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Car reviews - Land Rover - Range Rover Sport - HSE SDV6 Hybrid

Our Opinion

We like
Luxury, refinement, isolation, design, comfort, space, practicality, design, quality
Room for improvement
Remote steering, busy ride, expensive options, can feel heavy and ponderous

Land Rover logo13 Aug 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

HASN’T the Range Rover Sport come along nicely?The previous version from 2005 was an overweight Land Rover Discovery in P38A-apeing (ask your local 4x4 anorak about that one) drag.

But the second-gen L494 version is a lighter (by more than 400kg) and sleeker reinterpretation of what a proper BMW X5 rival should be, and now trails only its Bavarian nemesis for second place overall in the sales charts Down Under.

Good work, Tata’s Team UK.

To help keep things kicking along, a full parallel hybrid version marrying an electric motor to the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel was released in April this year, in two lush flavours – the HSE SDV6 Hybrid from $146,900 plus on-roads costs, and a super-salubrious Autobiography SDV6 Hybrid costing nearly $30K more. Both feature an EV mode running purely on electric power for a bit, as well as a Hybrid boost mode to boost performance.

Most of the luxury items expected at this price point are fitted in our HSE Hybrid as tested, and include powered seats, parking sensors, Xenon headlights with auto high-beam assist, and configurable ambient lighting.

Disappointingly, though, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, heated seats, and a sunroof cost extra, so you’ll have to dig even deeper. However, unparalleled 4x4 off-road ability comes as standard.

Among other goodies, ours also boasted a $900 DAB+ digital radio and $3870 digital TV with ‘dual view’. Result? $160,000+ once this Range Rover sashays away from the dealership.

Interior

With its hefty feel, quality fittings, elegantly symmetrical dashboard, 12.3-inch digitised instrument panel, lofty leather seating for five, and panoramic views afforded by the deep glass areas, the Range Rover Sport imparts a majesty that no competitor can equal.

But beyond the flowery metaphor, it is the effort that Land Rover’s designers and engineers have made to infuse the Range Rover’s classy heritage with advanced technology within a luxury sphere that sets the Sport apart.

One example is the instrument dials – conservatively analogue in style, yet digital and multi-configurable in execution, depending on whether the driver selects sleepy or speedy mode. More on the latter later.

Beige perforated leather isn’t to everybody’s taste as fitted to our vehicle, but there is no denying the expense it imparts the same goes for the matte metallic highlights, squishy upper dash mouldings, and weighty switches and controls.

Unlike some upper-echelon SUVs, the dashboard’s layout is neither confusing nor intimidating, with the basics – comfort, ventilation, ergonomics, adjustability – all present and correct. Nothing rattled or squeaked either, and that’s a pleasant surprise in a British-built vehicle, let’s not kid ourselves.

About the only complaint centres around the outmoded touchscreen interface, which is logical but painfully slow to react. If the Rangie Sport scores the newer Discovery Sport’s next-gen version, the opposite will apply. A set of grab handles for shorter people to haul themselves into would also not go astray.

Nevertheless, cocooned up high in such opulent surroundings, it is easy to feel completely isolated from the outside elements – and this is another Land Rover capability that few rivals can match. It is like sitting in an airtight vault – albeit one with firm but supportive seats, a rear bench that reclines as well as slides, and a cargo area that invites you to sleep on, lulled by a rich aroma. Wide, deep, and with all the usual luggage area accoutrements you’d expect from a family focussed SUV, Labradors have never had it so good!Last decade’s Sport felt as though it may not deserve the Range Rover prefix.

This one is right on the money – even if you have to pay for the experience.

Engine and transmission

Also isolated is the Range Rover Sport’s hybrid powertrain.

Under that aluminium bonnet is a 215kW 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel, working with a 35kW/175Nm electric motor, providing a maximum power and torque total of 250kW and 700Nm respectively, relayed to all four wheels via a ZF eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission.

As far as seamless powertrain combos go, this one stands as tall as the SUV itself, since it takes a bit of a trained ear to detect whether the electric motor or internal combustion engine are doing their thing. Mostly it’s the latter, for this is a system that only really uses the former at lower-speed urban crawling situations, before the V6 kicks in.

Beyond preserving our resources (6.4 litres per 100km is the official average, though we showed an indicated 8.8L/100km), Land Rover says the hybrid is here to enhance performance too, as the 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds suggests. And here is where the Sport Hybrid’s Jekyll and Hyde personality is at its most acute.

