By Jonathan Crouch
Bigger, lighter and sharper in its reactions, the second generation Range Rover Sport came of age, frightening German luxury SUV rivals by at last matching them on-tarmac whilst still obliterating them off road. No longer a dressed-up Discovery, it shares plenty with the fully fledged limousine-like Range Rover but is able to bring much of that car's high technology to a wider audience.
Here's a car that claims to be able to do.. well, almost everything. It'll cruise on the autobahn at 130mph, ford rivers in the Serengeti, take a family of seven on holiday and slip you down to the shops. It's affordable to run, rewarding to drive and looks dynamic and stylish. There has to be a catch doesn't there? Time to check out earlier versions of the second generation Range Rover Sport as a used car buy.
Ah yes, the Range Rover Sport. A car that in its original guise was neither a Range Rover or 'sporty'. In fact, it was based almost entirely on the brand's sensible Discovery model and, thanks to that car's practical ladder frame chassis, as about as dynamic to drive. Still, the smarter set of clothes did the trick and for most of its life between 2005 and 2012, the 'Sport' was Solihull's best seller. There were, it turned out, a vast number of potential buyers who liked the idea of a Range Rover but either couldn't afford one or wanted something a bit sportier.
Something like this in other words, the car the concept always promised but never quite delivered. Appropriately, its very existence was at last properly inspired - and in many ways completely made possible - by the fully-fledged Range Rover. Back in 2012, that car was completely redeveloped in fourth generation form with aluminium underpinnings, sharper handling and hybrid power, engineering eagerly seized upon by the Range Rover Sport development team in their quest to at last be able to offer a credibly sporting SUV rival to cars like the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5. The result was the MK2 model Range Rover Sport, launched in 2013.
German competitors of course, don't have to blend in unrivalled off road excellence with their back road blasting. They don't have to be automotive swiss army knives - all things to all people - in quite the same way. So, burdened with such expectations, how can this Range Rover - how can any Range Rover - take them on at their own game? That's the issue this car has always faced. A 542PS 'SVR' version of the 5.0-litre petrol V8 model was introduced in 2014. And shortly after, the 292PS SDV6 diesel engine was uprated to 306PS. This second generation model was lightly updated for the 2017 model year, but it's the earlier 2013 to 2016 versions we're going to look at here.
What You Get
Imagine you were toned, fit - and nearly 20% lighter. How would you look? Sharper? Smarter? Younger? As indeed this second generation Range Rover Sport model does in comparison to its boxy, heavy predecessor. The faster windscreen angle, streamlined profile and sloping roofline make it sleek and contemporary - as it should be, a Range Rover Sport for a new era. But recognisably a Range Rover Sport: the clamshell bonnet, 'floating' roof, powerful wheelarches and side fender vents that define this model are all present and correct.
Up close, the 'S' in 'SUV' is further emphasised by the high beltline, short overhangs and distinctive silhouette. At the front, the slimmer LED lights and sculpted corners flank a classic two-bar rearward-sloping front grille executed to a theme reflected by the twin strakes of the fender vents. And there are bold trapezoidal shapes to house the central bumper beam and skidplate. A trapezoidal theme that's repeated at the rear where the skidplate is flanked by large twin exhausts. Not a car to be trifled with then.
It's a much more spacious thing than the MK1 version - though only 62mm longer - which makes it all the more surprising that the Solihull engineers have been able to make it so much lighter. A modified version of the fully-fledged Range Rover's aluminium monocoque chassis accounts for most of the 420kgs that have been trimmed from a kerb weight that in MK2 form, crucially, pitches this car in at just over two tones, rather than just under three. Back in 2013, this design's aluminium approach represented a trailblazing one in this class but it's not enough to make this Sport a car that could be in any way described as 'lightweight' in the luxury SUV segment. Still, the fact that it's no heavier than rivals like Porsche's Cayenne and BMW's X5, cars that don't need to carry around such sophisticated bulky all-wheel drive hardwear, has to be seen as quite an achievement.
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 with this Sport model ease the process by selecting a lower 'Access' mode on variants 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. Perhaps that last point's the most significant as it positions the controls closer to you, creating a cocooning feel for front seat occupants.
Racy then - but still regal too. You're surrounded by simply acres of expensive materials. Plenty of hi-tech too, some of it more effectively presented than others. Hard to dislike is the 12.3-inch TFT instrument screen offered on plusher versions that comes instead of the conventional dials you get on more affordable models. To replace these, the TFT approach offers lifelike digital facsimilies of the usual rev and speedo gauges, this just one of a range of customisable displays the panel can offer to suit your requirements. Off road for example, the rev counter can move aside in favour of a graphical drivetrain that shows which wheels are being driven, which diffs are locked and much more. In fact, the virtual screen can be customised to show anything from the outside temperature to navigation information, telephone system settings or wheel articulation.
