Range Rover Sport king of the road – on and off
- Credit: Nick Dimbleby
Motoring editor Andy Russell is wowed pushing the new Range Rover Sport to the limit.
We went from scaling summits and slithering down perilously steep, slippery hills to wading through deep streams before blasting along a runway at more than 150mph and hitting 100mph and then braking to a standstill in little more than 16 seconds... all in the same vehicle.
What better way to highlight the all-round ability of the all-new Range Rover Sport, the highly-desirable new model that really does put the Sport into Range Rover and is looking to build on the success of its lifestyle predecessor which has sold 415,000 since 2005.
This is the car that Land Rover says is the ultimate premium sports sport utility vehicle – its fastest, most agile and responsive model ever. But it's also a true Land Rover with even more off-road ability than ever before... not that many owners would dare do in their Range Rover Sport what Land Rover positively encouraged us to do at its action-packed launch.
Fitting between the full-blown Range Rover and the Evoque, it picks up styling cues from both and looks all the better for it.
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Beneath those smart lines are a new lightweight platform and first-in-class aluminium body which has cut 420kg – that's equivalent to five people – from its weight which has helped transform the way the Range Rover Sport drives.
Add to that new engines which are up to 24% more efficient and the new 'RRS' also has lower fuel consumption and emissions but you will still need a deep pocket or your own oil well to run the 510PS 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol flagship which is devastatingly quick for something still weighing 2.3 tonnes and sounds fantastic as you wind it up.
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Most owners will go for the 3.0-litre V6 diesel, launched in 292hp guise in the SDV6 and joined by a 258hp TDV6 version in a new entry model in January. Next year a high-performance 339PS 4.4-litre SDV8 diesel and a high-efficiency diesel hybrid model will be available to order and, due to the weight savings, possibly a four-cylinder engine.
The SDV6, which emits a purposeful growl but is near silent when cruising, has ample performance for most situations, both on and off-road, with strong, low-down urgency from little more than tickover and mid-range muscle for explosive overtaking acceleration when you kick down the slick-shifting standard eight-speed automatic transmission. With a light foot on a run you can nudge 40mpg with 33-35mpg overall.
The Range Rover Sport has a different driving character – as well as 75% unique pats – to its bigger sibling. It's more agile and dynamic thanks to suspension tweaks but even more capable off-road with the latest Terrain Response system now having an automatic setting to adapt to conditions, more ground clearance and a deeper wading depth. In keeping with its lifestyle image there are now two full-time four-wheel drive systems with the ability to switch to low-ratio gears for serious off-roading optional on the SDV6.
The Range Rover Sport handles ridiculously well given its size and bulk, more like a sports car than a 4x4 especially with optional torque vectoring which uses the brakes to reduce understeer and improve grip and, on more powerful models, dynamic mode which gives a firmer ride, tighter body control and more responsive steering and performance.
So big gains in the handling department but Range Rover Sport has not lost that luxurious ride quality with the fifth-generation air suspension, with a new intermediate height setting allowing off-road mode to be held to higher speeds, cushioning and cossetting occupants. And anything that floats over the lumps and bumps of a Land Rover Experience off-road course is not going to be troubled by pockmarked. potholed roads!
It also retains the Range Rover image and sumptuous cabin ambience with top-drawer build quality and materials – luxurious leather and elegant wood. The new, much simpler and less fussy dashboard has fewer buttons and switches with more functions controlled via the logical touchscreen display.
A longer wheelbase means better legroom in and access to the back and there's now the £1,500 option of a neatly-integrated, third row of two occasional powered seats in the boot which leave a flat floor with no loss of luggage space. The second row seats also have 100mm fore/aft movement to tailor legroom and boot capacity is 9% larger than its predecessor. You can even choose between 60/40 or 40/20/40 split-rear seats
The 3.0 SDV6 is offered in HSE, HSE Dynamic and Autobiography Dynamic trim levels with the 5.0 V8 supercharged petrol in only the top spec. The lowered-powered TDV6 will be offered only in a new entry-level SE trim at £51,440 but, rest assured, they all feature equipment and safety technology that lives up to the price tag.
I've always respected what Range Rover stands for but, despite its great heritage, image and all-round ability, have never desired one... until I drove the new Sport.