Driving through a remote location, no one would blink at the sight of a LandCruiser or Patrol, but a Range Rover?
That would have jaws dropping and tongues wagging: “Must be city folk with no idea! How did they even get that out here?”
With a tonne of awards, most off-roaders will grudgingly agree that Range Rovers are capable off-road, but they’ll wisecrack: “As long as they have technical support crew!”
But hi-tech enhancements – once the domain of expensive marques – are now commonplace in new 4X4s. Systems that Land Rover pioneered have been validated as other manufacturers implement similar technology. Being the innovator provides plenty of testing time, leading Land Rover to a level of reliability that could have some eating their words. So who takes a new Range Rover bush? Meet Gordon German.
Gordon is no stranger to the Land Rover brand, having fond memories of the go-anywhere do-anything capabilities of the old trucks he saw while growing up in East Africa. Gordon recalls being a wide-eyed scrubby kid crawling all over two never-seen-before Range Rovers that landed in Kenya in the early 70s. With unrivalled luxury, off-road ability and a top speed of 100 miles per hour, this was the stuff of legend.
Gordon started four-wheel driving in the eighties with a succession of Toyotas and Isuzus. Today, Gordon is an accredited four-wheel driver with over 20 years of experience, touring and competing. He returned to the Land Rovers of his childhood with an old Range Rover two-door Classic, then a Disco 1 TDI, followed a couple of D3s, until last year saw the German’s driveway occupied by a metallic-red 2010 bi-turbo Range Rover Sport.
I asked Gordon, “Why Land Rover, when there are so many more popular choices available?” Gordon responded with a been-there, done-that, bought the T-shirt kind of answer. “No other 4X4 is as versatile in stock form. It has the functionality and practicality of a large SUV, the creature comforts of an executive sedan, with the on-road manners of a sophisticated European
independent-suspension design. Yet it executes off-road duties with the sort of capability and performance normally associated with a traditional beam axle with lockers!”
Powering the Rangie Sport is the superb 3.0-litre sequential bi-turbo diesel V6. With 500Nm just off idle, this is no slouch off the lights. I asked Gordon if he’d made any changes to enhance performance, but he replied, “No, I don’t need to – the engine has just continued to improve with mileage. Whether enjoying open-road cruising, towing a large caravan or driving in challenging off-road conditions, the engine has never ceased to impress me.”
The Sport also has the brilliant ZF six-speed auto; around town it’s quick and smooth, while off-road it’s proven itself to be reliable and strong, even in the most demanding conditions. If Gordon wants to get a little more interactive with the driving then he can simply slip the lever into the sport mode. Additional equipment complementing the driveline and ensuring the Rangie’s off-road prowess are Land Rover’s locking centre and rear e-diffs.
The suspension is OEM standard Land Rover with independent all-round air springs. It provides three standard driver selectable height adjustments, including lifted for off-road work, plus an extended height function for when the vehicle gets hung up – it provides an additional lift over off-road height to help clear the object.
One interesting feature Gordon demonstrated was how, with low-range selected, a cross-axle valve unit comes into play, directing air between the front or rear wheels. This causes the suspension to mimic the reaction of a live axle, enhancing articulation across undulating surfaces. Add the fact the air suspension can provide 240mm of ground clearance and it’s easy to see the showroom-standard Sport has some impressive off road credentials.
This particular Rangie doesn’t spend much time parked outside a trendy wine bar. Gordon runs Green Oval Experience (GOE), a business dedicated to providing four-wheel driver training and advice to current and potential owners of late-model Land Rovers such as the Disco 3 and 4, Range Rover Sport, and Freelander 2. He has the perfect background for training: Having spent years as a university lecturer, Gordon has a talent for imparting the workings of complex electronics in plain English. Gordon has also successfully topped his class in three seasons of tough 4X4 competitions. Pitting a standard Disco 3 against highly-modified vehicles is testament to his knowledge, capability and hands-on experience with these 4X4s. Their off-road performance often leaves newcomers to the brand astonished.
When Gordon’s not putting the Range Rover Sport through the rigours of GOE training demonstrations, it’s either hooked up to the family caravan or being packed up for the next remote camping trip.
I asked Gordon how he’d set up his rig for remote travel given the rather limited amount of aftermarket gear for the Sport, especially tyre options for those 19-inch rims.
Providing the vehicle with additional protection when negotiating difficult terrain was high on the list, but there were limited options locally and cost-prohibitive choices from overseas. So Gordon and the team at GOE set about designing and building accessories tailored to Australian conditions.
Custom-built rock sliders adorn the side of the Rangie and protect the sill panels from bumps and scrapes; they also double as a step to reach the roof rack. One of the key design features was to ensure the mounting system did not impede independent movement between the monocoque floor pan and the separate chassis rails.
