David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
You could argue that edging over obstacles inside the fuselage of a hollowed-out jumbo jet is a long way from anything a Range Rover owner is likely to put their car through. And you'd have a point. But as a way of demonstrating the extreme capabilities of the new Sport it would have been hard to come up with anything more memorable.
Besides, by the time I came to be driving into the 747 with the mirrors folded so it would fit (just) through the cargo-bay door, the Sport had already been driven on road and off it across Wales and the Cotswolds, as well as proving its remarkable acceleration and braking capabilities on a deserted runway.
Sport by name...
Land Rover bosses acknowledge that the old Range Rover Sport was a little too close to the old Range Rover in character. The new Sport is intended to offer something distinct from the Range Rover while retaining its luxury and refinement.
Out on the road, these efforts have succeeded emphatically. Both the test cars I drove were fitted with the Dynamic Response system, which allows the driver to opt for more aggressive settings for the suspension, steering, throttle and eight-speed automatic gearbox. Even without this mode selected, the Sport rides more firmly than the limo-like Range Rover, but with only a slight sacrifice in comfort. In fact, if the driver is getting a move on the better tied-down suspension is probably more comfortable than the regular Range Rover's, as it stops any float or wallow over dips and crests.
With the Dynamic mode engaged the Sport is exceptionally grippy, agile and responsive for such a large 4x4, but gearchanges are that bit more abrupt and rough surfaces make their presence felt more. For the majority of driving, the standard on-road setting is close to ideal. Certainly for towing duties the Dynamic mode can be left well alone.
As you'd expect of a Land Rover, the new Range Rover Sport's towing limit is 3.5 tonnes, whichever engine is under the bonnet. Kerbweights are down, though. Dramatically so, in fact, with a reduction of up to 420kg depending on the model.
Of course, this puts a dent in the 85% match figure, as usually recommended for secure and stable towing. However, given that the SDV6 diesel weighs 2115kg, an 85% match is still a hefty 1798kg.
With 288bhp and 442lb ft of torque, pulling a tourer weighing that much should prove no trouble at all. Certainly my solo test drive showed this engine to be every bit as powerful as those numbers suggest, and refined with it.
The Sport's reduced weight helps deliver some respectable economy and emissions figures for something possessing the size and aerodynamics of a country house. According to the official figures, 37.7mpg is achievable on the combined cycle with carbon dioxide emissions of 199g/km.
I also drove the range-topping 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol. Few will find the SDV6 short of performance. None will complain about the petrol. It's staggeringly quick, sounds wonderful, and will go from 0-100-0mph in 16.5 seconds, as I found out on an airport runway. On the other hand, it's phenomenally expensive to buy, priced from £81,550 (the SDV6 costs from £59,995). Fuel bills will be expensive, too, with an official combined figure of 22.1mpg. It's overkill for day-to-day driving, and more likely to find buyers in the US or Middle East, where needing your own oil well to run one is less of a problem.
A true Range Rover
While the car's on-road performance gets your attention, it's the way this combines with exceptionally ability off-road which really impresses. I drove the car through ruts, rocks, mud and deep water, and the Range Rover Sport coped brilliantly with whatever was thrown at it.
The cabin also deserves praise. There's much more legroom for those in the second row than before, and the optional third-row of seats which folds out of the boot floor adds to the car's practicality. Everything you see or touch looks and feels made to a high standard, and Land Rover's improved performance in recent customer satisfaction surveys like JD Power suggests that quality now goes more than skin deep. What's more, the wide scope for personalising the cabin will allow owners can put their own stamp on the car.
The new Range Rover Sport is quite exceptional. Aside from the price tag, it's hard to find serious fault. A little less road noise at speed would be welcome, but even this is nit-picking, really.
Land Rover has succeeded in making the Sport, well, sportier, without compromising it's credentials as a luxury 4x4. It's undeniably expensive, but for anyone with a luxury caravan like an Airstream to tow, the Range Rover Sport must be close to the perfect match.