25 Sept 2013

Let's Off Road! Serious off-roading in a Range Rover Sport

Land Rover Vehicles are renowned for being the best road vehicles off road and to show off their off road vehicle’s dynamics they have built 10 courses dotted around the country from Liverpool down to Devon, so you can experience the thrill of off-roading for yourself.

The courses are pretty extreme and designed to seriously demonstrate the vehicles dynamics and competences in terms of clearance, water proofing, power and agility.

I took part in a taster course at the Experience Centre at Solihull and there was a choice of a new Range Rover, new Range Rover Sport, Discovery, Defender and Freelander.  Being a Speedmonkey I thought I would try out the £82k new Range Rover V8 Turbo Diesel, while the other party used a new Range Rover Sport.

These are standard road cars with road tyres and no special equipment unlike ‘The Beast’ the "Off-roaders" used in the Fast Show.
Range Rover Sport off road

So, loaded up with 5 blokes in the luxury interior I started the drive over to the course entrance. At the start the instructor asked me to stop the car and press the button marked ‘Lo’ and with a picture of a mountain.  This did three things: put the gearbox in low ratio, increase the height of the air suspension and put the computers in attack mode to monitors the conditions 100 times a second ready for what the course was about to throw at it.

We worked our way around the various areas of undulating and twisting woodland with nothing to test the car other than the air suspension and ride quality, which was superb, then we saw the stream. I headed through it at a steady pace and the car began to sink.  As we got further in there didn’t appear to be an end, the RR seemed to float and pick up traction every now and again with the steering coping admirably with the gentle turns. Then we saw a family of ducks out for a morning stroll so I kept my speed down and they waddled to the side, as can be seen in the video below.  It was a surreal experience and not one normally seen when in vehicle with 4 wheels.

The RR and RRS both have water filtration systems within the bonnet and can tread water up to a depth of 900mm without the use of a snorkel, which would have been required on the outgoing model. The ground clearance is 297mm so any underground boulders or tree stumps are easily cleared.

Once out of the stream we headed to various inclines which were tackled with ease both up and down in complete security, the 516 torques proving sufficient for the day. Then we swapped drivers and I sat in the middle rear seat which gives the best view.

Range Rover Sport off road
The new driver then lined up to the next obstacle, an odd man-made creation consisting of a 45 degree slope on the right with concrete steps to the left, then a small, flat rest area before another sequence of steps and slope. He set off gently and started up the slope, the right side being smooth but the left banging away as each step was achieved and then to a rest on the middle platform. We then set off again slightly slower as there was no run up.  The torques were working away from low revs towards the top but the lower speed lost a little tracking so the instructor shouted "floor it" and the RR took off, but with a twist as there was greater traction to the right - think power sliding a tractor with a flat tyre up a hill - it was an awesome feat.

Next up, after a play on some more hills, was the balancing pivot bridge, it’s very straightforward but a little fun, the driver nudges forward until they feel the weight of the car moving and slowly the platform tips up and forward until it’s completely over and at 45 degrees you then drive off, like a giant expensive see-saw.
Range Rover Sport off road

The final obstacle and one which is used in few ways is a 4 foot high man-made mound of concrete, firstly we drive the car sideways up it to test out the fall angle and it’s safe up to 40 degrees which is more than enough to make the passengers on the high side of the vehicle put near enough their entire weight on the passengers on their lower side.

Secondly it is driven over an angled bank of 45 degrees to show off the front and rear end ground clearance and then it is parked on top, balanced on 2 adjacent wheels. The instructor asks us to open the doors to highlight the lack of chassis flex and as we do they open perfectly cleanly with no sag or lag distorting the frames. Close the doors and tip it over the other side for maximum effect. I watched as the RRS completed this and the lady in the back screamed as it tipped up and over.
Range Rover Sport off road

Sadly that was the end of the course but it’s a wonderful way of showing off the products which sadly will likely only get used for mounting kerbs outside of schools or shops. The RR and RRS proved worthy tools for the job and it’s amazing to think they work really well as a road car yet can also handle this course.

There only issue I had with the course is that by using the RR where so much is handled by computers and amazing air suspension that there’s no fear or feel in the experience.  It just does the job and very well too. I think it would be much more fun to do it in a Defender with fixed level suspension and manual diff locking so you have to work it yourself and know what torture the vehicle’s actually going through.

At the Solihull Land Rover Experience the courses start at £225 for a half day which will include longer in the car than my taster day, taking advantage of the 14 miles of varied terrain and man-made playground.

To find your nearest centre click this link.

Thanks to Jonathan Humphrey of Drive.co.uk for the 'ducks' video

Article by Colin Hubbard