There’s also a GOE compressor plate to protect the air suspension pump from wayward stones or rock ledges when the going gets really tough. Gordon mentioned they were in the process of developing an emergency air-up system for the suspension should the unthinkable happen, thus allowing you to drive out of danger and back to your local dealer for repairs.
One of the design ‘features’ of Land Rovers is their annoying habit of dropping out of off-road height once you exceed 50km/h. Probably acceptable in England where 50km/h is as fast as you’d want to travel down a narrow, slushy green lane, but not so helpful when traversing outback corrugations or engine-sapping soft sand. No problem; GOE has developed a suspension link kit that provides an additional 50mm of ground clearance when fitted.
And back to those ridiculous 19-inch rims. Gordon’s working with Compomotive Rims, an international wheel manufacturer that supplies motorsport teams. The result is an 18-inch alloy rim that effectively clears the larger braking system on the D4 and Sport (while complying with Australian design rules), of which GOE is official distributor.
Running more appropriate rubber on the new 18-inch rims has improved sidewall height, allowing for an increased footprint length when airing down. It was probably Gordon’s most important mod – running 19-inch low-profile tyres to remote locations is too much of a gamble. Thanks to the new rims, he’s got a choice of rubber in the garage – the Cooper ATR 265/60R18s and a set of Maxxis Bighorn 275/65R18s.
Rounding out the goodies on this rig are a genuine Range Rover Expedition roof rack with side awning, ideal for roadside cuppas. Navigation duties are covered by a Hema Navigator GPS and Spot satellite tracker. Two seven-inch HID spotties ease eye strain when the sun runs for cover, and the Phillips Crystal Vision high-beam globes balance the light temperature produced by the OEM Xenon main globes. There’s a set of twin Boab 60-litre internal tanks plus a false floor for the rear, adding significant travelling range for longer hauls with a solid flat surface for those camping necessities.
On the electrical side, Gordon’s fitted a Traxide battery management system for the second remote battery and caravan charging duties. Holding a PhD in computer science and degrees in engineering, it’s easy to see where Gordon’s love of technology stems from. The piece de resistance award has to go to the wireless Kiwi PLX OBDII Bluetooth adaptor plus ‘Torque’, an Android app for systems monitoring. Plugging the PLX unit into the vehicle’s OBD (on-board diagnostics) connection, Gordon can configure his smart phone to show a range of options, such as gauges for oil/trans temps, voltages and vehicle performance data, including basic fault codes. How cool is that?
The Sport’s pulled a large caravan through much of southern WA. Then there are the training courses; it’s completed 12, including an advanced weekend course through Harvey and Brunswick, along with several Australian Land Rover Owners off-road days.
Gordon said his favourite spots these days are Margaret River and the Porongurups. Great scenery and, of course, the vineyards! Next on the list was Harvey for challenging forest tracks. The beaches around Perth are spectacular. Further afield, Flinders in South Australia for scenery, Coober Pedy for plain weird, Ningaloo and the Exmouth peninsula for stress relief, and the driving via Mount Augustus to get there! Gordon’s yet to tour the Simpson Desert or Vic High Country, but they’re high on the to-do list.
Having just completed the Canning Stock Route the Sport showed a clean pair of heels with no faults or breakages, a testament to the vehicle’s build quality.
I asked Gordon, “If it was so good off the shelf, what did you gain from the mods?”
“The car can tour anywhere,” was his response. “Two-hundred litres of fuel gives me over 2000km range, and the 18-inch rims offer a good selection of off-road tyres.”
With Gordon having put the Sport through its paces several times, I was keen to get the good oil. “What are the best two standard features, and what could the manufacturer could change to make it better?”
“Only two?” Gordon grinned. “Okay, the Terrain Response/EAS/eLocker package makes it pretty unstoppable, and my desire to keep the car out of the panel beaters is the only limiting off-road factor. The performance of the 3.0-litre bi-turbo diesel is phenomenal. As for improvements, an emergency manual override for the centre diff would be handy. That way you could still comfortably drive if you broke a CV joint.”
Asking Gordon if he’d buy another Land Rover product seemed futile, but I did anyway. If he could start with a clean slate, would he change anything? “I’d order the paddle-stick gear change,” he said. “Having driven a Sport with one off-road, I can see how useful it is for manual shifting without taking your hands off the wheel.”
With such a great go-anywhere rig, it’s hard to think of what else Gordon could need. But, like the rest of us, he has a list of just a few more bits and bobs.
“A front bash plate will be my next project. Mind you, a hidden winch install is also on the cards. Oh, and LED strip lighting… and Mickey Thompson STZ 18-inch tyres. Oh, and er… maybe a nice new Range Rover Vogue?”