If you thought the Range Rover Sport was just a Discovery in posh togs, you need to take a look at this latest generation model. It's something quite special. Jonathan Crouch drives the SDV6 variant.
Ten Second Review
Think of this car not as a dressed up Discovery but a pared back Range Rover and you're on the right track. Far bigger but lighter and sharper in its reactions than its predecessor, the latest Range Rover Sport can seat seven (just) and features styling that's a cross between the imposing Range Rover and the sleek Evoque. And almost all UK sales will be made with the 292PS SDV6 diesel engine.
The formula for the first generation Range Rover Sport was simple. Take a Land Rover Discovery, drape it in Range Rover lookalike body panels, tack quite a bit onto the asking price and watch the orders roll in. And roll in they did. Introduced back in 2005 and weathering the worst years of the recession, 2012 was its second best year for sales, so the formula was clearly working. So what has Land Rover done with its replacement? Completely changed the fundamentals, that's what.
The look is still 'Range Rover-lite' with less weight in the overhangs and the characteristic floating roof effect, but there's definitely hints of Evoque about its glasshouse and the styling is more muscular and athletic than before, with a more fashionable 'wheel at each corner' stance. Weight has been slashed to boost efficiency but space inside has increased markedly. The underpinnings are mainly based on latest generation Range Rover technology. In other words, Land Rover has become serious about the latest Range Rover Sport. It couldn't afford not to. We tried the variant that will account for most UK sales, the 292PS SDV6 diesel.
Designer Gerry McGovern calls this generation Sport the 'Porsche 911 of SUVs'. No, it's not because Land Rover has decided to plonk the engine behind the passengers but because of its superior handling prowess. Despite the old car's name, there was never really anything overtly sporting about it. If you wanted a sharp steer from your sports utility vehicle, you were always better off choosing a Porsche Cayenne or a BMW X5. This time round, Land Rover has really pulled out all the stops. Shaving over 400kg off the weight is obviously going to be a massive advantage. More focused air suspension provides up to 115mm of regular movement, from the lowest 50mm setting to the standard off-road height. The +35mm intermediate setting means that the off-road mode can remain available at much higher speeds (80km/h up from 50km/h) than was possible before, which is valuable in terrain with long, rutted dirt roads. The electric power steering offers a lighter feel and a choice of two full-time 4WD systems is offered.
One set-up will suit the minority of owners who'll be venturing off road, providing a two-speed transfer case with low-range option, plus a front/rear 50/50 percent default torque split and 100 percent locking capability. The other system is designed for those whose 'off piste' use of this car will be slight. Here, the 4x4 layout is 18kg lighter and features a single-speed transfer case with a Torsen differential. In this case, a default front-rear torque split of 42/58 percent is designed to provide a rear-wheel drive bias for optimum road driving dynamics.
Under the bonnet, most buyers will choose a V6 diesel, either the entry-level 258PS TDV6 or the 292PD SDV6 we're looking at here. This latter unit will be the big seller as it alone can be mated to a 'Dynamic' pack that gives you a low range gearbox and a 'set-and-forget' 'auto' setting for the Terrain Response system that'll see the car always choosing exactly the right set-up for the ground you're covering. The on road aspect meanwhile, adds Torque Vectoring to sharpen cornering, a 'Dynamic Response' system to reduce bodyroll and a 'Dynamic Programme' on the Terrain Response system that in one hit, firms up the steering, sharpens the throttle response and quickens the gearshift times for press-on driving.
Design and Build
There's nothing too surprising about the Range Rover Sport's appearance. It's good looking, neatly detailed and very eye-catching. It's some 62mm longer than its predecessor, yet at 4850mm, it's shorter than most other 7-seater SUVs. A significantly longer wheelbase than before (up by 178mm) provides much more room inside. The wheelbase isn't that far off a full-fat Range Rover but shorter overhangs at the front and rear, a more sharply raked windscreen and a sloping roofline distinguish this model. Buyers can choose from 19, 20, 21 or 22 inch alloy wheels.
