Car reviews - Land Rover - Range Rover Sport - range
Land Rover models
Design, comfort, refinement, opulence, ambience, on and off-road capability, weight loss, effortless diesel, punchy supercharged V8, awesome brakes
Room for improvement
Petrol consumption not likely to please, feel-free steering, expensive options
4 Nov 2013
THE first-generation Sport was really a Range Rover in name only: beneath that chunky skin lurked the blocky Land Rover Discovery 3, and body-on-frame construction plus around 2.55 tonnes of kerb weight didn’t exactly spell out ‘Sport’, despite the decals.
Sure, the styling had clear links to the full-sized Range Rover flagship, but where was the Sport’s grandness, aluminium body structure or monocoque body configuration?Still, the world lapped it right up to the tune of 415,000 units in the eight years from 2005. Controversy, it appears, courts success.
Now there’s the second-gen RR Sport known internally as the L494. And you know what? With aluminium body panels based on the latest actual Range Rover’s PLA ‘Premium Lightweight Architecture, the ‘RR’ bit in its name is now no illusion – though the Evoque-esque styling might have people thinking this is something else entirely.
But the question remains: in being 33 per cent lighter, 25 per cent stiffer, six per cent more aerodynamic and 30 per cent better-handling (Land Rover’s claim, not ours) than before, does the newcomer deserve the all-important ‘Sport’ badge?The Indian-owned British off-road icon needs to manage expectations here, because nothing that weighs from 2115kg, sits so high up from the ground and can cover ground that will leave ordinary 4x4s flailing in their tracks, can defy the laws of physics.
But, oh boy, the Solihull-built slingshot certainly makes up for it in other ways. It’s an impressive, luxurious experience that goes leaps ands above its predecessor. On the L494’s launch in Tasmania, Jaguar Land Rover Australia had a trio of upmarket models for us to assess – the more powerful of the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesels that should account for up to 70 per cent of total RR Sport volume known as the SD (for Sport Diesel), the Supercharged 3.0 V6 petrol powerplant pinched from the Jaguar F-Type and a very rapid 5.0-litre Supercharged V8 petrol.
The base V6 turbo-diesel (TD) and 4.4-litre SD V8 turbo-diesel models are also available for order but haven’t landed yet while by mid next year there will be a RR Sport Hybrid.
Design-wise, it is as if Land Rover crossed an Evoque with a full-sized Range Rover, melding the freshness of the former with the elegance of the latter.
The raked windscreen, clean surfacing and pushed-out wheels help create a pleasingly proportioned wagon. Though not quite the instant classic of the smaller SUV, it is arguably a more handsome effort than the larger one.
The interiors were nigh on perfectly formed, in the carefully prepared and heavily optioned test cars we sampled. Who knows what the most basic RR Sport TD V6’s cabin is really like? None were available for us to peruse.
Even seeing through the countless combos of colours, materials and trims, however, it is clear that the quality and execution achieves the appropriate level of luxury (both modern and traditional English) that the $100K to $200K-plus pricing suggests.
Land Rover says it uses horizontal dash themes to help create that appropriate Range Rover ambience, and – except for a couple of dash rattles and exterior mirror wind rustling moments we experienced – the target has been hit decisively.
Nevertheless, plenty of thought has gone in the design and operational detailing behind the myriad buttons and switches on offer, to give the Sport’s occupants a sense of occasion inside anyway.
Tactile surfaces? Check. A great driving position with easy reach and comprehension of the important controls? Double check. Comfy rear bench, in spacious surrounds, with all the accoutrements you’d expect in a luxo SUV? Triple check.
The cargo area, too, is big and boxy and – in the vehicles we sampled – lined like the inside of a Burberry travel bag, so there’s very little to criticise and much to savour just by running your fingers through the lush carpeting.
Note the kids-only seven-seater versions won’t land in Australia until early in 2014, so we can’t tell you how they rate for adults. On paper, it will be a squeeze though.
As far as the driving experience goes, the Sport will astound you with its sheer depth of capability on as well as off the road. Just don’t go expecting a BMW M5 wagon dynamically.
We spent most of our time in the SDV6 (from $113,600) with its 215kW/600Nm 3.0L turbo-diesel – up 25kW over the standard TDV6 version costing ‘just’ $102,800.
