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Location – Scottish Badlands - Photography: Nick Dimbleby
The fast and the furious of the off-road world
It weighs 2,590 kilograms, yet will blast off from a standing start to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds. It’s also sports car tidy through the bends and more luxurious than a suite at the Dorchester.
You’re looking at Land Rover’s latest muscle car, the new generation Range Rover Sport 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged barnstormer, the fast and the furious of the off road world, if you will.
I’d been hearing nothing but good things about the new 5.0-litre Sport Supercharged edition and couldn’t wait to give it a proper going over on some deserted Scottish tarmac.
You would too if you knew there were 375 kilowatts and 625 Newton-metres of torque under the bonnet at your beckon call.
Better than that though, it’s an all new engine with cutting edge technology developed with the Jaguar team, and develops maximum torque at a healthy 2,500 rpm and pulls all the way to 5,500 rpm. This is surely going to bring the devil in me out.
But as I walked towards the white off road rocket ship, which was mine for the day with its standard fit 20-inch alloys, and extra wide 275/40 ‘All Terrain’ rubber, it just didn’t look any different from its lessor powered siblings.
I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with this degree of subtlety, perhaps a slight bulge in the bonnet just to let them all know who’s boss. Then again, I might go unnoticed on the road and that has its benefits too.
Apart from the supercharged badge, about the only distinguishing feature that would even mildly suggest that there’s some extra heat under bonnet, are the dual chrome tip exhaust pipes, which are non-chrome on the other Sport variants. And extra heat it does have, truck loads of it.
As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out when it comes to key versus starter button, but when it involves lots of grunt and a great big supercharger, hitting a starter button just seems right to me.
It’s mid-week and we’re on a fast track to the famous Chaterhall aerodrome for some dynamics testing in the Sport.
It’s also the spot where famous Australian Spitfire Pilot of Battle of Britain fame, Richard Hillary (author of The Last Enemy) was tragically killed in a training accident in 1943.
Later on, it became an equally famous race circuit where drivers like Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Roy Salvadori and Mike Hawthorn raced until the track finally closed in 1964.
I didn't think there was a lot wrong with the outgoing Sport Supercharged, that is, whenever you planted the right pedal, it got down to business rather quickly. The big off roader would hunker down with a vice like grip on the tarmac, before it took off to the sound effect of the Roots-type supercharger, as it spooled up.
But this new Sport packs a full 5.0-litres up front, as well as a host of new techno wizardry, so it should be in an all together different league to the old 4.2-litre model.
We’ve got one car to pass and then its clear road for the next hour, so I’ve dialed up the Dynamic setting on the Terrain Response, for a sharper throttle and steering response before we blast by this guy.
The gear ratios are quite tall and well calibrated for the extra torque now on tap, nonetheless, I’ve switched to the paddle shifters for that extra few hundred rpm during the overtake.
Quick shifting down to second, and I’m giving the Sport a bootfull and acceleration is immediate and doesn't let up, but I can’t hear the supercharger, I mean I can’t hear it at all!
Not sure whether I like the idea of zero aural affect under load, that dramatic whine always reminded me of Mad Max’s Interceptor, with its monster blower poking through the bonnet and the sound it made whenever Max (Mel Gibson) opened it up in pursuit of the bikers.
But in the interest of luxury and refinement, the sixth generation and twin vortex supercharger uses a high helix rotor, which while improving acceleration response over the previous unit, deliberately suppresses any induction noise from the system.
I’ll take more power and torque over sound effects every time if I have to, as the new Sport feels a lot quicker than the 4.2 litre version, but my question is, why can’t I have both?
It's very tight and super composed through these turns in fact, I’m taking most of these sweeping bends flat, and the Sport isn’t moving a centimetre off track. It’s seriously impressive and doesn’t behave like a vehicle of these dimensions and weight, more like a V12 Grand Tourer than an accomplished off road specialist.
As much as I’d like to think its about driver skill, that’s only half the story, Land Rover’s Adaptive Dynamics System provides the real magic here.
