What is it?
This is not an SUV. To label the Bowler EXR S a sports utility vehicle is akin to confusing a chainsaw with a bread knife. It is four-wheel drive, and for the first time ever in a Bowler, you can drive it on the road. It also gets the same 5.0-litre supercharged V8 as the Range Rover Sport that is still recognisable as the donor car, heavily tuned to put out 550bhp and 461lb ft of torque and set way back in the chassis.
But the similarities stop there. The Bowler is 200mm wider and, crucially, is 860kg lighter, despite the fully integrated MSA-approved roll cage. That’s minus a Caterham and a half. You get just two seats, high and low-range gear ratios, 50-50 power split, bespoke Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs that deliver a whopping 285mm of suspension travel. It is a competition vehicle, designed for the Dakar rally and other equally brain-out rally-raid events.
What is it like?
Driving this pre-production car on the road, it feels every inch the rally-raid refugee. At normal road speeds it wobbles and understeers and feels distinctly unmanageable – mostly due to its gargantuan proportions. The steering is weirdly light for a vehicle of such intimidation levels, so you don’t feel like you’re fighting it but you’re also in no doubt that this is a competition car.
Yet there is a real thrill to be had in driving it on the road, particularly if you get even a remote chance to enjoy its potential. Which is monstrous. It’s hard to be moderate in the EXR S – the controls and performance delivery encourages banzai mentalism at all times. But it delivers enough connection and control that you can plunder it on the road. Just about.
Should I buy one?
Yes, if you want a competition rally-raid vehicle that you can occasionally let rip in on public highways. But not if you’re under any illusion that this is a performance road car; whilst the Bowler is frighteningly rapid and fun on the road, it is also quite unusable. The EXR S is best savoured when flat out over terrain an SUV wouldn’t cover at any speed, let alone at three figures and gaining.
That’s why it wears a supercar price tag, and that’s why we love it. That you can have fun driving it to the rally, and still win, is just a bonus.
Price: £186,000; 0-62mph: 4.2sec; Top speed: 155mph (limited); Economy: na; CO2: na; Kerb weight: 1800kg; Engine type, cc: V8, 5000cc, supercharged, petrol; Power: 550bhp at 6200rpm; Torque: 461lb ft at 2100-5400rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd automatic