Free range

The Range Rover Sport can take it easy, if you can

The Hindu - - WHEELS - :: Meraj Shah

“Umm, bud, do you mind if I mull over that for a bit,” says El­ton Car­valho with some hes­i­ta­tion. A me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, Car­valho moved back to Mar­gao in South Goa to set up a small busi­ness de­liv­er­ing home-made Goan food­stuff around the coun­try. I want to fea­ture him in a tele­vi­sion show that I pro­duce and thought he’d be de­lighted at the prospect. In­stead, Car­valho hands me some con­so­la­tory Be­binca and tells me to drive care­fully.

I do have a long way to go: Valpoi is in­land, more than an hour away, to the north­east of Mar­gao. A light driz­zle is fall­ing and the sin­gle-lane coun­try road I’ve taken looks slick. I can’t feel it though: for the Range Rover Sport that I’m driv­ing, this is just an easy warm-up rou­tine for the off-road track that lies ahead.

I get pulled over by the traf­fic po­lice: a rou­tine check I sur­mise. “Why are you driv­ing such a large car,” asks the cop as I roll the win­dow down. Per­fectly valid query, I sup­pose. I’m about to launch into a well-prac­tised spiel about what I do for a liv­ing but stop to con­sider his ques­tion. In Delhi, that would have been easy — in a city where a man’s stature is judged by the road space his ride oc­cu­pies, and an SUV is a nat­u­ral choice. But here in Goa, I’m go­ing to have to be more in­ven­tive. “Well, I wouldn’t feel con­fi­dent tak­ing on the slush on the trails in Valpoi in any­thing else,” I say. The gent grins and nods in agree­ment: turns out he re­ally just wanted to have a look around the car. In Goa, ev­ery­one is an auto en­thu­si­ast.

If you’re the type who likes sports cars but needs an all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle, then you’ll like the RR Sport. It’s no hot hatch, and not ideal to throw around switch­backs, but, on a wide track, it hur­tles down the as­phalt like a metal pro­jec­tile.

In Valpoi though, I have a mo­ment of doubt: go­ing it alone seems im­pru­dent, since there’s un­likely to be help at hand if the car gets bogged down, but I’ve come too far to turn back now. I needn’t have wor­ried: the RR Sport was built for this mi­lieu. Im­me­di­ately, the on­board com­put­ers come to life, lock­ing and un­lock­ing the dif­fer­en­tials with zero in­put from me, and dis­ap­point­ingly, there’s none of the slip­ping and slid­ing I had an­tic­i­pated.

A bit of an anti-cli­max

The most omi­nous sec­tion on this track, that in­volves a stream fol­lowed by a big muddy hill, has been the un­do­ing of too many over-con­fi­dent all-ter­rain ve­hi­cles. The Sport’s large touch­screen im­me­di­ately lights up with an in­fra-red cam­era il­lu­mi­nat­ing sub­merged rocks; the few I miss, it sim­ply clam­bers over. And the hill, well, this car climbs like its wear­ing crampons, not road tyres. It’s a bit of an an­ti­cli­max re­ally, as in the RR Sport, this much-feared track has been more like a pleas­ant drive in the for­est.

There are things it can’t do though. En­ter the nar­row lanes of the old Por­tuguese quar­ter in Panaji, on the way back, for ex­am­ple. A shame, be­cause the car’s Prus­sian red would have hung rather well against the pas­tel-hues of Fon­tain­has’ charm­ing dwellings. The sparse streets bear a de­serted look. In the af­ter­noons, this en­clave slips into a dreamy si­esta. Goa is com­mit­ted to its hol­i­day vibe and it doesn’t mat­ter whether you’re of­froad­ing or sit­ting around sip­ping tea qui­etly wait­ing for dusk in Fon­tain­has.

Car­valho calls back a few days later to turn down my propo­si­tion. “Bud if you fea­ture me, then more peo­ple will know about me and or­der more stuff. That means I’ll have to work harder, and sud­denly my life will change. I’m not ready for that. I love my life the way it is…”

I get it El­ton, de­spite what I think of that in­cred­i­ble chorizo, I hope this doesn’t get the word out. What’s the point of liv­ing in Goa if you can’t Susegad the heck out of it?

Meraj Shah makes a liv­ing chron­i­cling his ex­pe­ri­ences on the road, shoot­ing video and writ­ing on auto, travel and golf. When not rov­ing the globe, he lives in Delhi with a mo­tor­cy­cle named Blue


Built for of­froad­ing The Range Rover Sport

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