditions couldn’t be more of a contrast, Jacqui has also told me the Rangie’s fantastic All-Terrain four wheel drive system is “idiot proof”... I’m the ideal candidate to put that theory to the test, then.
The Range Rover is still perceived as king of the luxury off-roaders, but it’s no secret few ever use it as anything but a status symbol in private school car parks, hence the choice of route for this test, to see if the heritage shines through.
Right from the get go this Range Rover is ‘Sporty’ in name only. Yes, its rakish rear windscreen and roofline express a sense of added agility and performance over the cubist Vogue model, but no disguising this remains a 2.5 tonne behemoth that shares the relatively un-advanced chassis of the Discovery model Land Rover.
Not great if you’re expecting a degree of poise and nimbleness on the curvy back roads, though you’d be expecting too much from any large SUV if that was the case, but that Disco chassis might hold some promise for rougher terrain. The agricultural underpinnings – along with that clever All-Terrain system with five separate traction and gear ratio modes – will surely give piece of mind should you ever find yourself in an off-road excursion?
Yes and no. No doubt on the sometimes treacherous Klondyke saddle the all-wheel drive system and competent air suspension system afforded the weighty beast some surprising cornering stability, but when road conditions worsen the 19 inch sport tyres aren’t really capable of reigning in the bulk.
Mechanical grip on sealed roads is excellent, but turn-in on loose surfaces is relegated to the ‘too hard basket’ and keeping things in shape is mostly down to the Sport’s electronic stability system, no real issue with that, though getting some of the new 3.0 litre V6’s 180kW and 600Nm of torque down earlier out of corners – something the electronic gubbins don’t always allow – would give a greater sense of driver control.
Indeed, in muddy conditions the tyres render the Range Rover Sport fairly ineffective. Here’s an SUV that can safely wade through 700mm of water, offers approach and departure angles of 34.6 and 29 respectively as well as an impressive 227mm of ground clearance, yet the rubber offers no substantial purchase whatsoever when the going gets tough.
When the front end isn’t sledging under its own weight, the rear is skating around nervously. Switching to more tenacious settings on the multi-mode all-terrain system does help, but the reality remains – if you’re going to make use of the off-road technology you’ll need to opt for more suitable (though less refined) tyres.
Still, you can’t argue with the Rangie’s opulence and the 2010 model’s interior is vastly improved, instead of the previous version’s confusing button layout this one has rationalised the bulk of controls to a simple menu-based system within the central touch screen. The fewer buttons means they can afford to be larger and chunkier, which blokes will appreciate. It all looks and feels as solid as a quality timepiece.
It’s comfortable, quiet and on the whole performance from the superb V6 diesel comes effortlessly and efficiently, slurping just 9.2 l/100km on average.
But what this time with the latest Range Rover Sport has told us is it doesn’t really share that ‘best off-roader in the world’ reputation of previous Range Rover models. The air suspension doesn’t seem to offer the articulation of an old-fashioned coil sprung arrangement, and the tyres limited the Range Rover to the blacktop. Toyota’s Prado can’t hold a candle to the Range Rover on the luxury front, but is probably the one you want if you like going cross-country.
Otherwise, this will look great pulling under the King’s College portico.
See used Range Rover Sport for sale.