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
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 4×4, 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 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 4×4. 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.