Less clear and intuitive are the buttons on the steering wheel which control a range of electronic options in the centre dash display. You'll need to spend some time with your nose buried in the instruction manual to figure out both these and the infotainment system, whose screen dominates the centre part of the dash and which, by voice, touch or steering wheel button, marshals everything from sat nav to seat heating, stereo sound to surround cameras. Unfortunately, it requires much familiarisation and, in our opinion, too many button pushes to access some of its many functions: four button presses to turn the heated seats off for example. Some of the stuff it does is pretty smart though. The '4x4 Info' display for example, which shows you the state of play for everything from deactivating diff locks to driving into rivers. And we're always impressed by Jaguar Land Rover's optional 'Dual View' technology which enables this 8-inch screen to simultaneously display a different image to driver and passenger. So at the wheel, you can, say, view the navigation display while your passenger watches a video. Neat.
And in the back? Well it's easier to get in to this car than was the case with the MK1 version, thanks to the larger rear door aperture and the lower seating position. And, once inside, you'll find that the significant increase in wheelbase you get in this second generation Sport brings two main advantages with it: more rear seat space and, potentially, more rear seats. Settle yourself in the rear and, if you're familiar with a fully-fledged Range Rover, you'll find that a place in the back of this car is nearly as nice. The reclinable bench (which can be optionally heated and cooled) is wider and more comfortable than before and offers up 24mm more kneeroom. If you've found a variant fitted out with optional third row seating, the middle bench will also feature a mechanism able to slide it back and forth. We should point out that, as you might expect, the extra third row chairs are really only for kids and short journeys.
The boot is accessed via an electrically operated tailgate (a one piece hatch rather than the two-piece item you get on a fully-fledged Range Rover). The optional full-sized spare wheel sits beneath the cargo area floor, rather than untidily dangling below the chassis as it did on the MK1 model. Bear in mind that you don't get any sort of spare wheel on a model fitted out with third row chairs - just a tyre repair kit. The cargo space with the middle row seat up is large - rated at 784-litres. That's less than the MK1 model could offer but still about 20% more bootspace than you'd get in rival BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class or Porsche Cayenne competitors. The X5 and the M-Class turn the tables when their rear seats are folded down but this Sport model's 1,761-litre total should be amply adequate for most.
What to Look For
Land Rover products have been featuring much improved build quality in recent years but our owner survey revealed that the brand still has a little way to go to match its German rivals in this regard. We came across two owners who'd had serious engine problems. In one case, the engine self-destructed as the big end went. In another case, the engine failed after gearbox error messages, so look out for those on your test drive. Other things the test drive might throw up that were reported in our ownership survey include problems with steering alignment; issues with the front and rear parking sensors; a resonating vibration from the dashboard amplified by the speakers; and interior trim panels that rattle and vibrate.
Otherwise, the issues tend to be niggly little things. Poor bonnet and boot alignment for example; alignment issues with the rear doors; poorly fitted rubber trim around the doors; and leather on the seats being loose and ill-fitted. Don't believe misleading reports suggesting that things like brake discs, brake pads and wiper blades wear quickly: they're actually pretty durable.
What else? Well check if a tow bar has been fitted and also check the tyres for odd wear patterns. Although the Range Rover Sport is very capable off road, there are limits to its ground clearance, so inspect the underside for signs of damage to the suspension, exhaust and front valance. The volume SDV6 diesel engine is a tough unit and if you're test driving the car on a cold day, don't be worried if the Stop/Start system fails to kick in. The engine is programmed to keep running at temperatures below three degrees Celsius.
(based on 2014 Range Rover Sport 3.0 SDV6 - approx excl. VAT) An oil filter costs around £6, though you could pay up to around £15 for a pricier brand. Brake pads sit in the £35 to £50 bracket for a set, though you could pay up to around £70 for a pricier brand. You'll pay around £115 for a timing belt (though pricier brands can charge you anything up to around £175 for a timing belt for this car). Wiper blades cost in the £6 to £13 bracket. A tail lamp will cost you around £240.
On the Road
A Range Rover of any kind tends to fill you with certain expectations. It'll seat you higher up than anything in its segment, will lumber pleasantly about, roll a little through the bends and storm its way through just about anything you can throw at it off road. All of this is of course good enough for the Land Rover faithful but isn't an especially tempting proposition for the Teutonic brand buyers Solihull urgently needs to satisfy for stronger sales. The first generation Range Rover Sport didn't tempt away enough of them but the thinking was that this MK2 model might do if it could be lighter, more agile and faster. If it could really be what Designer Gerry McGovern calls the 'Porsche 911 of SUVs'.