The standard dampers have been replaced by specially designed DampTronic Valve Technology damper units, which allow the damper rates to be monitored a staggering 500 times per second.
The system is so quick it’s considered predictive, which if you are moving quickly, as is the case right now, the dampers will have most likely been preset to a ‘hard’ setting before each turn in.
It works. I’m giving it heaps into this corner and body roll is non-existent and the Sport feels very planted, almost willing you to keep your right foot into it.
While the steering firms up slightly in the Dynamic mode, I’d suggest there’s room for even less power assistance at high speed, as this would provide even more feel through the steering wheel in these conditions.
No such advice needed in the braking department though, the specially designed Brembo 380mm ventilated front discs with lightweight six-piston monoblock calipers are enormously powerful and fade proof, as we found out after a close call on a two-way road, which was barely wide enough for a single MINI Cooper.
With all this additional power, you might not be expecting any improvement in fuel consumption, as the 4.2-litre Sport Supercharged had a fearsome reputation for consuming petrol at an alarming rate.
Things are better with the new model with a: a 29 percent increase in power; 12 percent increase in torque, 6.2 percent drop in fuel consumption and a 7 percent emissions reduction.
Ride quality is instantly more complaint with softer damper settings once we hit a few kilometres of straight road, and again, far more so than the outgoing model. That’s understandable when you see the inventory of driver aids this vehicle is equipped with.
The list reads like a systems catalogue: Electronic parking Brake (EPB); Electronic There are so many active control systems on board the new Sport, that the Brake-force distribution (EBD); All-terrain Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS); Electronic Differential Control, Emergency Brake Assist (EBA); Enhanced Understeer Control (EUC); Hydraulic rear brake boost, Roll Stability Control (RSC); Trailer stability assist; Hill Descent Control (HDC) with Gradient Release Control (GRC); Adaptive Dynamics and Dynamic Response, and all in the interest of keeping you on track and upright.
Land Rover have always made a fuss about their so-called ‘Command’ driving position and rightly so, it’s as though you’re sitting deep into the vehicle, as you would in a bona fide sports car, but at the same time, you have complete visual command of the road ahead. It’s quite remarkable and seemingly unique to the entire Land Rover range, including the bare-bones Land Rover Defender.
If the Land Rover Discovery 4 is more Ranger Rover Vogue than Discovery from inside the cabin, then unless you have a Range Rover Vogue and Range Rover Sport side-by-side for a live comparison, my guess is you won't be able to pick the difference.
In fact, when selecting the photos for this review, I found myself constantly confused as to which model I was looking at. Yes, the gap between the two interiors has narrowed enormously.
That’s probably due to Sport drivers globally, who tended to believe that the interior ft out in the previous Sport, was just a smidge better than the Discovery 3, and they were right.
But Land Rover have gone beyond the call of duty with the latest edition Sport Supercharged, as I seriously doubt a suite at London’s Dorchester Hotel, is as luxurious or comfortable, as this particular test car we’re sitting in.
The world’s supplest leather comes from the ultra fertile Pampas region of Argentina, and the Italians have been buying it for years. The hand-stitched tan leather pews (with a twist of orange) in this Sport are in the Bentley league, and are supremely comfortable and well bolstered.
And it not just about the seats either, the entire dash and part of the door trim is upholstered in the stuff. And where there isn’t any leather, that would be American Straight Grain Walnut Veneer, in a satin finish.
Even the steering wheel feels like its wrapped in the same type of leather, and is specially perforated for better grip. Beautiful.
And while there is plenty of metal highlights around the most of the switchgear thankfully, Land Rover believe less is better. With 50 percent fewer switches throughout the fascia, driving tends to be less stressful with more focus on the road ahead.
But don’t think for a second, that you have been deprived of any of the modern creature comforts you would expect in a vehicle of this status. On the contrary, the list of standard features across the Sport range, but especially the Supercharged, is so extensive it’s like reading an options list from another premium car manufacturer.
Range Rover as a brand, has just upped the ante in the four-by-four luxury stakes.
