Bigger, lighter and sharper in its reactions, the second generation Range Rover Sport has come 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 now 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. It's also now more efficient and offers extra technology to help you off road. Quite a package.
So to 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. Not so this second generation model. Appropriately, its very existence is 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. These two 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 what we're here to find out.
Can this car really be what Designer Gerry McGovern calls the 'Porsche 911 of SUVs'. The original version had no chance of even considering such a demanding brief, mainly because it weighed nearly three tonnes. Not any more 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. Most buyers choose the mainstream 306PS SDV6 diesel. This model can be further optioned up to include a desirable 'Dynamic' pack that includes a low range gearbox and an 'auto' setting on an upgraded Terrain Response system that'll always choose the perfect off road set-up. Plus there's the option of Land Rover's latest and very clever All-Terrain Progress Control system. For on road, the Dynamic spec adds Torque Vectoring and 'Dynamic Response active lean control' to sharpen things through the bends, plus a 'Dynamic programme' that quicken up throttle response, steering and gearshifts if you're feeling sporty. All of this is fitted as standard to the more powerful models in the line-up, the diesel/electric Hybrid, the 339PS SDV8 diesel and the 510PS supercharged V8 petrol. That supercharged engine is also used at the very top of the range where the most potent model lies, the frantically quick 550PS SVR.
Imagine you were toned, fit - and nearly 20% lighter. How would you look? Sharper? Smarter? Younger? As indeed this car 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. 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 now ease the process by selecting the now 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. In the back there's more room thanks to the bigger 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 has fallen a bit to 784-litres but with the rear bench folded, the 1,784-litre total will be sufficient for most.
Range Rover Sport pricing is pitched into the £60,000 to £95,000 bracket. If you're looking at the entry-level SDV6 version, that's around £12,000 less than a fully-fledged Range Rover model with a 258PS TDV6 engine fitted. So there's quite a price gap between the two models, something that also holds true if you're comparing Range Rover Sport and Range Rover variants fitted with the 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8 engine. Where this rule doesn't hold true is if you're comparing the Range Rover Sport with a Range Rover at V8 diesel level: here, pricewise at least, there's not much between the two cars at all. But this could end up sounding complicated, so let me try and simplify things. Essentially, there are two kinds of Range Rover Sport you buy into: let me loosely call these levels 'volume' and 'nice to have'. Most buyers choose the 306PS SDV6 diesel, the car we tried priced in the £60,000 to £75,000 bracket. At the other extreme, there's the top of the range where you'll find the 'nice to have' three most sophisticated engine options, all identically priced at just over £80,000 and all only offered in one top-spec fully-loaded form: choose from diesel/electric hybrid, SDV8 diesel and 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol. Beyond that lies only the top 550PS SVR high performance version, a sportscar and SUV all rolled into one.
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 along with the adoption of engine Stop/Start, to make a huge difference in running costs. So how much of a difference does it all make? Well, let me try and put that into perspective by using the volume 306PS SDV6 model as an example. 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 now manages 40.4mpg thanks to the latest efficiency changes. You get the idea. As for the CO2 emissions that'll determine your VED tax payments figure, well they've improved from 230 to 185g/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. At the other diesel extreme, even the top 339PS SDV8 model manages 229g/km of CO2 and, thanks to its increase in fuel tank size from 77 to 105-litres, will probably offer you a similar driving range to that of the SDV6 variant. The top 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged petrol model also shares that bigger tank - and it'll need it because even though combined cycle fuel economy is 14% better than the original first generation supercharged version of this car, it's still only rated at 22.1mpg, a figure I think you'd only achieve with a very frugal driving style indeed.
With the fully fledged Range Rover now a plutocratic purchase, it's this Sport model that for me, 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 one. 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 here makes 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 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 at last is a proper Range Rover. That's sporty. And that's a class leader. It's been a long time coming.
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|Name||Land Rover Range Rover Sport 2.0 P400e HSE Dynamic 5dr Auto||Audi Q5 40 TDI Quattro Sport 5dr S Tronic||Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 PHEV 4h 5dr Auto||BMW X4 xDrive M40d 5dr Step Auto|
|Price||From £649.94 PM inc. VAT||From £390.95 PM inc. VAT||From £363.93 PM inc. VAT||From £590.95 PM inc. VAT|
|Fuel Type||Petrol/PlugIn Elec Hybrid||Diesel||Petrol/PlugIn Elec Hybrid||Diesel|
|CO2||71 g/km||144 g/km||40 g/km||170 g/km|
|0 to 62||6.3 sec||7.9 sec||10.5 sec||4.9 sec|