The original version of this car had no chance of even considering such a demanding brief, mainly because it weighed nearly three tonnes. In MK2 guise, it doesn't. Thanks to an exacting diet and primarily to an aluminium monocoque chassis borrowed from the fully-fledged Range Rover then redeveloped for this model, a massive 420kgs has been saved from the kerb weight - equivalent to a car-full of adults each carrying a hefty suitcase. Even if you didn't know this - even if you weren't expecting the enormous difference this ought to make - the feel you get at the wheel in what's called the 'Sports Command Driving position' anticipates a very different, far more involving driving experience than was ever delivered by this car's predecessor.
The steering wheel's smaller, the seats are grippier and the full-fat Range Rover's ponderous rising circular gear selector is here replaced by a purposeful shard-like stick which seems to have been borrowed from Jaguar's F-TYPE sportscar. It controls the 8-speed ZF auto gearbox that all 'Sport' models must have, whether they be diesel, petrol or hybrid-powered. Which makes it sound like there's quite a choice, though the reality is that the vast majority of buyers will end up behind the wheel of the 292PS SDV6 diesel variant.
That's mainly because this is the only version of this car that original buyers of this car could mechanically specify just as they wanted, including or deleting key driving features like the Twin Speed low range gearbox, the automatic version of the Terrain Response system and a whole arsenal of on-tarmac driver aids that improve response and sharpen up cornering. None of this was even optional on the entry-level 258PS TDV6 diesel. And, at the other extreme, you have to have it all, whether you like it or not, on the three pricey powerful models you'll find at the top of the line-up, the diesel hybrid, the 339PS diesel SDV8 and the frighteningly fast 510PS 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8.
Think of the entry-level TDV6 version of this car as a kind of Range Rover Sport-lite kind of experience. It's there to give the Solihull brand a car to compete directly on price with rival Mercedes M-Class and BMW X5 models from this era. Which isn't easy given that it must still be based on high-tech Range Rover aluminium underpinnings which therefore originate from a far more exalted model that frequently sells for up to six figures. What it all meant was that something had to give in the TDV6 tech spec to keep costs down and the sticker figure competitive. Two main things actually. For on road use, buyers of the TDV6 model don't get the 'Adaptive Dynamics' continuously variable dampers that are fitted elsewhere across the range and help this car set a new standard for comfort in this class. These automatically monitor ride quality and vehicle movements 500 times a second to ensure that the suspension always suits the road you're on and the mood you're in. There are off road cut-backs too: there's no heavy duty 4WD system in the TDV6 variant - merely a simpler Torsen set-up that can't be locked in the 50/50 front torquesplit mode that serious off roaders use to ease themselves out of the stickiest situations.
Which isn't necessarily a problem. We all know of course that most typical Range Rover Sport customers aren't serious off roaders. Indeed, they're people who may well be quite pleased to be able to buy a lighter, simpler version of this car. They'll point out that, thanks to 600Nm of torque, a TDV6 variant still has the same 3,500kgs towing limit that applies to any other conventional 'Sport' model. And they'll remind you that the car's still more than adequately rapid, 62mph from rest 7.6s away en route to 130mph. For all that, we can't help thinking that TDV6 buyers will be missing something in not stretching up to SDV6 level in this car. Not, it must be said, with respect to on-paper performance: that's pretty much the same. More in terms of the way it can be achieved - provided of course, that the original owner ticked the right boxes.
One box in particular actually - and it's called 'Dynamic'. With an 'HSE Dynamic' or 'Autobiography Dynamic'-spec SDV6 variant, the on-road features included make this as much of a sportscar as any hefty luxury SUV is ever going to be. And whereas the original MK1 version of this model wouldn't even begin to keep up with a well driven Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5 on a twisting country road, a MK2 Range Rover Sport in Dynamic spec can do just that. Whilst at the same time embarrassing both of those two cars - and everything else in the segment - off road thanks to the low range gearbox and auto Terrain Response system we mentioned earlier, both features added in to Dynamic-spec models.
Want a little more detail re the on-road Dynamic-spec stuff? We should probably give you that since this car will spend nearly all its life on tarmac. Essentially, there are three main features that make the difference. Let's start with cornering, traditionally the roly-poly downside of SUV motoring. Not here it isn't. 'Dynamic Response active lean control' does exactly what it promises, working independently on front and rear axles to dramatically reduce body roll. Encouraging you to press a little harder into tight bends and enjoy a Torque Vectoring system which works with what Land Rover calls a 'Dynamic Active Rear Locking Differential' to fire you from bend to bend. Both features combine through the turns to counter both understeer and wheelspin, with the electronics lightly micro-braking whichever front wheel is threatening to lose grip. As a result, the car's kept planted, more of the power gets transmitted onto the tarmac and you feel more in control.
