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InFocus

Improving on perfection

ROBBIE TIFFIN puts two superb vehicles through their paces

HOW do you improve on perfection? For example, what could Orson Welles do after directing Citizen Kane or how could Mozart improve after composing Serenade No. 13 for strings in G Major?

It’s not something that many of us have ever needed to think about so we don’t really spare it a second thought. I can’t even boil an egg to perfection let alone compose a masterpiece. It must, however, be difficult for those who can.

For example, where does Jenson Button go now he has reached the pinnacle of motor sport and, having done so, fulfilled his lifelong ambition? Should he bow out on a high and retire to a 300ft yacht with his supermodel girlfriend? Or should he train extra hard over the winter and come back next season desperate to improve his skills in order to defend his crown? Is it a risk worth taking?

I’m not sure about Jenson, but it was a risk that Land Rover was prepared to take through the launch of the new Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover Sport. Having driven both at the worldwide press launch this autumn, I am certain it will be handsomely rewarded for doing so.

Discovery 4

A mid-life makeover has made the workhorse of the Land Rover family not only more luxurious and efficient, but most importantly far more capable off-road than ever before.

As part of the styling revamp there’s a more aggressive looking Range Roverstyle grille, plus the increasingly popular LED lights used in both the front and rear displays. Inside, the designers have significantly reduced the number of buttons from the central unit, making it far more user-friendly than the previous model. In this case, less is clearly more.

The design team has focused on creating the sense that the Discovery is a premium product, one more than capable of competing with the upper echelons of car manufacturers, the Bentleys and Aston Martins, with vast swathes of soft tactile leather covering the interior and discrete brushed aluminium surfaces at every turn.

The technology behind the Discovery’s phenomenal off-roading abilities – Land Rover’s Terrain Response system – has also been improved. Drivers can now choose between a variety of settings tailored for specific surfaces, including snow, sand, gravel, rocks, and mud and ruts.

Having spent two days in the Scottish Highlands with Land Rover putting the car up, over, under and through some of the most challenging terrain possible, I can testify to how utterly capable it is on any terrain. I imagine some intelligent marketing chap was seriously tempted to rework the old Heineken ad: put simply, the new Land Rover Discovery “reaches the parts that other 4x4s cannot reach”.

The model I tested was specified with the improved 3.0 TDV6, which is 29% more powerful yet 9% less thirsty than the old 2.7-litre diesel engine. It is without doubt one of the finest diesels currently on sale and achieves the trinity of power, refinement and efficiency. The 600Nm of torque makes light work of the car’s size to ensure the Disco 4 is genuinely quick.

On the road, revised dampers and tweaked steering produce a composed ride, road noise is kept to a minimum, while cornering ability is also impressive. The suspension is also superb meaning that the new Discovery would be just as at home transporting C list celebrities from A to B as it would be driving up the side of Ben Nevis.

That, of course, is the eternal drawback of the quite excellent Discovery;Alist personalities will always see the Disco’s big brother, the Range Rover Sport, as more fitting transport for the upwardly aspirational and, as you’ll see later, the new Range Rover Sport provides absolutely superb and entirely luxurious transport but at a higher price and, inevitably, that means for some that it will be even more desirable.

The strapline used by Land Rover’s PR department is that the new Discovery is “the most accomplished car ever made”. After spending a couple of days putting it to the test I can’t see any logical reason to disagree.

Range Rover Sport

I was an ardent supporter of the previous Range Rover Sport and was a firm believer that it was easily the most accomplished SUV on the market, mixing looks with performance. Despite this, I had two significant criticisms of this enormously capable off-roader. The first was that, considering the cost, it’s just not a “proper” Range Rover and secondly that, despite being fairly quick, it was just not that sporty.

So, I was really looking forward to driving the new version if only to see whether these problem areas had been resolved, hopeful that the heavily revamped new Range Rover Sport would dispel my initial reservations and further strengthen its position at the top of its class.

On the question of the Sport’s claim to be a proper Range Rover, my doubts had been of both a technical and social nature. The technical objection was that the Sport shares its underlying architecture with the less expensive Discovery and not the class-leading Range Rover. Some might say that it is the Cava to Range Rover’s Cristal.

The social objection is that while the Range Rover represents all that is great and good about Britain and is likely to be driven by Dukes and Duchesses, the Range Rover Sport is all too often driven by builders who have just struck it lucky by placing their giro money on the football pools.

With the launch of the new Sport both of these reservations have been dispelled; we have already seen how the Discovery platform is simply outstanding and, on top of that, I think that the revised Range Rover Sport is a now far better looking car than the standard Range Rover.

Contrast the Sport’s sleek roofline and stylishly raked rear pillar with the slightly flabby flanks of the mainstream Range Rover; if anything, the Sport recaptures the essential dash and brio of the original 1970 Range Rover even better than today’s version.

Better materials, both interior and exterior, and complete attention to detail mean that this revised Range Rover Sport shows far more class than ever before. Most importantly, it can now be considered as far more “stealth wealth” than “flash cash”.

So what about performance? Land Rover has addressed concerns about any previous lack of sportiness by ensuring that the Sport has been reborn as a sports saloon assassin. The steering, braking and the rest of its on-road behaviour have been sharpened up considerably, and it is now much quicker, thanks to a pair of new, deeply impressive, engines.

The first of these is the full-fat supercharged five-litre V8. I tested this and can cheerfully report that it produces around 500 horsepower, putting it on a par with Audi RS4s and BMW M5s. Despite its considerable weight, this supercharged model delivers ebullient performance, going from 0-60 in under the all-important six second barrier.

This does come at a price as the fuel economy, whilst an improvement on the last supercharged Range Rover Sport, is still terrible at a paltry 19mpg. Sadly, the more sensible option, for most of us mere mortals, would be to opt for the standard, yet still sporty, V6 diesel which, whilst not offering anywhere like the barnstorming of the V8, in performance terms, will have a far less damaging effect on your wallet.

So the revised Range Rover Sport can now be considered a proper Range Rover and it is now also sufficiently sporty to live up to its name. Going into the test period, I really wasn’t ready to believe it but the team at Land Rover has seemingly achieved the impossible … improving on perfection.

A certain Mr Button should take note. It may not be time to retire to your super yacht after all.

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