How’s this for a standard features inventory:
• 6-Speed adaptive automatic gearbox with CommandShift®
• Cruise control
• Push Button Start including electronic steering lock
• Terrain Response™ and Electric Park Brake
• Permanent four wheel Drive
• Centre electronic differential with low range transfer box
• Electronic cross linked air suspension with automatic load
leveling and multiple modes, access, normal, off-road, extended height
• Power assisted, speed proportional steering (PAS)
• Harmon/Kardon Audio Logic 7 Surround Sound System – 13Speakers, Steering wheel mounted controls, Active Subwoofer, DSP Amplifier (480Watts) Rear Headphone Module and USB Connectivity, Single Slot CD and iPod Connectivity Lead
Portable Audio Interface - allows connection of iPod, MP3 player and USB Mass Storage Device
• Premium Navigation System (Hard Disk Drive with full colour screen, voice control, off road-mapping and driver information centre
• Bluetooth® telephone connectivity and integration
• Hybrid TV system
• Adaptive Dynamics
• Dynamic Response
• Acoustic Windscreen and front row side glass
• Rain sensing wipers and automatic headlamps
• Exterior mirrors - power adjustable, heated
• Door puddle lamps and footwell lamps.
• Headlamps – automatic and rain sensors
Front Fog Lamps
• Park Distance Control - Rear
• Tailgate power latching
• Body Coloured mirror caps
• Rear Mounted Roof Spoiler with centrally mounted rear-
• Automatic dimming interior mirror
• Electric windows with one touch open/close
• Climate control - automatic with air filration and dual controls
• Illuminated front vanity mirrors
• Leather seats with electric driver's and passenger's adjustment (8 way) with manual lumbar
• Front adjustable arm rests
• Seats - Rear folding 65:35
• Premium Leather trimmed steering wheel and gear lever
• Combination of Wood veneer & Noble plated finish interior trim
• 5" TFT (Thin Film Transistor Screen) and Driver Information Centre
• Auxiliary Power Sockets - Front, rear 2nd row and rear loadspace
• Control Systems - Electronic Parking Brake (EPB), Slip Control System includes: Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), All-terrain Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Traction control (ETC), Dynamic Stability Control
(DSC), Electronic differential control, Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Enhanced Understeer Control (EUC), Hydraulic rear brake boost, Roll Stability Control (RSC), Trailer stability assist, Hill Descent Control (HDC) with Gradient Release Control (GRC)
• Airbags, full size driver & front passenger, driver & front passenger side and head, rear outboard passenger head airbags
• Remote Central Locking including auto lock on drive away
• Alarm System - Perimetric Security and passive engine immobilisation
• Steering Wheel Mounted Paddleshift
• Rear view camera
• Adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights with cornering lamps
• Automatic High Beam Assist
• Park Distance Control – Front
• Interior Mood Lighting
• Keyless Entry
• Seat Memory Pack - 3 settings for driver's seat and exterior mirrors, Drivers Power Lumbar Support, Steering column electric adjustment for height and reach with entry and exit tilt-away and Exterior Mirrors Memory
• Premium Leather with Electrically Adjustable Front Seat Bolsters
• Carpet Mat Set
• Extended Leather Pack - Premium Leather Topper Pad, Leather Door Top Rolls and Door armrests
• Sill Tread Plates - Stainless Steel
• High Performance Brakes
• Approach Lamps in door mirrors
• Chrome Exhaust Tailpipe
• Lower Front Bumper Plinth - Titan (bright finish)
• 20" Alloy Wheels
Much of the driver information is funneled through two screens; one centrally mounted 7-inch touch screen displaying the Satellite Navigation, Audio, Rear View Camera and Climate Control functions, while another smaller 5-inch screen sitting between the two main instrument dials, monitoring features such as High Beam Assist, Reverse Dip Mirrors and speed warnings etc.
Worthy of special mention though, is the Harmon/Kardon Audio Logic 7 Surround Sound System with 13 speakers.
