Op­er­a­tion desert swarm

Eight Land Rovers, rang­ing from a ute to Range Rover’s Vogue lux­ury liner, set out in a con­voy to con­quer the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, writes BRUCEMcMAHON

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Bikes -

THE ar­rival at El Que­stro in the heart of the Kim­ber­ley is ev­ery bit as el­e­gant as you would ex­pect of a Bri­tish lux­ury flag­ship.

The $ 153,000 Range Rover Vogue glides to a halt, still trail­ing red dust and miles of mem­o­ries.

A Range Rover Vogue and Sport, Free­lander, three Dis­cov­erys, De­fender wagon and ute have been comfortable, re­li­able and ca­pa­ble in this long, dry run from the Alice, up through the Tanami Desert.

Through cor­ru­ga­tions and bulldust, chill desert morn­ings and gol­dred sun­sets, the troop has run easy through a rugged and re­mote piece of Aus­tralia.

Yet at the end of the trek, head­ing for the first shower for five days, there are few more suit­able — and suited — ve­hi­cles than a Vogue to roll into the El Que­stro oa­sis.

That mighty tur­bocharged diesel V8 pow­ers on, six-speed se­quen­tial trans­mis­sion slur­ring through the changes, help­ing round up 50m-long road trains or push­ing on through tal­cum-soft bulldust.

For the 2009 model year the Range Rover Vogue has seen mi­nor changes, in­clud­ing a four-zone air­con­di­tion­ing op­tion and Blue­tooth phone con­nec­tiv­ity. But the ba­sics re­main the same in a ma­jes­tic of­froad ma­chine that starts at $147,990. Y THE time I slide into the driver’s seat the Vogue and its Land Rover mates have al­ready crossed the Simp­son Desert from Birdsville and moved on to Alice Springs.

This next leg — Alice to El Que­stro — is a fur­ther 1700km, and part of a 60th an­niver­sary drive across the con­ti­nent.

Yet the fleet is free of rat­tles and loose bits for, among im­prove­ments un­der BMW and then Ford’s own­er­ship of the iconic Bri­tish brand, is at­ten­tion to build qual­ity. Plus press­ing ahead on all-new ma­chines such as the Range Rover Vogue and Sport, Dis­cov­ery 3 and Free­lander.

The Vogue is — sur­prise, sur­prise — the pick of the Land Rover bunch, be­cause it is so el­e­gant and ef­fort­less.

The Range Rover Sport is very good, but for desert tours the Dis­cov­ery wagon is prob­a­bly a bet­ter bet. The Sport is quite ca­pa­ble, but with a bent to­wards on-road han­dling. The Dis­cov­ery also sits on a longer wheel­base.

If the Vogue is the flag­ship of the fleet, the much-ac­claimed Dis­cov­ery is the bat­tle­ship and the De­fender the mine-sweeper, a tough wagon to send out if the go­ing turns re­ally gnarly and some for­ward scouting is needed. The 2.4-litre, square-jawed ma­chine is hard to stop.

BWhere the De­fender loses is in cabin er­gonomics, ride com­fort and noise lev­els on rough roads. The wagon, th­ese days start­ing at $48,990, is OK if the sweet spot can be found — up the Tanami Track that was about 90km/h.

That leaves the con­voy’s sur­prise packet, the Free­lander. This is the pa­trol boat, quick and game for any­thing. Un­like the Range Rovers or Dis­cov­ery, there is no low-range gear­ing or sus­pen­sion height ad­just­ment, yet this diesel Free­lander, with six-speed trans­mis­sion and clever four-wheel-drive sys­tem, tack­les both high-speed dirt road runs and off-road crawls.

As with its mates, the Free­lander has Land Rover’s All Ter­rain Sys­tem which sets dif­fer­ent en­gine and trans­mis­sion pa­ram­e­ters to suit the work in­volved — more torque and lower gear­ing for rocks, more power and quicker changes for sand.

On all Land Rovers (aside from the De­fender) this sys­tem is best proved by set­ting the cen­tre con­sole dial to the wrong spot. Try to slip through sand and mud with the rocky road set­ting and the ma­chine bogs down, try to climb a rock-strewn hill with the sand set­ting and you bounce around with too much ground speed. NY­WAY, the sys­tem does help the Free­lander (from $ 49,990 for the petrol, $52,490 for diesel) get fur­ther than may be imag­ined. This is ar­guably the best of the pre­mium com­pact SUVs for com­bin­ing good road man­ners and rough pad­dock abil­ity with a deal of com­fort.

All the while the Free­lander’s 2.2-litre diesel is re­turn­ing bet­ter than 10 litres/100km of scrub. The Vogue can achieve close on 10 litres on a run down the track, and out to a rea­son­able 13 litres when it has to work harder down a bush track.


Storm­ing: the Land Rover Free­lander is ar­guably best of the pre­mium com­pact SUVs for good road­hold­ing and rough pad­dock abil­ity with com­fort.

Ford­ing: the Free­lander makes short work of a river cross­ing.

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