The Sport's interior features typically Land Rover strong, architectural shapes, this time mixed with even cleaner surface treatments, finished with soft-touch surfaces in key touch points around the cabin. The sporting cues come courtesy of a smaller, thicker-rimmed steering wheel and deeply bolstered seats with a lower hip point than you might expect. Interior packaging is optimised to create a more spacious rear cabin with 24mm more knee room, while occupants also benefit from the wider cabin. A neatly integrated third row, occasional 5+2 seating package can be specified. These powered seats leave a flat floor with no loss of boot space and are split 50/50.
Market and Model
Pricing for this SDV6 variant starts about £10,000 above the TDV6 at around £60,000 and you'll need another £5,000 if you want the 'Dynamic' version with all the extra on and off road technology included. Going further and also getting all the plush 'Autobiography' bits will take your budget up to around £75,000.
As for equipment fitted across the line-up, well, in addition to core Range Rover Sport features like the Terrain Response off road system and self-levelling air suspension, even the least expensive model includes smart 19-inch alloy wheels, auto headlamps and wipers, a power tailgate, leather seats that are heated up-front, a DAB digital radio, two-zone climate control, a volumetric alarm, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and HD satellite navigation with 'Say-What-You-See' voice control.
No premium car can do without an integrated connectivity package these days and Land Rover's 'Connected car' technology allows the driver to check the status of the vehicle via an App installed on their smartphone and also provides support features such as Stolen Vehicle Tracking, Emergency Call and Land Rover Assist Call. A high bandwidth Wi-Fi Hotspot can be installed in the vehicle so that passengers can use the internet and get the best data connection for their smartphones or tablets. Other technical highlights include an optional colour Head-Up Display, a digital camera system which supports Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition and Automatic High Beam Assist. A unique innovation on the Sport is the Wade Sensing feature that provides 'depth' information when driving through water.
Cost of Ownership
When the very first Range Rover Sport was launched, buyers were faced with a choice; reasonable performance or reasonable economy. You couldn't have both. How times have changed. Thanks to the fact that this is the first vehicle in its segment to feature an all-aluminium body structure, a huge 39% weight reduction has been possible, enough to make a huge difference in running costs.
Stuck in traffic? Your Sport will sense it. There's a 'Transmission Idle Control' set-up that disengages 70% of drive when the vehicle is stationary with 'Drive' selected in a gearbox that in cold conditions, will automatically choose a lower gear to more quickly get the engine up to its most efficient operating temperature. And, as you'd expect, there's a Stop/Start system to cut the engine when you're waiting at the lights or sitting in a queue. Finally, you'll find an ECO Driving feature on the central infotainment screen that'll rate your driving over any given journey, compare your current and historical fuel returns and offer you useful tips on how you could improve the efficiency of your progress.
So how much of a difference does it all make? Well, let me try and put that into perspective when it comes to the 292PS SDV6 model. The original version of this car weighed 2,583kgs. This one weighs 2115kgs. The original version returned 32.1mpg on the combined cycle. This one manages 37.7mpg. You get the idea. As for the CO2 emissions that'll determine your VED tax payments figure, well they've improved from 230 to 199g/km. Stretch to the Hybrid model that mates this engine to an electric motor and you can even get the return down as low as 169g/km.
That the Range Rover Sport is a massively superior car to its predecessor is not up for debate. The aluminium monocoque underpinnings are a generation ahead of the old twin-rail steel chassis of the original Sport and help explain why the current car is over 400kgs lighter despite being significantly bigger inside. It hasn't lost its off-road ability either, although the 'Dynamic' setting in the car's Terrain Response controls hints that it's now better adapted to sporty on-road driving than ever before.
As to which Range Rover Sport you should choose, well, it's a bit of a no-brainer. The base TDV6 diesel can't be ordered with the 'Dynamic' on and off road technology that really makes this car. And, at the other extreme, the V8 diesel, hybrid and V8 petrol models are too pricey. That leaves the 292PS SDV6 diesel we've been looking at here as a very good default choice.
Old-school Land Rover buyers might find the styling of this latest Sport a bit outre, but they're not the target market. This is a brave new world and Land Rover hasn't been slow to chase new money. If you're anything but the retiring type and want one of the most exciting SUVs we've seen for some time, the decision just got a whole lot easier.