How can a car be comfortable when you’re off-roading?” asks my incredulous co-driver of the latest 2012 <a href="http://www.landrover.com/gb/en/rr/range-rover-sport/" target="_blank">Range Rover Sport</a>, as we ascend a rocky river bed, somewhere on the Roxburghe Estate in the Scottish borders.
It’s a good question. We’ve just descended a drop to access the river we’re in, that saw the 2.5-tonne vehicle free fall, nose down on a sheer incline for about 40-feet before its clever descent systems kicked in to save our whimpering arses.
It was the most extreme off-roading experience I’ve ever had – and I discovered that I am not as brave as I thought I was. I’m certainly not as hard as the Land Rover Experience guys, all fleeces and hiking boots and not one word of complaint, despite the freezing cold.
As a display of the Range Rover Sports off-road technical ability it was a masterstroke. The new Gradient Acceleration Control system is able to slow the car safely even on extreme gradients allowing us to regain control of the car – and our composure – before forging onwards upstream.
Refinement of the latest Range Rover Sport is helped in no small amount by the addition of an eight-speed transmission system and a new, more powerful, more economical 3.0-litre, 256bhp SDV6 diesel engine. Power and fuel economy is up while CO2 emissions are reduced from 243g/km to 230g/km. This is due, in part, to the new eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox.
The transmission system can be operated by the “Drive Select” rotary gear shift in the centre console or manually using paddle shifters. With eight speeds, the gearing benefits from closer ratios (the top end overdrive ratio is longer for improved fuel economy). Back on the road we found that shifting gears is so smooth – even when operated manually – that you can barely feel the gear changes.
A “Curve Detection” feature sees the gearbox holding on to the same gear when it detects a sequence of bends, avoiding unwanted upshifts – upshifts that take just 200 milliseconds. No wonder gear changes feel almost imperceptible.
Progression feels quick thanks to the twin turbochargers working sequentially. When combined with such a quiet and comfortable ride the driving feels incredibly refined.
My colleague slides a set of headphones on his head and begins to watch the news on TV while I glance at the navigation system which guides us home, on the same dashboard screen.
Land Rover’s new “dual-view” touch screen display is clever tech indeed. This Range Rover Sport also benefits from the addition of a power tailgate. This is a not an insignificant addition because serious off-roading leads to serious crud and now owners will be able to access the boot without getting even dirtier.
That the Range Rover Sport is so able off-road is not a surprise. That it manages to remain so comfortable both on and off-roading is.
In refinement terms it’s approaching its imperious sibling the Range Rover. Which makes the Range Rover Sport a very special car indeed.
THE FACTS: THE RANGE ROVER SPORT SDV6
TOP SPEED: 124MPH
CO2 G/KM: 230G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 32.1MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY ****