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Old for new? Getting sporty with Range Rover

Old for new? Getting sporty with Range Rover

I admit it, until now I wasn’t really a flag waver for the Range Rover Sport, probably a feeling cultivated by watching the school-run brigade block the surrounding streets every day.

I can appreciate what they are, and a childhood love of big, mud plugging kit means I’ll always be drawn to the Land Rover Defender, but the Range Rover Sport… Well apart from the bonkers nature of the Supercharged V8 i just didn’t get it.

Having tested a standard specced V6 diesel for a day back in mid 2012, I could see it was an incredibly able machine but I came away feeling a little empty; maybe a few hours test on boring suburban roads wasn’t enough?

This certainly was confirmed when I subsequently received a MY2012 Sport Autobiography edition for a week’s test, far from a novel experience!

Just to set the record straight, this is not the brand new RR Sport (which I hope the kind team at Range Rover give us to test in the future), it is one of the outgoing model which has had many new design features added for 2012/13.

The Autobiography edition loaned to us came in Nara Bronze with almond and arabica (new ice cream flavour please Ben & Jerry) premium leather seats and silky oak veneer. It sounds amazing before you have even seen the beast and believe me, it looked wonderful in the flesh!

The finish, as you would expect from a £60,000 plus ($70,000 €89,000) new car, was of the highest standard and a real testament to British coach building. From the stainless steel ‘Autobiography’ engraved door sill covers to the soft carpet clad floor, you just want to spend an hour running your hands over every aspect of this car so you can appreciate the workmanship even more.

Quality is a characteristic this car has in spades and the attention to detail is spot on. Climbing up into the cabin and shutting the door with a reassuringly sturdy, yet still elegant, ‘thunk’ you almost feel like you have arrived into your own mini shooting lodge on wheels; all that’s missing is a log fire.

The 3.0 litre SDV6 turbocharged engine (as enhanced by Range Rover in 2011) starts up with very little fuss and idles with a quiet hum in the sound insulated cabin. A delightful touch on firing the car up is the gear selector knob (quiet at the back) elegantly rising out of the centre console. Yes I’m easily satisfied but it’s almost as if the RR is pleased to see you!

Setting off in the car is unusually smooth for a vehicle of its size. It slides onto the road and the towering seating position really does give you greater confidence with better all-round vision.

The ZF 8 speed auto gearbox is silky through the shifts and most of the time there seems to be little point in the steering wheel mounted paddles, unless you are in Sport mode and wanting access to higher rev up shifts. The gear box comes with a variety of different settings from ‘normal’ (town pottering) to Sport (changing the throttle mapping/gear ratios for better acceleration and lighting the speedo and rev counter needles in an ember red glow, very snazzy) to Dynamic (apparently adapts to your driving style, which is awfully obliging); this was the setting I left it in most of the time.

Being an off-roader at heart the Sport comes with a range of stability/suspension/terrain settings which are neatly indicated by little pictures. For example, a RR slightly slanted on a hill with snow flakes indicates the setting for, yes you guessed it, snow driving and it works. We had to test it, but more on this later.

The RR is surprisingly easy to drive around town too, once you’ve got to grips with the size, a Mini it ain’t! Power steering makes for easy manoeuvrability and the surround camera system (a strongly recommended optional extra) and excellent turning circle means most busy supermarket car parks are actually a doddle.

During our week with the RR I was tasked with reviewing a hotel in the Cotswolds, a great opportunity to give the car a proper test. The M25 and M4 were easily eaten up as we blasted along in comfort; the Sport is no slouch conjuring up 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds and plenty of torque from the turbo Diesel engine when required for over taking.

The cabin was a delightful place to be during a four hour schlep along one of the UK’s main arteries. The radar adaptive cruise control (one of the best I’ve encountered) once speed was set, proceeded to do the majority of the work bar steering which allows you to keep your senses sharp especially when it is dark and rain is hammering down on the panoramic windscreen.

Not to sound clichéd but the Range Rover felt reassuringly safe. Whilst at the helm of the luxury off road sports tourer, my passenger might as well have been in their lounge at home! The seven inch dash mounted touchscreen (incredibly user friendly even with voice commands) comes with dual view technology (optional extra), so I could watch the GPS whilst my passenger had a choice of DVD or Digital TV to kick back to. It is a really cool bit of kit and for all you techno geeks the premium Harmon Kardon Logic system produces an ear battering 825W from no less than 17 speakers; especially disconcerting when the EastEnders theme comes on as you’re driving and all you can see is a roadmap!

To top all this off and to send this into the freezer for sub-zero coolness, there is a fairly sizeable fridge in the arm rest to keep your sarnies and drinks cold. By the time we reached the hotel I was considering staying in the Range Rover for the night.

Bumpy country lanes really do feel like the natural habitat of this car and over our weekend away I think we experienced every type the West Country had to offer! I began to grasp the relevance of this vehicle and the feeling was completely cemented when the British weather threw us a curveball in the shape of heavy snow (yes I know it’s summer now, this was not so long ago however).

Coming back from a day’s clay shoot, the lanes were beginning to look like the top of an iced wedding cake. In my usual rear wheel drive hack this might have given me the feeling that an X list celebrity on Dancing on Ice goes through, worry! But not in the RR Sport. A push of a button on terrain settings, ice and snow mode engaged and no 25% gradient hill or icy track were too much. Once again this car felt like it was looking after you.

By the end of our week with the RR Sport I fully understood the concept of this safe, capable, luxury machine. This is a vehicle that covers all of the bases from great performance to exceptional hauling capability both in cavernous boot space and towing capacity.

In addition to all the above, it easily returned mid 30’s mpg economy over seven days of mixed use. Having driven all southern England we only needed an extra £15 of diesel to keep it above the reserve tank (a distance of over 400 miles).

The only real criticism I can level at this car is that the ride in the back is a little more bumpy than the front and that the rear seat entertainment system (back rest mounted TV’s and wireless headphones) is quite an expensive extra at £2,300 ($3,400 €2,700). I feel guilty as I scrape these two criticisms from the barrel because that really is all I can find.

So where does this leave us with the brand new Range Rover Sport entering the market? Well I for one, am seriously excited about testing the brand new model having experienced the outgoing version.

So could this article be seen as an obituary for the now ‘old’ (MY2012) model we tested? Far from it, the older incarnation will still continue to hold its own and better most of its rivals, a testament to the vehicles the engineers at Range Rover produce. For me this is a model to watch as the residuals should become more attractive now it has been superseded, there are deals to be done people.

On the road price of the car we tested excluding extras mentioned in the article above is £67,995 ($101,217 €78,989).