Frankly this is all the go you will ever need, and our fave drivetrain so far.
Related to the 2.7L unit fitted to the Ford Territory, this powerplant is so quiet and refined that we had to look at the tachometer to check that the idling engine was actually running.
Coupled to an imperceptibly smooth and efficient eight-speed ZF automatic, it leaps off the line if needed to, sweeps the Sport along with incredible insouciance, and has massive reserves of torque on tap if you want to execute an instant overtaking manoeuvre.
We can only imagine what the Supercharged V8 diesel will be like next year.
After the SDV6 diesel, the $124K-plus Supercharged V6 petrol – though smooth and revvy and with a rousing exhaust rasp all its own – felt a little caught out at times, needing a bunch of revs before that blower could muster enough power to propel the Sport forwards.
Around town you’ll barely notice, since the shortfall is really only obvious when overtaking, or after driving back-to-back with the diesel. Remember, with 250kW and 450Nm, it isn’t actually lacking in power or torque. Just don’t expect an SUV slingshot.
For that, you’ll need the $161,600-plus Supercharged V8 petrol flagship, which ups the ante to a gob-smacking 375kW and 625Nm.
This is intercity bullet train-slick in its quickness, roaring off the mark like a Mega Fauna-era super wasp has stung it, and then maintains the rage well beyond what we were prepared to go speed-wise. This is laugh-out-loud fast, yet with a jetliner level of refinement thrown in.
Note, though, that the larger (20 to 22-inch) wheel and tyre combo do transmit turbulent road surfaces through to the otherwise quiet cabin. We wonder what the urban jungle’s cracks and potholes will feel like.
Dynamics wise, even though both V6 applications weigh around 200kg less than that S/C V8 petrol brute, it is clear that this Rangie is not the world’s sportiest SUV.
It isn’t just the 2115kg-plus kerb weight either. Beautifully consistent it may be, the steering lacks the weight and feedback required to really connect an enthusiastic driver.
And the amount of body movement under brakes (which are absolutely superb) or through tighter turns – though ably kept in check by superb tuning of the chassis and vehicle electronics systems – is still ever-present.
Keeping in mind that the previous RR Sport would feel like a lumbering school bus in comparison, the newcomer corners with outstanding flair and poise the amount of grip on all manner of road surfaces is remarkable and there is a feeling of security we’ve never before experienced in a Land Rover of this size and bulk.
Finally, there are the RR Sport’s effortless 4x4 capabilities.
This model is the first to offer a lighter single-range set-up in the base TDV6 and Supercharged V6 petrol models instead of the dual-range transfer box found in the rest of the range.
Shrewdly, Land Rover had us traversing a very demanding off-road course with the lesser of the two 4WD systems, to prove how effective its standard Terrain Response technology is without the need of a low-range gearbox.
Needless to say, we doubt the vast majority of owners will even dare to take the Sport where we were told to go, as the S/C V6 with its single range transmission climbed, descended, waded through, and then crawled right back up, a properly challenging test route.
Despite the adoption of a monocoque platform, this luxury vehicle walked through the mud, water, rock, and steep track challenges. No rival surely has this breadth of all-road capability.
Which brings us back to the beginning.
Let the controversy die. The newest RR Sport is no longer the pretender in Land Rover’s ever-growing line-up.
Taking the first part of its name, the L494 lives up to the expected luxury, refinement, and opulence of the Range Rover sub-brand, in a modern and elegant interior. Amongst SUVs, the British now truly rule this space.
Similarly, compared to the old vehicle, today’s Sport is far more dynamic and involving, with an effortless surety and security that will both delight and impress most owners. That an SUV can dance like this large land mammal can is a real feat of engineering brilliance.
However the RR Sport is no sports car, and not even the most fun SUV available – not by a long shot. RR Sporty might be a more apt badge.
Let’s not take away from the sheer towering capability that the latest Land Rover offers, though.
Even if you’re in the market for a full-sized Range Rover – let alone the less-special BMW X5, Mercedes ML, Audi Q7 or Porsche Cayenne – you really ought to take a really long and hard look at this one first.
We’ve never been able to say that about a Range Rover Sport before. This is the Olympic-standard tri-athlete amongst luxury SUVs.
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