Overall rating: 4.5/5
Several SUVs are fast. Some are fun. But the new Range Rover Sport is something else. It lives up to Land Rover's promise of agility and engagement, while being everything you'd expect a Range Rover to be. It's not perfect, but it's not far off.
In the Metal:
As seems to be the way with a lot of modern cars, the attractiveness of the new Range Rover Sport (to our eyes) considerably depends on the colour combination. And it needs the 21-inch alloys pictured to fill out those muscular arches (there are options ranging from 19- to 22-inch in diameter). As before it takes cues from the Range Rover proper, but it's distinctive, especially around the back and in profile. And it certainly has presence.
Inside, there's much more space than before all-round and the quality and ambience has stepped up a notch. There's even the option for an extra row of seats, though Land Rover emphasised how these have been designed for two kids only. They fold flat and they unfold electronically. Other than that, the Sport driver sits lower than in the regular car and the dashboard is higher. The steering wheel is smaller too - though it's still huge by any normal measure - and the rotary gear selector of the big Rangie has been replaced by a more conventional (and tactile) selector, not too dissimilar to that found in the Jaguar F-Type.
Indeed, Land Rover reckons there's Jaguar F-Type 'DNA' in the Range Rover Sport, confirming that the engineering teams developing both cars shared some personnel. And it turns out that's not as ludicrous a claim as it might first sound.
Clearly, and despite a commendable weight reduction in the region of 400kg, the Range Rover Sport is still a big, heavy, high-sided vehicle. However, within those constraints it's an astoundingly accomplished SUV. To help illustrate this, Land Rover's launch included a wide variety of terrains, three different off-road sections (here's a video of the most bonkers), brilliantly challenging Welsh back roads and even a runway to test the maximum speed on.
First up (and admittedly probably of least interest to most Range Rover Sport buyers), the off-road bits. Land Rover is adamant that its vehicles will remain utterly capable off-road, even if few customers ever test the limits. So, the new Range Rover Sport has more ground clearance, better wheel articulation, considerably more wading ability (plus a very clever Wade Sensing system to help the driver assess the depth) and plenty of options to enhance its ability further. We never got near to getting stuck of course, despite some particularly deep mud and water and what felt like vertical descents on loose ground. We'll detail some of the incredible technology in the Worth Noting section below.
Back on the road, it takes only a few miles of twisting tarmac to realise how much more agile feeling the Sport is in comparison to the regular Range Rover. That stems to a certain extent from the more direct steering (it's a speed-sensitive, variable ratio system), but it's also clear that there's even less slack in the car's responses as it keenly, accurately follows your chosen line through a bend.
Push much harder and the tyres begin to squeal well before the stability control system reckons it needs to step in. At this stage there's mild, stabilising understeer, but hang in there and more of the engine's output is sent to the rear wheels and the Sport takes on a more neutral stance - and even one that's slightly rear-led. This feeling is enhanced by the Torque Vectoring (standard on Dynamic models) and an optional electronically controlled rear differential.
The Dynamic models also come with an extra program for the Terrain Response 2 system called Dynamic Response that tweaks the steering, damping and the characteristics of the transmission, etc. Land Rover fits the excellent ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox to all versions of the Range Rover Sport and it's a perfect match. Away from the Dynamic mode the gearbox can be put into Sport mode and the driver can change gears for himself using the wheel-mounted paddles (shamefully plasticky) or by toggling the shifter forward and back. In fairness, unless you're really attacking a tight and twisty road it's best to leave the gearbox to its own devices.
We realise that the average Range Rover Sport buyer is as likely to go off-road as they are to truly test the 'Sport' part of the name, but nonetheless all this dynamic ability makes for an SUV that's a real joy to drive, even at normal speed. There is a small 'but' coming. We tried two examples of the SDV6-engined model, one with Active Roll Control (ARC - or active lean control) and one without. It comes as part of the Dynamic package and though it sounds like it's targeted at faster, flatter cornering, it also leads to a more comfortable ride, as the normally stiff anti-roll bars are effectively decoupled when they're not needed. It's deeply impressive and highly recommended for anyone that drives further afield - no matter how fast.
Though we're focusing on the agility and Sport side to this Range Rover it's worth pointing out that it retains a fair amount of the bigger car's imperiousness. Visibility is very good and it's exceptionally refined. The V6 diesel engine is particularly well isolated from occupants and tyre noise is surprisingly low. Wind noise seems to become more of an issue at higher speeds, but no worse than most cars of this type.
What you get for your Money:
It's clear that we're blown away by this V6 diesel version of the Range Rover Sport. Few cars at any price offer such an incredible collection of talents. However, it's not likely to be cheap. The starting price, for the TDV6 model with 258hp, is expected to be in the region of €90,000.
In terms of the model range, Land Rover Ireland is yet to show its hand, but the UK offering includes the TDV6 engine in SE trim only, the SDV6 in HSE, HSE Dynamic and Autobiography Dynamic, while the V8 Supercharged model only comes in Autobiography Dynamic guise. Even the lowest priced cars come with leather upholstery and 19-inch alloys, air suspension, auto lights and wipers, Xenon headlights with LED 'signature', power-adjusted and heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors, DAB radio, Bluetooth and touchscreen satnav. Of course there's a huge amount of customisation available.
The Range Rover Sport is crammed with (or rather, it can be crammed with, depending on how deep your pockets) highly advanced technology. The Wade Sensing system, for instance, uses sensors mounted in the door mirrors to automatically detect when the vehicle is entering water. It aurally and visually updates the driver on the depth and how close it is to the car's rated limit.
It's worth looking at the specifications carefully, as the Dynamic models feature a lot more tech. They come with a twin-speed transfer box for instance, which includes a low ratio for proper off-roading. This divvies the engine output evenly between the axles in normal use, but it's biased towards the rear in Dynamic mode. However, the non-Dynamic cars feature a single-speed transmission that sends 52 per cent of the torque to the rear axle by default. This is also about 18kg lighter.
Given how well received the regular Range Rover was, it's hardly surprising that the Sport model is good. That headline weight reduction was always going to suit a car with a sportier brief. But Land Rover has managed to distance this car further from its big sibling than ever, and in the process created a truly desirable SUV that you'd take for a drive just for the sake of driving.