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Friday 28th January 2011


RANGE ROVER SPORT TO THE 'RING

Faster than a Lotus Exige? Only if Dan Trent's driving the Lotus...

Fog-bound arrival at ‘NüroDisney’
Fog-bound arrival at ‘NüroDisney’
On the Land Rover stand at the Detroit auto show, 36 hours away from driving to Germany for our Nürburgring investigation, I indulge in a bit of Nordschleife geekery with PR man Richard Agnew. I bemoan the fact the webcam suggests the track will still be a metre under snow by the time I get there.

"You should take a Range Rover Sport," says Agnew. "It'll be good in the snow and you know it'll go around in 8:55 on standard tyres. And the guys reckon there's more to come."

Whaat? Given my personal best is a smidge over nine minutes, and that effort left me trembling with excitement, fear and adrenaline for at least a week, this sounded astonishing. Especially given that said 'Most Awesome 'Ring Lap Ever' was achieved in a Lotus Exige S. On track rubber, in perfect weather conditions and on a deserted track.

On the P&O ferry - champers declined...
On the P&O ferry - champers declined...
Either I'm rubbish or the Range Rover is something very special. Or, perhaps, they employed an utter mentalist to drive it. Maybe a bit of all three, my fragile ego hoping they just took a secret off-road shortcut at the Karusell and missed out a chunk of the track.

Sadly I won't be finding out as the only 'ring I'll be driving on this trip will be the one around Brussels en route to my appointments in Germany with various Nürburgring folk.

Before that though it's a daft'o'clock start and an early ferry. A glass of complementary fizz in the P&O Club Lounge is a tempting offer but tea is probably a better bet, no matter how much the Range Rover's purple paint and pale leather interior shout the blingy, champagne lifestyle.

Belgium, looking lovely as ever
Belgium, looking lovely as ever
It does seem odd to be driving out to the 'ring in a 4x4, but as Belgium heralds its arrival with the inevitable huge potholes, standing water and bumper-to-bumper driving I'm glad to be in the Range Rover. Blazing LED running lights do a good job of clearing errant locals out of my path, while inside the V6 turbodiesel's murmur is barely audible, the thumping DAB/iPod friendly stereo a welcome partner.

A supercharged petrol V8 would have been nice of course, but ruled out in the interests of preserving PH's expenses budget. No need to worry though, at a continental cruise the trip computer shows a steady 29mpg or so, which is pretty good for a heavy beast like this.

Extreme off-roading for photocall
Extreme off-roading for photocall
By the time I reach the Nürburgring the fog has fallen and the snow is all but gone so it doesn't look like the Range Rover's 4x4 talents are required. Nor, unfortunately, am I going to get a lap in. It's mid-week and there's nothing doing over at the Nordschleife entrance, though the weekend will bring the first of 2011's tourist drivers flocking. I wish I could join them - especially as they'll be opening the combined 24-hour race Nordschleife/GP track for public laps - but I've got work to do.

Next day I head out for photos, the familiar roads around the 'ring if anything the equal of the formidable circuit itself. They're wide, well-sighted, deserted and sweeping and you could happily drive around this hilly, forested region and never touch the Nordschleife's tarmac.

The Sport at the Nordschleife entrance
The Sport at the Nordschleife entrance
True, the Rangie is hefty and does nothing to disguise the fact, but that lap time doesn't seem too far-fetched, even in the diesel. The 245hp V6 is fabulous and, according to Range Rover, can deploy 369lb ft of the 442lb ft of torque available within 500 milliseconds from idle. Classic pointless-but-cool stat, but it feels super-strong and very refined.

And the whole package has character and a sense of occasion German rivals can only dream of. I feel a bit queasy that a vehicle I generally associate with yummy mummies and footballers might actually be getting under my skin, and remind myself why I'm in a Range Rover by doing something those folk will never do - taking it off-road.

Okay, it's only to scrabble up onto a muddy bank by the famous Brünnchen corner viewing spot but it gets a bit of clay on the Rangie's tyres and makes for a great pic so I'm happy.

Raring to go...
Raring to go...
Time is running out, but I have one important call to make before leaving the Eifel and dashing for my ferry and it's one I couldn't have done in a Lotus: yes, to the Getränkmarkt for essential local delicacies. Crates of local delicacies...

I'm late and the journey back is made with no deference to PH expense accounts (sorry Chris-R, I'll save you one of those beers) and all of a sudden the Range Rover wakes up and digs deep into its formidable reserves. And it's brilliant.

So, I'd love to take that Lotus back to the 'ring. But, having tasted luxury, I'd love even more to tow it there behind a Range Rover Sport. Which to use for an attempt on that personal best lap time though? There's a question I never thought I'd be asking...



Author: Dan Trent