The Freelander heads to Eastnor for a real test of its off-road ability
Bowler EXR-S (prototype)
What: Bowler EXR-S pre-production prototype
Where: Millbrook, UK
Date: December 2012
Price: £155,000 (finished road car)
Available: on sale now, deliveries begin next year
Key rivals: Range Rover Sport, Porsche 911 GT3
Super-saloon performance in a rough-tough off-roader body: the Bowler EXR-S is a Paris-Dakar rally-raid-style vehicle with just enough road car concessions.
Extreme snow cars
On Bing: see more pictures of the Bowler EXR-S
We like: huge power and performance, awesome noise, weight saving over standard Range Rover Sport
We don’t like: price, practicality, fuel economy
Black, orange and carbonfibre is a good colour combination for an in-your-face car. It's unsurprising, then, that Bowler has gone with that mixture for its first ever road car, the EXR-S. The firm constructs 4x4 rally raid racers but is branching out into road cars with a new vehicle loosely based on the Range Rover Sport.
Drew Bowler, the company founder, used to receive hundreds of requests to build road-going rally vehicles for customers, only for clients to turn round and tell him the cars were unusable on the road.
This created the spark for the £155,000 EXR-S – a road-going rally-raid-bred monster that makes concessions for road use, but ultimately focuses on performance. Aimed at drivers who want to do plenty of track days AND some serious off-roading, this is not a luxury car.
We’re at Millbrook proving ground comparing the EXR-S to the Range Rover Sport in some back-to-back 0-100-0mph runs and a few handling tests. It might be unfair to compare the two, but as one is based on the other, we will.
Simply, the EXR-S blows the Sport away in every area dynamically, with the road car only clawing some ground back in the comfort stakes.
The Bowler uses the Sport’s 550hp 5.0-litre supercharged V8 to propel its 1,875kg of mass (that’s 715kg lighter than a standard Range Rover Sport), meaning 0-62mph takes an impressively rapid 4.2 seconds.
It feels so much quicker on-board though, mainly as a result of the cacophony of noise emitted from the mildly fettled engine through its side-exit exhaust pipe.
It’s fantastic and fills the bare cabin of the EXR-S prototype with a raucous din. Jon Chester, brand director at Bowler, says the road car “will be even fruitier”. It’s ridiculously loud already.
this Paris-Dakar rally car for the road is actually usable on a daily basis.
The EXR-S completes the 0-100-0mph runs in quarter of a mile – at this distance the Range Sport is just kissing the tonne, where it then sails on by the Bowler as the brakes try to haul down the extra mass.
There’s a choice of four-piston or six-piston standard Range Rover Sport Brembo calipers on the Bowler (you have to have the four-pot items if you opt for the smaller 18-inch rally wheels).
The prototype I’m driving is equipped with the smaller four-piston items. They give good bite and retardation levels, but it’s easy to see them wilting after a few laps on track.
The EXR-S uses the Range Sport’s standard six-speed automatic gearbox, as well as its four-wheel drive system. This gives great traction everywhere, but also amazing ease of use.
Ride and handling
We were meant to drive the finished article, but the production-spec EXR-S had a problem with its ECU on the day. Bowler claims the prototype is in a very similar spec, having just received some tweaks to its suspension setup.
Like most 4x4s – and despite its reduced ride height compared to a normal Sport – there’s still some roll. It helps the tyres find grip but more impressively means this Paris-Dakar rally car for the road is actually usable on a daily basis.
this is a car built for performance and enthusiasts
The chassis is firm and the big 22-inch alloy wheels crash over chunky cat’s eyes and expansion strips, but it’s not too stiff for the road. You have to remember, this is a hardcore car for hardcore enthusiasts – the Porsche 911 GT3 of the 4x4 world. It’s all about performance.
Steering from the Range Sport means the helm is light and feedback almost non-existent, but as a trade-off the EXR-S isn’t a physically taxing car to drive (a characteristic learned through Bowler’s experience competing in 10-day desert rallies).
There is a fair amount of grip, but the car does settle into understeer as its default mode under fast cornering.
You have to drive it in a certain way to get the best from it: stand it on the brakes and turn in to unload the rear, get the nose pointing at the apex, then pick up the throttle and drive it through is how to extract the most from the chassis.
The interior of the prototype car isn’t worth commenting on. Thankfully, Bowler did bring the production EXR-S for us to have a look at – it’s a sparse but neatly trimmed affair inside.
The exposed roll cage, carbonfibre trim, bucket seats and four-point harnesses reinforce the feeling that this is a car built for performance and enthusiasts, while the Range Rover Sport switchgear and a few splashes of leather just take the edge off things, giving a bit of refinement. It’s beautifully built and brilliantly focused.
There are no direct rivals to Bowler’s first road car
Two seats come as standard, but for an extra £5,000 Bowler will build you a 2+2 version. Unfortunately, you might be disappointed if you were expecting plenty of gadgets – while the steering wheel is covered in buttons, don’t expect any of them to work. It’s a conscious decision by Bowler.
Economy and safety
A conventional supercharged petrol Range Rover Sport will return 19mpg combined with 348g/km CO2. Despite weighing nearly three quarters of a tonne less, the EXR-S will return an estimated 15mpg combined – due to marginally different engine and gearbox calibration, as well as greater transmission losses, according to Bowler.
There’s no Euro NCAP rating for the EXR-S and it’s doubtful there ever will be. But with the choice of a full MSA or FIA approved roll cage, four- or six-point harnesses and ABS, it should be safe enough.
Bowler will not fit traction control to the EXR-S, however, as that doesn’t go with the company’s ethos.
The MSN Cars verdict
There are no direct rivals to Bowler’s first road car. The Range Rover Sport doesn’t cut it in terms of performance, while a Porsche 911 GT3 is better on track and cheaper – but it won’t do what the Bowler can off-road.
At £155,000 it’s a statement – a toy for rich people. But what a toy it is indeed.
|Performance||Ride and handling||Interior||Safety|
Extreme snow cars
On Bing: see pictures of the Bowler EXR-S
On Bing: see pictures of the Range Rover Sport supercharged
Find out how much a used Range Rover Sport supercharged is worth on Auto Trader
First drive review: Range Rover Sport (2005 – 2010)
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