Have you ever seen Long Way Round, the TV series in which intrepid Pom Charley Boorman and his film star mate, Ewan McGregor, ride motorcycles 31,000km from London to New York?
I’ve always wanted to do an epic trip like that – in a car. However, the only machine I thought capable of copping such punishment is something like a Toyota Landcruiser. I’d rather ride an old donkey 31,000km than take that option.
But after a day driving around Tasmania, I rolled out of a new Range Rover Sport and had an epiphany. This is the car I could confidently traverse the Mongolian wilderness in and, if I happened upon a bit of blissful bitumen, could easily use for a bit of gleeful driving.
It’s all due to a little dial in the console, no bigger than a Monte Carlo biscuit, that fiddles with Range Rover’s electronic brains and gifts the supercharged V8 Rangie with a dual personality I’ve never experienced in a car before.
Select Dynamic mode (available in the more powerful models) and engine, throttle and gearbox get angry and the air suspension hunkers down. Active, hydraulically-controlled sway bars and active dampers (again in the gruntier versions) vanquish body roll in the 2310kg V8 Sport, helped by a new aluminium monocoque that is up to 420kg lighter than the previous model.
It tips into corners with surprising agility and when you pick up the throttle again, the big Rangie shuffles its huge torque between all four wheels, punching out of tight corners in a way a car this big just shouldn’t.
And punch it does. The 375kW/625Nm 5.0-litre V8 summons 100km/h in 5.3sec, with an exhaust note that sounds like a track off Satan’s latest album. Off road? The drive selector also unlocks an arsenal of bush-friendly settings, too many to list here. Ride height can be raised 65mm, there’s a 2.93:1 low range and 900mm wading depth; all adding up to impressive mud-raking ability.
Gripes? The centre screen menu is as about as easy to navigate as a Melbourne intersection. And don’t be ticking options boxes like a senate ballot paper: One test car on the launch had $34,000 in extras.
There are two petrol and two diesel engines, all mated to a superb eight-speed ZF auto. Prices start at $102,800 for the 190kW/600Nm 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 and $123,100 for the 250kW/450Nm 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol.
And that blown V8? That’s $182,400 in range-topping Autobiography trim. There’s also a 250kW/700Nm 4.4-litre turbodiesel V8 coming in early 2014 but the supercharged V8 is the one you want. And the one I’d happily spend 31,000km in.
Engine: 4999cc V8, DOHC, 32v, supercharger
Power: 375kW @ 6000-6500rpm
Torque: 625Nm @ 2500-5500rpm
0-100km/h: 5.3sec (claimed)
Price: $182,400 (as tested)