Does it work? Remote-control Range Rover Sport tested

Published: 11 August 2016

► We try the remote-controlled Range Rover Sport
► Allows you to act as a spotter while driving off-road
► You control the steering, brakes, throttle and transmission

Land Rover’s prototype smartphone app turns this Range Rover Sport into a remote-control off-roader. ‘Over very difficult terrain, it’s often necessary to have a spotter outside the car guiding you,’ explains engineer Mark Cund. ‘But when you’re alone, or your passenger isn’t an off-road expert, you might need to stop every few feet, climb out, and take a look.’

The smartphone and SUV communicate via Bluetooth, allowing the ‘driver’ to remotely control the steering, throttle and brakes, as well as select high or low range. We try it on a metal structure that simulates off-road terrain, dialling in a set percentage of steering and throttle, which are maintained until we instruct the app otherwise.

We’re able to simply walk around the car, checking for clearances, making sure its tyres are following the perfect trajectory. And, as Cund points out, the benefits extend beyond off-road use: you could remotely hitch a trailer, avoid getting in and out of the car to open and close gates, and park in tight spaces.

Safeguards are in place: there’s a maximum speed of 4mph, the driver must be no closer than a metre away and no further than 10m, and if you let go of the phone, the Rangie automatically stops. You also need to remove the keys from the car, preventing an opportunistic thief from hopping in.

I’m aware that we’re in an environment of Land Rover’s own design and that my off-road experience is limited. So what do independent off-road experts think? ‘Remote control would be invaluable when you don’t have a spotter and you need your vehicle positioning to be inch perfect,’ says Neil Watterson, of Land Rover Owner magazine. ‘Even with surround cameras, it can be difficult to reconcile the 2D image as a 3D landscape, so you end up getting out every couple of feet.

‘But remote control still requires a good understanding of off-road driving. Driving gives you constant feedback through the controls. With remote control, it may seem less real, so you could push the vehicle to more severe angles than you would normally. And if the front starts to slide and you’re looking back at the vehicle, would you mistakenly turn the steering the wrong way?’

Land Rover won’t be drawn on production timescales, but expect to see Discoverys reversing into tricky Waitrose parking spots very soon.

Did it work? 

Yes. The app is simple to set up and easy to operate, and the safeguards are logically implemented too. Just remember that remote control won’t turn an off-road newbie into an expert

How to off-road by phone

Control the Range Sport's steering

1) You have control

Smartphone allows you to control Range Sport’s steering, throttle, brakes and a choice of high and low ratios.

2) Percentage game

Set the steering and throttle to desired percentages, which are maintained until you tweak the settings or press brake button.

You'll have to stand within 10m of the car when controlling it

3) Ghost driver

‘Driver’ must be no closer than a metre from the car and no further than 10m; a ‘dead-man’s handle’ ensures the car stops if the driver drops the phone.

It's far easier to spot clearance issues and obstacles from outside

4) How’s my driving?

Driver can ensure the car safely navigates the obstacle, removing the need to climb in and out to check clearance.

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By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator