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Car reviews - Land Rover - Range Rover Sport - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Solid supercharged V8 power, comfort, on and off-road ability
Room for improvement
Fuel consumption, weight

2 Aug 2005

IT’S hard to escape the feeling that this is all so typically British.

After all, the scenario is not without precedent: Enter into a joint development program with a car-maker from somewhere else in the world, launch the vehicle with your own badge, then gradually undermine it by saying that, had you been left to your own devices, you undoubtedly could have done better...

One example is the prestige mid-size car jointly developed by Rover and Honda in the mid 1980s. The Honda version was called the Legend and the badge still survives today. Rover’s version was the 825, which eventually became the 827 but expired in 1992 after years of complaining by British engineers that the Honda V6 engine just wasn’t up to their expectations.

A decade or so later, with Rover just now having gone convincingly under, after attempts to continue floating its BMW-developed Rover 75, who’s crying now?

Today, we have a situation involving the Rover name again, although the background is entirely different, as are the connotations.

But a common thread is that we have a vehicle developed with British and foreign expertise, but which is now seemingly on the escape ramp while the British do something better.

We are talking about the current Range Rover, developed when BMW was pulling the strings but now clearly in the process of eventually giving way to an all-new product that has come together under Land Rover’s Ford stewardship.

Both are badged Range Rover and are visually clearly related, but the BMW developed version is slightly bigger and – significantly - more expensive to build.

Land Rover’s new favourite is the Range Rover Sport, developed from the also all-new Discovery 3 and touted as another line in the model range. It’s smaller than both the Range Rover and the Discovery, largely because it’s been given a shorter wheelbase to give it the dynamic edge promised by its name.

But it’s close enough in reality that it could easily be inflated to become a direct challenger to its bigger brother. Just by giving it the same wheelbase as the Discovery 3 it would equal – actually better, by 5mm – the BMW-developed vehicle, while its width is already only 26mm away.

What it all seems to come down to, when you speak to Land Rover people, is that the BMW Range Rover isn’t quite the vehicle the new Range Rover Sport is.

One contention, hard to argue, is that the Bavaria-driven version is costly to make. With the amount of light alloys used in its construction that’s no surprise, but then again Land Rover made a name for itself as a manufacturer willing to adopt aluminium as a means of controlling weight – and rust – to create a major point of differentiation with other 4WDs.

The new Range Rover Sport, and the new Discovery 3 on which it is based, show little evidence of aluminium as a construction material and are therefore more cost-effective on the production line. The problem is, they are also heavy.

Very heavy in the case of the Discovery 3, which heads towards 2.8 tonnes in its weightiest spec.

The word is that Land Rover managing director Matthew Taylor is not very happy about this, and that things will be done to rectify it, but for the moment the Discovery’s brilliance is slightly overshadowed.

The problem isn’t quite so bad with the Range Rover Sport, which weighs in at a mere 2572kg in supercharged V8 form, and even less as a normal V8 or turbodiesel V6 – the latter down to as little as 2445kg.

But what is really interesting is that the Sport was designed from the outset to be a better Range Rover, able to challenge the likes of BMW’s X5 on the tarmac while retaining every aspect of its famed off-road performance. The company says it is the fastest Range Rover ever, and that its dynamics on-road are as astounding as its development using the Nürburgring circuit in Germany as a measuring stick would seem to promise.

Under the skin, what you see in the Range Rover Sport is essentially a shorter, lighter Discovery 3 with a new, lower roofline and a five-seat-only interior.

Range Rover styling cues, like the clamshell bonnet and the slim-pillared roof (with a faster-raked windscreen and a slightly extended rear overhang), clearly identify it but look closely and you’ll see Disco lurking beneath.

The cabin architecture strives to differ from the Discovery, but the basic hard points, including things like the dashboard air vents, instrument location and even the steering wheel shape, are all there.

So too is the air-suspended Discovery 3 chassis, with Land Rover’s Terrain Response all-road system standard on all three models, which are mainly differentiated by the Jaguar-donated powerplants – supercharged 4.2-litre V8, normally aspirated 4.4-litre V8 and 2.7-litre turbodiesel V6.

The Range Rover Sport gets the usual lineup of electronic aids, including traction control, brake assist and dynamic stability control.

The supercharged version also introduces Dynamic Response, which controls body lean on the road in a similar manner to the Active Cornering Enhancement - or ACE - system used on the previous Discovery.

The turbodiesel and regular V8 versions are priced at $85,000 and $101,000 respectively and are similarly equipped with Terrain Response air suspension, leather seats, 18-inch leather wheels and all the off and on-road electronics apart from the supercharged version’s Dynamic Response suspension. This is available on V8 and V6 as an option.

So how is the Range Rover Sport different to the regular Range Rover, and does it differ from the Discovery 3?

