Being a motoring journalist is quite a privileged position: paid to test drive brand new cars and tell readers whether they are any good or not. All cars have their good points (mainly) and today’s technology means there is hardly a bad one out there, some better than others naturally.
If it comes up in conversation what I do for a living, the first question people ask is, “What’s the best car you’ve ever driven?’ In reply I have a fairly stock, off-the-peg answer - ‘Well all cars are good, it just depends what you want one for.” Or I’ll elaborate further and say, “The fastest car I’ve ever driven is the Bugatti Veyron, but I would hate to own one with the cost of running the thing. Kia currently has amazing value for money cars in their stable, the soon to be released Optima will be ace.
The Bentley Conti GT has lottery winners queueing up to put their order in, but for me, the baby Bentley is a bit fat and, while I’m not a fattist, I’m not in my fifties either. Number one on my podium is the latest version of the Ferrari California.”.
Unlike many sports cars, the California is an everyday car; it’s not too low to rub against speed humps nor is it too hard on the suspension to knock your fillings out after you hit a pothole.
The California is not the fastest car on the planet, but it is fast: 0-100 kph in 3.9 seconds. It is a combo with a tin top foldable roof so you can enjoy topless fun. Kids also fit in the back with two rear seats. Price is an issue with a Ferrari California costing slightly over 1 million Dirhams with add-ons, but that adds to the exclusivity factor. Keep in mind included in that price is a five year warranty and servicing is thrown in too.
So my answer to the best automobile on the planet? The Ferrari California. That was until yesterday, when I found myself on British Army land amongst soldiers firing live ammunition. The Ferrari California is a bit rubbish off-road, so I was glad I was avoiding bullets in the new Range Rover Sport.
The elite SAS do their training on the Brecon Beacons, which gives you an idea of the tough terrain the Range Rover Sport is crossing. A major selling point for the Land Rover Group is its rich history of designing vehicles that can tackle muddy, wet fields and reach places off the beaten track.
High streets are now the domain of the SUV and with the Range Rover Sport’s starting price tag of 370,000Dhs for the entry level V6 3-litre, you’ll need a hefty bank account too. I guess that’s why I was driving the beautiful country lanes of the Cotswolds. The great British countryside in Gloucestershire is only 70 minutes from London and is one of the most affluent areas of the UK. Film stars, supermodels, rock legends and Jeremy Clarkson all live around the Cotswolds. This is an area that basks in the sunshine of the English summer but can be a wretched place in the cold or winter thanks to the combination of snow and steep hill roads. While driving around the scenic little picture postcard villages Land Rovers ruled - every other car seemed to be from the manufacturer.
I’ve never been on a test drive where so many terrains have been conquered. Like four seasons in one day the RRS battled the Brecon Beacons then took to the curves of the country lanes. The previous generation of the RRS was criticised for being more boat than sport; to prove that the 2013 model had taken that on board and listened, the narrow lanes were the perfect test.
The RRS put understeer and car sickness firmly behind as I flung it around the bends, frightening foxes in the thorny brambles in my wake. I’m sure they thought the ban on hunting had been overturned as the noise from the RRS beast vibrated all around. Exploiting Land Rover’s breakthrough lightweight suspension design and innovative dynamic chassis technologies, the Sport’s all-new, first-in-class aluminium architecture achieves a weight saving of up to 420kg. This transforms the vehicle’s dynamic performance, enabling it to blend agile handling with exceptional comfort, offering a unique mix of sporting luxury and a dynamic, connected driving experience, along with CO2 emissions reduced to 194g/km.
Hitting the country lanes, Land Rover proved that larger cars can still hack it in the country. This car is 10cm wider than a Q7 and, while I did breathe in a few times passing other motorists in the lanes, I emerged with both wing
mirrors still firmly attached.
The RRS accelerates too - with more pulling power than a premiership footballer, the V8 car took a deep breath and powered out of the 30 mph zones like Usain Bolt off the blocks, hitting 60 mph in 5 seconds. My next test took me to an active airstrip where I was allowed to race the light aircraft on takeoff and landing. At one point, reminiscent of the army scenes earlier on, the RRS was so fast on the runway, a low flying helicopter was on our radar, luckily I ran out of runway and had to back off chasing it like a dog on a chain. Here I had a little bit of fun, testing flat out acceleration to 100 mph and then anchoring up, braking back down to 0 in an emergency stop - all in an impressive 22 seconds for the V6 flavour while the 5.0 V8 variety is the fastest Land Rover in history.
Modern cars are filled full of computer wizardry that helps to keep us on the tarmac. Unfortunately some cars like to show off their skills too much and you feel like your drive is a battle against the computer. The RRS, elegantly British, kept the computers discreetly in charge in the background; quietly doing the job without need for recognition.
The team from Land Rover wanted me to see the alternative uses for their off-road technology so I was asked to take the RRS through the belly of a 747! You don’t realise quite how high the doors are on a 747 until you have to drive a car up 45-degree ramps - the car holding on to the ramps as though it were on magnets. With inches to spare, I made it into the cabin area of the 747 and with doors locked and cross-checked, I weaved my way around obstacles taking advantage of the turning and balance skills of the SUV. Finally exiting at the cockpit, hill descent control allowed me to let go of all controls, 40 feet high and a 45 degree slope as the RRS computer let me know it was there and guided me safely down to terra firma where I could easily have jumped out and kissed the floor I was that grateful.
Strangely for England in July, it was quite warm, in fact the beginning of a heatwave. Naturally, the British people can’t cope with any kind of heat so we took the RRS off into the forest for a bit of shade and a dip in the river to cool down. Land Rover have their very own proving ground with miles of off-road mud tracks and flowing rivers. The RRS hunkered down into off-road mode thanks to a few buttons being pressed and after putting its wellies on, we jumped into the mud. The smile on my face still hasn’t worn off from the RRS, like a greedy hippo it took to the mud with a big splash but with no loss of control. Even rivers one metre deep didn’t stop the car and to show its competence, it displayed the water depth on the in-board display screen.
After the water bath and the play in the mud we hosed off the RRS and headed out of the forest and back onto the tarmac, like a dog shaking itself off and chasing after the ball again. The hosing down summed up the Range Rover Sport for me - a car that is just as capable off-road as well as pulling up at the valet parking at a seven star hotel. The Range Rover sport is fast, luxurious, a grand tourer, a city dweller, a people carrier, an enthusiastic, go anywhere vehicle.
My answer to the earlier question has now changed - I believe that I’ve just driven the best car in the world - providing you go for the 5.0 V8 Supercharged version of the Range Rover Sport.
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Dynamic environment testing video
Story by Matt German