In regular Drive mode, overall performance feels brisk in a regular V6 diesel sort of way, after a somewhat perplexing hesitation off the line (no doubt due to a hefty 2.4 tonne kerb weight). Slotting the auto lever across to Drive Sport helps, though it is clear economy is the priority here. On the move, this feels plenty urgent enough.

But slot the Terrain Response dial down behind the electric park brake to Dynamic (the rest are 4x4-related modes, which we did not test this time around), and the personality transforms like those cartoon characters in the Red Bull ads the dash goes all devilish in its red glow, with a tacho replacing the unfathomable eco gauge, and the Rangie’s V6 note dropping an octave or three in unison with the lower ride height.

Result? The Sport feels like it has literally been supercharged, thanks to a steroidal change of pace that seems almost asteroidal in its ability to streak across the continent. Maybe it’s because of the relative aforementioned lethargy in normal mode, but once that lever is in Dynamic, this V6 Hybrid combo flexes new-found muscle and menace, giving the SUV its head to bound along with furious intent. Helped out by a slick-shifting transmission, it feels very fast indeed – much like Dorothy might have felt hurtling through the sky in the eye of that hurricane. Thankfully the brakes are up to the task to keep a tap on all that instantaneous speed.

So with the aid of an electric motor, the SDV6 Hybrid oscillates from mild to wild at a twist of a knob, with a compelling baritone soundtrack to match. But outright velocity does not necessarily equal Sport.

Ride and handling

There is no way any driver used to regular passenger or sportscars would use the word ‘Sport’ to describe this particular Range Rover’s steering or handling characteristics. The former is just too devoid of feel and feedback (though it does weigh up nicely at speed) while the latter is bound by the physics of its size, height and girth. Impossible. Even with the L494’s radical aluminium structure adopted from its larger Vogue sibling.

Compared to most other SUVs this side of a Porsche Macan, however, and the L949 Hybrid’s uncanny ability to stay upright through foolishly fast corners is downright athletic, especially in Dynamic. What Land Rover’s engineers have achieved for such a heavy and upright vehicle is astounding, for it grips the road and keeps relatively flat even during tight turns, without becoming upset by bumps or rough edges, and stays in complete control.

Of course, no amount of carefully tuned active roll bars or electronic stability and traction guardian angels will stop this SUV from coming unstuck if the driver suddenly becomes deluded and deranged, but the Rangie will try its darnest to keep everything safe. What a brilliant piece of engineering.

On the flipside, fitted with 12-inch Continental Cross Contact LX Sport mud and snow tyres, the ride varies from outstandingly supple (on smooth surfaces), to a little busy (over rougher stuff) to plain hard and fidgety (when put in Dynamic mode). Note that while the ride does hunker down in its sportiest setting, the steering remains remote, sadly.

Safety and servicing

While the full-sized Range Rover achieves a five-star ANCAP crash test rating, the results for the closely related L494 Sport has not yet been released, which is strange for a two-year old design.

Like all Land Rovers, this is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty. While there are some service packages available, no fixed-price service regime exists for this model in Australia.

Verdict

The Range Rover Sport HSE SDV6 Hybrid is a mostly satisfying convergence of at-times opposing attributes – outstanding performance, impressive economy, showy elegance, cocooning opulence, grand-touring go-anywhere capability, advanced tech, and old-school British charm.

However it is expensive, isn’t as well equipped as the exxy pricing suggests, and doesn’t engage the driver dynamically.

Despite these drawbacks, though, this remains far more deserving of both the Range Rover and Sport badges than the SUV that came before.

Rivals

BMW X5 M50d from $148,400 plus on-road costs
Ballistic in both performance and attitude, the third-gen X5 is a handsome piece of family-orientated kit for the driver who also wants to feel connected with the car. Only its anonymous Xeroxed BMW interior detracts from a monstrously capable GT SUV.

Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid from $140,800 plus on-road costs
Beautifully made inside and out, with a roomy interior and lots of kit, the Cayenne hybrid can be a thrifty as well as terrifically fast SUV experience, offering extensive off-road as well as on-road prowess, but it feels strangely artificial in the process.

Volvo XC90 R-Design Hybrid T8, from $122,950 plus on-road costs
Sweden's new XC90 brings gorgeous interior design, superb packaging, top-shelf safety, vast practicality, and strong performance from 2.0-litre four-pot petrol turbo/electric combo. But the suspension isn’t quite so composed over Aussie roads.

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