Home on the Range

At the Land Rover Experience Eastnor, Range Rover Sport kicks dirt at the detractors who think it is just another posh-roader.

 

 

‘Posh-roaders’ take a lot of unnecessary flak these days, since anybody and everybody worth their salt in the premium to luxury segments profess to have one, two or many in their model line-ups. It’s not enough to be all-wheel driven (although some contenders aren’t even!) too, since a rugged bodykit is also de rigueur for trailblazing paths into the great wilderness of the farthest reaches of the Takashimaya carpark.

As far as off-road royalty is concerned, it doesn’t matter who does what where and when, it can all be traced back to the Land Rover (LR) and its prestigious offshoot, Range Rover (RR). We’re already convinced of the Land Rover Discovery 4’s off-road prowess, as well as that of the Range Rover Vogue, so we quickly gravitate towards the apologetically white Range Rover Sport (RRS) SDV6 HSE. To our eyes, this seems the most unlikely of the lot to be caught frolicking rough-and-ready in the mud, not least because of its side-sill extensions and smart, sporty silhouette, so by that elimination, it’s ‘It’!

In Singapore, the turbodiesel version of the Range Rover Sport comes with third-row seating, which boosts its carrying capacity to 5+2, albeit not in the same full-sized seven-seat sense as the Disco4. We’re already familiar with the 3.0-litre supercharged petrol model’s on-road prowess, so we’re far more keen to exploit the off-road potential of the turbodiesel SDV6 HSE. Now, some brands think a little bit of gravel and knobbly tracks is ‘off-road’, but Land Rover is not one to bandy around the term lightly, since its cars, particularly the Range Rovers, are expected to traverse all kinds of terrain, before finishing off for dinner at the lodge and post-meal tipple at a gentleman’s club.

And why shouldn’t they either? After all, these leviathans have come to be regarded as credible alternatives to more traditional luxury limousines such as the A8, S-Class and 7 Series, as buyers attempt to wander off the beaten path, or at least to try to look the part while staying firmly planted on the bitumen.

As an aside, the brand graciously arranges transport for the missus and me from our London accommodation to the sprawling grounds of the Eastnor Castle – that’s about three hours each way, including some truly nasty stints through traffic snarls. In retrospect, we’re glad we didn’t attempt driving the distance, since the full-day course left us pretty knackered at the end of it all.

Many fans of LR/RR regard Eastnor as the brand’s spiritual seat, since the relationship between the two spans some fifty odd years – pre-production models continue to make their muddy rounds around the course even to this very day. In fact, we spot some heavily camouflaged vehicles that look to be around the Freelander’s proportions – possibly a replacement rumoured to be dubbed ‘Discovery Sport’, perhaps?

The LR Experience centre is nestled within a small portion of Eastnor’s sprawling 5000 acres in the Malvern Hills, which is designated an ‘AONB’, or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its challenging off-road terrain spans some 70km outright, but can otherwise be mixed-and-matched for some truly dastardly route combinations.

The mud-packed combinations include steep inclines, water-logged trenches and off-kilter articulated paths that will even see one wheel cheekily lifting to expose the Rangie’s underbelly, even as the other three tyres scrabble to bring the car back on track – all the better to put every aspect of the vehicle’s features and monitoring systems to the test, such as Terrain Response, Hill Descent Control, Surround camera system and even the various states of traction control for instance.

Before we are let loose in the car, we’re given a detailed breakdown of the physics behind the technique by a gregarious pair, Carl Walsh and Robert Barr. The former is an erm, former instructor and member of the Armed Response Unit, while the latter is an active member of the fire brigade. Interestingly, they were brought into the fold during training stints in their respective fields, before getting their hands dirty by bringing participants out into the field on their very own magical mystery tour.

Precision, rather than speed, is the order for the day. The RRS’ 600Nm from just 2000rpm means it remains relatively unstressed throughout the day for most of the exercises. Despite the argy-bargy rumble tumble on the deep uneven ruts, you don’t really need a lot of speed to make brisk progress, since it’s about risk assessment before commitment as well. There’s always great visibility from inside the RRS and the occupants are kept in comfort even as the car is put through the most filthy of circumstances.

However, the RRS never loses its quiet dignity, even when it’s smudged grey-brown with mud-streaks from the characteristic gruel-filled trenches found around the course after the end of each exercise. There’s something ‘right’ about how the RRS acquits itself and its presence in the forest is never a blight upon the landscape, but fits in with the same solemn, lumbering gravitas of an elephant in the jungle.

We traverse side-slopes, water-crossings and other obstacles with three on-board: instructor Carl, me driving and the missus in the back. Despite the cabin’s premium accoutrements, there’s never any doubt that the RRS can take a beating and still stay comfortable for its occupants, insulating them even to a certain extent from the bush-whacking going on without. In fact, it’s not until our second mud-bath with the RRS rubber-deep in sloshing mud that the wife’s reverie is broken and she spots the impressive bow wave that is forming before the car (of course, this isn’t the optimum method of progress through water, but it is certainly very dramatic for the photographs!).

The RRS’ Terrain Response rotary controller is in prime position, which varies every aspect of the vehicle’s parameters in different terrain conditions, and the other off-road-ready stats are easily accessed via the central touchscreen display, especially with regards to elevation and water level. Even when the RRS is trundling along in the deep ruts, the steering and ride are never unruly – a rather compelling testament to the brand’s formidable abilities.

Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE
Engine                 2993cc, V6
Power                        292bhp at 4000rpm
Torque                        600Nm at 2000rpm
Gearbox                8spd automatic
Top Speed                209km/h
0-100kmh                7.2secs                        
Fuel efficiency                7.5l/100km
CO2                        199g/km
Availability                Wearnes Automotive Pte. Ltd.

[For more details on the off-road courses, visit www.eastnor.landroverexperience.co.uk]

Story: David Khoo at the Land Rover Experience Eastnor, England
Photographs: James Arbuckle

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.

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