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The Rhino GX: a four-wheel brute that handles with finesse

Horses, bulls, and jungle cats are the best-known automotive mascots, but one lesser-known brand sports the animal kingdom's king of brute force.

That vehicle is the Rhino, made by California's US Specialty Vehicles. The Rhino GX is its answer to drivers whose hearts were broken by the demise of the Hummer. For such empty souls, the Rhino will fill a void of quite substantial size.

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With a price running from $US194,400 ($A253,300) up to $US315,000 ($A410,500) for the Executive version, the Rhino fills an exclusive niche, combining the attributes of the most rugged SUV with the appearance of a military vehicle.

The mettle of the Rhino is established by its underlying metal: Ford's F450 platform is the basis for the USSV conversion. Starting with an F450 chassis equipped with a 6.8-litre V10 petrol or 6.7-litre diesel power plant, the engineers at USSV replace the rear leaf springs with a fully hydraulic suspension for greater comfort and ride quality. Then, the entire body is crafted from steel and — for the bonnet and front fenders — composite materials. Fabrication, especially welds and finishing of seams, is exceptional, and the fit and finish of both exterior and interior is superior.

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With a length of just 5.64 metres, the Rhino has a tight turning radius and handles with much greater finesse than one imagines from its impressive slab-sided look. A tapering cross section and nearly 4550kg weight keeps the Rhino solid and earthbound, thanks to its low centre of gravity and wide stance. Visibility is enhanced by cameras and sensors that aid parking, backing and other tight-space manoeuvres.

If the Rhino pulls like a freight train, it's because the high-torque engine was designed to haul the vehicle with power to spare, enough for a 4550kg trailer-towing capacity, and sufficient to add available armouring to full Level B7 specification.

While the front windows operate, rear door windows are flat glass based on the design and configuration of sheet metal. With its formidable suspension and 38-inch-diameter tyres, the Rhino sits high, but incorporates running boards for ease of entry. Steps in the doors allow security personnel to hang off the side of the car, should the driver wish to gain more attention than the unmistakable Rhino attracts on its own.

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Inside, things are civilised, spacious and comfortable, with leather, Alcantara and other premium materials used throughout. Only the dash panel and instruments are stock Ford pieces. Importantly, driver and passengers have enough elbow room to shoot pool, with headroom to accommodate a quartet of NBA players. Visibility is excellent, and rear-seat passengers command a wide-open view sitting higher than those in front.

Altogether, the Rhino GX is one serious—and seriously well-engineered and well-made machine. That it comes in flat black, army green, or desert beige and looks like a hero's ride from Road Warrior is a bonus, for those who can stand the attention.

(usspecialtyvehicles.com)

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