Thursday, November 17, 2011

First Drive: Land Rover DC100 Sport Concept

We get behind the wheel of the Land Rover DC100 concepts ahead of their US debut at the LA show

Land Rover DC100 Sport Concept

This week’s Los Angeles Auto Show sees the US debut of the Land Rover Defender concepts, DC100 and DC100 Sport. While the Sport hasn’t changed from the car we saw at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, the DC100 has had a makeover for LA to appear more farmer friendly.

There’s a traditional Land Rover paint job with blue bodywork and a white roof, while a roof rack, ‘expedition accessories’ and a snorkel air intake for wading answer any criticisms that Land Rover had gone soft.

However, it’s the speedster-style Sport with its low wraparound screen, fairings, big wheels, body kit and bright yellow paintwork that has drawn most attention – not least around LA where Auto Express had exclusive access to the car.

We took the concept to downtown Hollywood to gauge the reaction of LA locals and also had a drive of the car on nearby Santa Monica beach.

The DC100 Sport sits on a shortened Range Rover Sport chassis – with a wheelbase of 104 inches, it’s a little longer than the traditional Defender Ninety’s 90-inch wheelbase. According to Land Rover designer Richard Wooley, that allows for modern packaging – or better rear legroom. Not that you’ll worry about rear legroom in the DC100 Sport – it’s a strict two-seater.

How much of the DC100 Sport makes it onto the new 2015 Defender is up for debate, but Land Rover is quick to point out that the DC100 will evolve, in bodystyle as well as design. So expect many more motor show DC100 concepts.

What we will see is a more aerodynamic front end like that on the Sport, and very short overhangs at the front and back of the car to aid serious off-roading.

The new Defender will also be the most technologically-advanced Land Rover ever, featuring an advanced Terrain Response system that will automatically analyse the surfaces you’re driving on and adjust the suspension accordingly. There’s also a ‘Wade Aid’ in the pipeline, using sonar to measure water depth and obstacles under the water line, then automatically alter the car’s settings.

The Sport Concept’s interior is more spacious than the current Defender (there’s more elbow room and a more natural driving position for starters), but its minimalist look and hose-out floor is a nod to the past. Land Rovers still have to work for a living.

Under the pedestrian-friendly bonnet of the concept is a V8 petrol engine. Push the starter button and the V8 lets out a brief growl, then settles into a gentle burble – not unlike the meaty motors in the pickups that sit in the nearby parking lot.

Grab the gear lever to select Drive and gently press the oversized, over-styled accelerator pedal to move off, trying not to get bogged down on the sand.

Concepts are never easy to drive – they’re hand made for motor show stands, not beach runs – yet the DC100 Sport feels remarkably well put together and driveable. Our drive was limited to a few runs across the beach with lifeguards looking on, and traction was limited due to the hand cut tyres on 20 inch wheels.

We bounced a little across the sand, careful not too put too much lock on and scrape those tyres on the bodywork, but the engine felt strong and the ride surprisingly composed.

Although we were sitting low in snug bucket seats, there was still excellent visibility with a glorious view out down that beautifully-shaped, bright yellow bonnet and a typically commanding Land Rover-style driving position.

The DC100 Sport may be unlike anything Land Rover has ever done before, but it still feels very much like a modern Land Rover. Which is exactly what this concept was built to find out.

Land Rover couldn’t make a business case for replacing the Defender based on current sales of 20,000 a year, so it has to look at different versions, from this Sport to the more usual utilitarian models.

We might not be able to make any dynamic judgements based on our drive, but the reaction to the concepts shows that Land Rover’s thinking on how to replace its iconic Defender is just about spot on.

Source: Auto Express

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