Apologies for being quiet on AROnline for a little while this week, but I’ve just returned from a couple of days spent with Jaguar Land Rover for the launch of the Range Rover Sport model. As the middle model in its three-car line-up, the commercial success of this model is vitally important to its maker – sales equal profits; profit equals investment; investment equals better products in the future.
Following on from the Evoque and the L405 Range Rover, which both set an exceptionally high bar in the design and engineering stakes, the Sport needs to achieve the same level of brilliance in order to maintain the overwhelming momentum that Land Rover is carrying right now. I doubt it’s spoiling the ending of my upcoming drive story to say that the Sport does not disappoint in the slightest. You’ll have already read all about it all over the Internet. Nary a bad word has been said about the Sport, and with good reason.
My most long-lasting impression of the Sport was that it exceeded all of my expectations effortlessly. It wasn’t any single aspect of the Sport that wins you over – its interior ambience, its performance or its off-road capability – but the sheer breadth of all its abilities combined.
The Sport covers ground quickly and precisely and it’ll stay with a rapidly driven GTI on the most arduous of roads. But beyond that, you can take it off-roading and, just like a Land Rover should, it’ll tackle the roughest tracks with little effort on my part. Alongside me in the passenger seat was ever affable Dave Phillips of Land Rover Monthly magazine and, as we ploughed some reasonably challenging tasks on the second day, I said, ‘it’s all good, but I bet the 1992 Range Rover I’m considering buying could do all this just as easily.’
His answer surprised me. ‘No. The old Rangie doesn’t have the departure or ramp break-out angles,’ he said. ‘Nor does it have the ground clearance or wheel travel. Also, the electronics systems really do work exceptionally well.’ I had to agree with him – sitting there in utter comfort as the Sport drops down a 38 degree muddy slope, with my feet off the pedals as it did all the work, was profoundly impressive – especially considering that I’d been throwing the thing around some U-shaped bends on the A44 in the Cotswolds in a similar, if loftier, manner to a Nissan GT-R, pushing it hard with the throttle just minutes earlier.
Evening, and it was time to chat to one of the Engineers who shaped the Sport. I couldn’t help but gush about the car over a sparkling water, and saw the pride in his eyes as I babbled on about the brilliance of the steering. That’s the thing, listening to his thoughts on EPAS valving and calibration – and the sheer amount of work that this required – coupled with his obvious passion for the subject and skill in implementation, allowed me to warm a even more to Land Rover and enjoy the products of a company that’s shaped by boffins.
Other guys working there – I’ll not name names for fear of embarrassment – have so many interesting tales, it’s very difficult to know where to start. Stories garnered in places such as Canley, Cowley and Longbridge on cars such as the Metro, Maestro and Montego convince me that the legacy of Britain’s best engineering heritage is alive and well within Jaguar Land Rover at Gaydon. They’re in touch with the past, planning the future and utterly focused on Land Rover. It’s in their blood and abundant in the DNA of the cars rolling off the line right now.
It’s also heartwarming to know that these guys – after years of hard times – are now part of a world-beating company building some of the best product money can buy, making the most of budgets that are far less constrained than in the past. It would seem to be that Land Rover’s Designers and Engineers have been allowed to get on with their jobs unhindered by the external distractions encountered in the era of Leyland, British Leyland and Ford ownership – a similarly fertile environment, perhaps, to that which ended up giving us the original Land Rover and Range Rover.
I think it’s clear that the future of the British car industry seems to be safe in Jaguar Land Rover’s hands – the company’s product-led success makes me intensely proud. Well done Land Rover!