As this column lands on your doorstep, we find ourselves in September. The kids have gone back to school and we’re wondering why that thing known as ‘summer’ never bothered to show its face again this year. Admittedly we had a few nice weekends, but on the whole this has been yet another poor year. And most of the time the sun popped out for an hour or so, it was 11am. On a Tuesday. So all you could do was look longingly out of the office window.
But, for what 2017 has lacked in weather, it’s made up for in the cars that have arrived on test for me. And at least that gives you something to read when it’s raining (again). I will begin this month with the Range Rover Sport, the vehicle of choice for footballers, footballers’ wives, and footballers’ agents. Joking aside, this is a vastly popular vehicle, and I wanted to find out why. So I managed to get hold of a SDV8 Autobiography Dynamic for a week. It sounds like a posh model and I can tell you, it is.
My test car came with £6,000 optional satin matte paint, which looked superb. Although driving through certain areas you could tell people thought the dealer was in town... From the driving seat, I didn’t care one iota. The cabin of a Range Rover Sport is like your happy place: go there and all your troubles disappear. There’s an aroma of new leather, and with the two-tone ebony and lunar (black and bluey-grey to you and I) you get a nice contrast between the dashboard, steering wheel and seats. Speaking of seats, the optional 20-way adjustable numbers with massage were delightful.
The engine was the biggy: a 4.4-litre V8 diesel. It has 339PS and 740nm of torque. That’s not heaps more than the 3.0-litre SDV6, but it has a distinct smoothness about it, with a faint V8 rumble in the distance. And for a car that weighs over two tonnes, it certainly gets a shift on: 0-62mph takes 6.9 seconds and the top speed is 140mph. Bottom line is this: if you want your arrival to be an event, and you want a distinct road presence, then you’ll love the Range Rover Sport. But all-in, my car was £108,000 and there’s a lot of choice at that level.
Now I know ‘Fast Fords’ have a significant following, many of whom will shudder when reading about my next car: the Focus ST-3 TDCi (or STD as I chose to call it). I can see the appeal, in theory. You get all the toys from the ST, such as the Recaro seats, bodykit, centre exhaust and even the sound symposer, but with all the economical benefits of a diesel.
But I take issue with the 185PS diesel engine. It’s just not enough. 0-62mph takes 8.1 seconds, which is around half a second slower than my Seat Leon estate. There is a variant of this engine in the Edge with 210PS, so why not give that to the Focus? Once on the move the in-gear acceleration is acceptable, and on the motorway there’s enough torque to overtake with ease (400Nm to be exact). The symposer does its best to give some hint of a sporty engine note.
The good news is that the handling is still great. The suspension is firm, and the Focus is composed over bumpier roads. It has sharp steering, thanks to a variable steering rack, and has a nice weighty feel. It’s just in between the corners you’ll want more. And with prices not too dissimilar to the petrol models, it’s hard to recommend the diesel.