With its Range Rover shape, and its more compact dimensions it looks a little more tightly packed than its BMW-developed sibling, yet it’s still quite sizable for five passengers and totes a decent load area behind the rear seat. It doesn’t lose any 4WD wagon practicality.

There’s plenty of luxe too, especially in the $136,500 supercharged version which gets park distance control, adaptive bi-Xenon lights, satellite navigation, power front seats with driver’s side memory, eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, and front Brembo brakes hiding behind thumping great 20-inch alloy wheels as standard. Optionally available are things like a power sunroof, a DVD player with screens built into the front headrests, adaptive cruise control and a cooler for the centre console.

The interior ambience – especially in our test car that came with every imaginable option – is everything you’d expect of a topline Range Rover, as is the space, even if some observers see it as noticeably smaller than BMW version. The figures tend to contradict this.

Dropping the suspension down to its easy-entry height, there’s absolutely no trouble climbing aboard yet, once inside, there’s the usual high and mighty feeling with plenty of shoulder space, leg and head room – the latter despite the lower roofline.

The rear seat is also set quite high, ands combines with the relatively bright and airy glasshouse to give a feeling of spaciousness along with good all-round visibility.

The luggage area, with its somehow cheap-feeling cargo blind, is decently large and useful, providing you take note of the fine-grade carpet and its incompatibility with gritty off-road work. The split tailgate, a traditional Range Rover feature, is handy too, although the top-hinged door is heavy to lift open. Fold the rear seats down and the load area becomes quite cavernous, easily able to take a mountain bike without bothering to remove a wheel.

If you’re familiar with the Disco 3, you’ll find the Range Rover Sport’s dashboard a no-brainer. The dial that sets the Terrain Response suspension sits behind the shift lever on the centre console and is easy to decipher even if the rest of the instrument panel looks a little intimidating.

You are certainly presented with a lot of buttons, but everything proves not to be as bad as first feared.

Climate-control means you simply set and forget the temperature, while the audio controls are really pretty basic. The touch-screen satellite navigation helps free the console and dash of extra buttons too, as do the cruise control switches on the left-side steering wheel spoke.

The driver will find plenty of comfort thanks to the powered steering column adjuster and the big, cushy seats, while the instruments are viewed clearly in a conventional-looking hooded binnacle.

The supercharged V8 produces a hefty 287kW at 5750rpm, with 550Nm of torque at a seemingly high 3500rpm, but there’s clearly plenty available below this once you experience the way the 4.2-litre V8 shifts the two and a half tonne body.

Its ability to rocket from rest to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds (12.7 and 8.9 seconds respectively for the turbodiesel and regular V8) certainly justifies the sport appellation.

Mind you, the weight can definitely be felt. The Range Rover Sport gathers pace smoothly and remorselessly, rather than accelerating like a frightened rabbit.

But, via the variable ratio, road speed sensitive power-assisted rack and pinion system it steers wonderfully, with a steadfastly solid, secure feel that makes you wonder how it will respond when asked to change direction.

The fact is, the supercharged Sport carves up the road with the precision of something a lot smaller and lighter, although you still at some level remain aware of how much bulk is being thrown around. But the massive wheels, with their equally massive 275/40R20 tyres and the gargantuan Brembo brakes, ensure it is well up to the task. It’s a vehicle full of pleasant dynamic surprises, obviously positively influenced by the Nürburgring part of its development.

As you’d expect it rides wonderfully well too, even if there is a surprising sensitivity to small-amplitude bumps.

The powerful all-alloy Jaguar engine (regular Range Rovers now also get Jaguar, rather than BMW V8s) rumbles away delightfully, giving the sense of muscle you’d hope for in such a high-spec V8.

Something else you’d also anticipate with the Range Rover Sport is its appetite for premium unleaded fuel. The reality varies on how ruthless you are as a driver. Upwards of 18L/100km is easily possible if you make full use of the engine’s brooding, supercharged presence, but on the freeway, where the Range Rover Sport is a beautiful, quiet and comfortable cruiser, it’s possible to see it dropping down towards 13L/100km. But only on the freeway.

The official quoted average of 15.9L/100km is pretty close to what the reasonably respectful driver could expect to achieve, making the fuel tank capacity, at 82 litres, a bare minimum.

As you’d expect, the Range Rover Sport is a formidable off-roader, what with the multi-adjustability of the Terrain Response system (which controls more than just the suspension, looking after things like ride height, engine torque, Hill Descent Control, traction control and settings in the ZF six-speed auto transmission), the dual-range transmission and the full-time four-wheel drive.

Most buyers probably won’t try it, but the Range Rover Sport is as effective in the bush as anything you’re likely to find.

Land Rover is pushing the on-road abilities of the Sport, and it’s certainly the most dynamic of the breed yet to be built, but the reality is that this is probably also the most versatile Range Rover yet.

Probably not quite an X5-beater on the road, but far better than anything else with full off-road ability, the supercharged Range Rover Sport gets closer to the all-terrain holy grail than any other 4WD.

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