For those of you yet are unfamiliar with the United States based Harmon/Kardon brand, rest assured, that you are unlikely to experience anything like the sound quality produced by this system, regardless of how many speakers or how much you spend on alternative audio packages.
After a brief driver briefing at Scotland’s Charterhall, we were on the skidpan for some wet and wild dynamics testing.
The brief was to go through a multitude of these water cones, with rapid changes of direction, but I’m afraid he lost me at the second set of cones. Fortunately, my driving partner was a highly intelligent female and these instructions fell into the multi-tasking bin – enough said.
Even under full throttle while performing back-to-back ninety-degree turns on a wet surface, the Sport Supercharged would not break traction and performed like a dodgem car in an electrical storm.
Next up, was a test to demonstrate the straight-line performance capabilities of the Sport Supercharged and brakes by Brembo. We would drag race from a standing start to 160km/h then back to a dead stop.
As I lined the Sport up on the start line, I made a last minute switch from the paddle shifters to the ‘Sport’ setting, given this is the new and improved ZF six-speed automatic transmission.
It’s supposed to deliver a faster shift as well as being smooth, but more importantly, it will alloy me to focus on braking from the moment we hit the 160km/h mark.
On the count of three, I nailed the throttle to the firewall and left it there. The big Sport just sat down at the rear and took off, as I worked to hold the line on this fairly shabby bit of tarmac.
Moments later, my colleague yells “155, 160 and brake!” at which point I jumped on the Brembos, forcing the front end to end dive forward before coming to a dead stop.
All up, the entire exercise had taken just 15 seconds from go to woe, but here’s where it gets really interesting.
When the same test was undertaken by the 4.2-litre Sport Supercharged (no slouch itself), it was still trying to hit the 160km/h mark, after the new model had already come to a complete stop.
There is no question that the Sport Supercharged is a quick steer, and a highly competent performer on the tarmac, but no road test in anything wearing Land Rover badge could ever be seen as complete without some proper off road driving.
After all, there are several other high speed luxo SUV’s that could keep up with the Sport Supercharged or better, but not one of them has enough off road DNA to dare tread in this area known as Ruffside, in Scotland.
Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. One minute we’re enjoying a quiet drive down a delightful country lane, the next thing I know we are dropping off a bloody steep embankment and relying on faith and something called Gradient Release Control.
Even though I have my foot hard on the brake prior to letting the Hill Decent Control take over, Gradient Release Control will slow the initial acceleration down to avoid any kind of violent lurch when I release the brake.
It works, yes, almost too easy though. You just have to learn to hand over throttle control to this amazing piece of technology.
Once down the embankment, which was more a riverbank, we then submerged the front end of the sport into a fairly deep creek and proceeded to travel upstream.
I know this is supposed to be Land Rover’s tarmac hot rod, but this terrain seems more hardcore than what challenged the Discovery 4 earlier on, and again, I have not felt a single millimetre of traction loss all day.
It’s no different in the mud, and I mean lots and lots of wet mud. The Sport is climbing muddy hills as easy as the Disco 4 was able to do it, but in even greater comfort.
It’s a difficult course for sure, but just like the Range Rover and Discovery 4, I almost wishing we could be let loose on a British Army tank proving ground, because I’m genuinely interested in seeing what it takes to stop the new Land Rovers.
No such luck, after several hours driving through some seriously evil off road tracks and creeks, the Sport Supercharged has triumphed without so much as a wheel slip.
The Range Rover Sport Supercharged is unique in its ability to blast along a windy stretch of road with sports car like handling, and then seconds later, be crawling through 30 centimetres of mud and ruts in lounge chair comfort. No other SUV or four wheel-drive on sale today, can come close to claiming this breadth of capability.
Range Rover Sport 10MY Australian Prices
- 3.0L TDV6 - $99,900
- 3.6L TDV8 - $120,500
- 3.6L TDV8 Luxury - $135,500
- 5.0L V8 – 125,900
- 5.0 V8 Luxury - $138,900
- 5.0 V8 Supercharged – 159,900