If you thought the Range Rover Sport was just a Discovery in posh togs, you need to take a look at this improved second generation model. It's something quite special. Jonathan Crouch checks out 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. More sophisticated than ever before, 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 306PS 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 did Land Rover do with its replacement, launched in 2013? Completely changed the fundamentals, that's what.
That car's recently been revised as part of a mid-term update but the look is still 'Range Rover-lite', with less weight in the overhangs and the characteristic floating roof effect, but there's definitely still hints of Evoque about its glasshouse and the styling is muscular and athletic, with a fashionable 'wheel at each corner' stance. At the original launch of this MK2 model, the weight was slashed to boost efficiency and interior space inside increased markedly. The underpinnings are mainly based on latest generation Range Rover technology. We tried the variant that will account for most UK sales, the 306PS 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 first generation model'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. With this MK2 model though, Land Rover really pulled out all the stops, shaving over 400kg from the kerb weight.
Under the bonnet, most buyers will choose the 306PS SDV6 diesel variant we're looking at here. It also comes as standard mated to electronic air suspension, which not only improves the ride but also gives this car superb off road ability. Avoid entry-level trim and that'll be further enhanced by a Twin-speed low range gearbox, 'All Terrain Progress Control' and a 'Terrain Response 2' system that can automatically set the car up for the type of ground you're driving over. All models get a clever 'Low Traction Launch' system, there to assist you when pulling away from standstill on low grip surfaces. That'll be helpful when towing: this car can lug along up to 3.5-tonnes.
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. Minor changes have been made to the exterior styling of this revised MK2 model, with more piercing intelligent Matrix Pixel LED headlights sitting alongside a redesigned grille. This is complemented by a restyled bumper with a more aggressive profile. Otherwise, it's as you were, so the clamshell bonnet, the 'floating' roof, the powerful wheelarches and the side fender vents that have always defined this model are all present and correct.
And inside? Well, you'd be disappointed if you didn't have to climb up into a Range Rover - that's part of its appeal - though older folk can ease the process by selecting the lower 'Access' mode on models fitted with air suspension. Once installed in the generously side bolstered seats though, there's no mistaking that you're at the wheel of this British institutional model's younger, slightly smaller and much sportier twin. For a start, you're sat a tad lower than you would be in a Range Rover, plus the more compact thicker-rimmed wheel's smaller, the upright gearstick more purposeful and the centre console higher. The key interior change with his revised model lies with the addition of the brand's latest Touch Pro Duo infotainment system which features a pair of high-definition 10-inch touchscreens that form the centrepiece of the minimalist cabin.
In the back, there's plenty of room thanks to the large wheelbase and the option of a sliding seat. Which you'll need if you choose the 7-seat option and want to make the atmosphere for third row occupants a bit less cramped. Boot capacity isn't massive at 784-litres, but with the rear bench folded, the 1,784-litre total will be sufficient for most.
Market and Model
Pricing for this SDV6 variant starts about £68,000 for 'HSE' trim. 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 Dynamic' bits will take your budget up to around £85,000.
Fresh technology introduced into this revised model includes two features we really like. First, the 'Gesture sunblind' which is opened and closed by an advanced gesture control system that senses an occupant's hand movement. All it takes to open the blind is a rearward swipe in front of the rear view mirror, and forwards to close. Also desirable are the 'Pixel-laser LED headlights': here, advanced technology provides greater luminance and intelligently blanks sections of LEDs to help to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers. We'd also want the 'Advanced Tow Assist' system. This takes care of the difficult counter-steering required to position trailers accurately when reversing. The driver can simply guide the trailer into the desired space using the rotary controller for the Terrain Response 2 system.
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 ths second generation model's 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 306PS SDV6 model. The original version of this car weighed 2,583kgs. This one weighs 2184kgs. Enough said. That helps with a combined cycle fuel reading of up to 32.0mpg and a CO2 return of up to 198g/km. Stretch to the P400e Plug-in Hybrid model that mates a 2.0-litre petrol engine to an electric motor and you can even get the return down as low as 71g/km.
The Range Rover Sport remains an impressive product for luxury SUV customers. It hasn't lost its off-road ability either and 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 SD4 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, PHEV hybrid and V8 petrol models are too pricey. That leaves the 306PS 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 large luxury SUVs available, the decision just got a whole lot easier.