Reassuring we'd say, especially if you happened to be at the wheel of one of the more powerful models. The SDV8 diesel manages 62mph from rest in 6.9s, while the 5.0-litre supercharged petrol model trims that back to 5.3s, with the standard versions of both variants charging on to 140mph flat out. Both are models that'll probably also see owners make good use of the third tarmac trick this car has up its sleeve: its 'Dynamic Programme'. You'll find this on the 'Terrain Response 2' system you activate via the circular dial down below the gearstick. It's a one-shot setting that when selected, instantly switches everything into red mist mode. So in one hit, you get a sharper throttle response, more responsive steering, quicker gearchanges, tighter body control and a firmer ride from the standard air suspension. Brilliant.
None of which would be especially praise-worthy if, like its rivals, Land Rover had compromised this car's off road excellence in search of asphalt acceptability. But it hasn't. Even the least capable TDV6 Sport models are engineered to survive in the wild with two key features. First, there's a completely redeveloped lightweight air suspension set-up that, in terms of wheel travel and articulation, betters any other SUV save the fully fledged Range Rover. The air springs can raise the car even higher for really rough surfaces, which is why this model's 278mm maximum ground clearance figure is a massive 51mm more than the first generation version of this design could offer. And you can keep the high off road suspension setting active at higher speed (up to 50mph), which is a real boon when you're on terrain with long, rutted dirt roads.
The increased height is an obvious advantage in water. It accounts for the enormous 850mm wading capability you can monitor via an optional Wade Sensing feature that shows you the depth of the water you're driving through. A visual display and warning chimes alert the driver as the water level rises around the vehicle. And while we're talking about how high this car can get off the ground, we should also mention how that facilitates an impressive approach angle of 33-degrees that'll get you up steep slopes. And once you've used the standard Hill Descent Control to ease you down them again, you'll be glad of a useful departure angle of 31-degrees.
The second key mud-plugging feature we want to mention is Land Rover's acclaimed Terrain Response system which, in its most basic form, offers a choice of three selectable settings to suit the ground you're covering: 'grass/gavel/snow', 'sand' or mud/ruts'. Other rivals copied this, so the Solihull engineers developed an upgraded 'Terrain Response 2 auto' package that goes a little further with two extra settings. 'Rock Crawl' does what it promises but most useful is the 'Auto' mode which analyses the conditions you're driving in, then automatically selects the most suitable terrain programme to cope. It can also tell you when to use the low range gearbox which, as previously mentioned, along with this upgraded Terrain Response set-up makes up the off road aspect of the 'Dynamic' specification we've been talking about.
Is there a caveat to all this capability? Only the one we've already alluded to, namely that the heavy duty 4x4 system that most Range Rover Sport models use - the sophisticated one you'd find on a much pricier Range Rover able to direct fully 100% of torque to either axle - is replaced by a cheaper Torsen system in the base TDV6 version of model. That Torsen set-up's far more limited, reacting to conditions that'll see it push a maximum of 62% of power to the front or up to 78% to the rear. And, as we said earlier, if you do get stuck, it can't be locked in the optimum 50:50 front-to-rear power-split ratio that any other big Range Rover would use to ease itself out. Don't get us wrong: this simpler system is all most owners will ever want or need - and it's all other SUVs provide. But for us, a Land Rover product should be head and shoulders above all other SUVs when it comes to off road access. Avoid the TDV6 engine and you'll find that this Range Rover Sport very definitely can be.
With the fully fledged Range Rover now a plutocratic purchase, it's this Sport model that for us, now most faithfully continues a model line stretching all the way back to the 1970 original. That very first Range Rover was a car you didn't have to be afraid to use as intended, on or off road. And nor is this second generation model.
Get the fundamental thing right with any great design - in this case the weight - and everything else then tends to fall into place. The aluminium platform that made this car so much lighter solves at a stroke the two issues that blighted the first generation Range Rover Sport: stodgy handling and high running costs. And yes, it does leave room for proper 4WD hardware to be fitted without compromising paved road prowess. Which is something that German rivals could learn from.
True, it's a pity that the entry-level TDV6 model does without some of the key on and off road features. And it's also necessary for potential customers to pay a little more than they would for some less sophisticated rivals, especially if they want to buy in at the SDV6 level that shows this car at its best.
Still, the right version of this car offers exactly the right kind of luxury SUV experience for those fortunate enough to be able to enjoy it. A Range Rover Sport that's a proper Range Rover. That's sporty. And that's a class leader. Job done.