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Published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday February 24, 2010
There are three main kinds of off road vehicle. You have the genuine articles, not too fancy, that really get the job done. They ford rivers, climb over boulders, conquer slush and defy dongas. Then there are the Barbie dolls, full of wonderful technology, that can do more than they are usually given credit for, but don’t quite qualify as serious battle kit. Pussy footing around the outer edges is the third kind, the Crossovers, not quite sure of what it is they can do, or can’t, or shouldn’t…
Then you get Range Rovers; serious battle kit dressed up as Barbie dolls. Nine tenths of them do sterling service in the suburbs as Wembley and Kloof school run taxis and shopping trolleys. They belong to those who don’t really need ‘fawbyfaws’ but like to know that they could actually deliver if their bluff was ever called. A Sandton favourite, the Range Rover Sport, received an upgrade late last year. We tried it out.
The 4.2 litre engine was replaced with a brand new 5.0 litre unit and a new supercharger that delivers much improved performance, refinement and efficiency. It’s the same as the engine that goes into ‘R’ badged Jaguars, actually. For numbers junkies, it produces 375 kW of power and 625 Nm of torque. This is combined with longer gearing to improve fuel economy by a claimed 6.2 percent and to reduce emissions by up to 7.0 percent.
Exterior styling changes created a more stylish and sporting look, while an interior makeover resulted in quality and style improvements. The steering wheel gained shift paddles, while chassis refinements include active damping, new brakes and updates to the terrain response and stability control systems.
Even the reversing camera system has been put on steroids. Five cameras now provide nearly 360 degrees of view, while Tow Assist uses these to help you see where you are reversing your trailer. It’s also useful for seeing what’s going on at ground level while negotiating the tricky stuff.
Optional High Beam Assist technology incorporated into the new LED front headlights can automatically switch on high beam headlights when external light levels are below the system’s threshold. Importantly, the system is also designed to detect preceding and approaching traffic and, in a split second, automatically switch back to low beam to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers.
Improvements to engine calibration, reduced idle speed, reduced torque converter slip, smart regenerative charging on the overrun, faster warm up and reduced internal friction all combine to make the new engine more fuel-efficient.
For soft sand – a really power-hungry surface – ‘sand launch control’ permits noticeably easier drive-away. Speed-dependent wheel-slip targets for the traction control system permit only very limited initial slippage, helping to prevent the wheels digging down into the sand. This goes down a treat in the Emirates, apparently.
Revisions to the rock crawl program reduce any tendency of wheels to roll in an unintended direction when traversing boulders, giving a more composed drive through rocky terrain. Land Rover’s hill descent control system is enhanced by the addition of Gradient Release Control. This inhibits the initial rate of acceleration for descending very steep inclines, to increase control when braking is released at extreme angles.
Even the entertainment system has been improved, with greater iPod capability, flash drive and auxiliary connectors and RCA couplers for AV players.
More than a mere facelift, practically everything on this car has been given a makeover, possibly making it even more of a Barbie machine than ever. On the road, it goes like the thinly disguised sports saloon that it is, with only a hint of the top heaviness one expects of a vehicle this tall. Response to the accelerator is razor-sharp, hurtling the big car toward the horizon with very little provocation.
This brings me to my only reservation about the Sport. The secret to driving on loose surfaces is that you do nothing suddenly – no vigorous acceleration, braking or changes of direction. Razor-sharp throttle response, in inexperienced hands, could become a problem so the lesson might be: ‘drive softly and rely on the big computer.’
Price: R961 000
Engine: 4 999 cc longitudinal V8; quad cam, 32-valve, supercharged
Power: 375 kW at 6 000 rpm
Torque: 625 Nm between 2 500 and 5 500 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h (claimed): 6.2 seconds
Maximum speed (claimed): 225 km/h
Car magazine fuel index: 17.9 l/100 km
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
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