From £83,6209

Solihull takes the Range Rover Sport to new heights of technical sophistication.

The Land Rover Range Rover Sport might be the most significant British-made car of the 21st century. The full-sized Range Rover is the firm’s talisman, and the Discovery Sport its biggest seller by volume, but the Sport is where global volume and luxury car profit margin come together so crucially for Land Rover.

This was the car that showed the untapped potential of Range Rover as a sub-brand when it came along in 2004, kick-starting the growth in Land Rover’s model catalogue that subsequently brought us the Range Rover Evoque and Range Rover Velar. It also first demonstrated how convincingly the SVR performance treatment could be deployed on a Land Rover model.

Land Rover’s Black Exterior pack (£1450) adds gloss black grille and bumper trim, black badging, and black louvres on the bonnet and front wings. It’s all a bit fashionable, though, and it seems a shame to lose so much visual detail in the car’s design.

And it’s the perfect modern Land Rover in as much as it has all the advantages: the lustre of the Range Rover brand delivered on a full-sized model, but at a more affordable price; the pick of the engines, and the advanced suspension and four-wheel drive technologies, from the Range Rover, Discovery and Defender lines; and the freedom to deploy them to suit a more dynamic on-road brief than any of them. To so many of its owners, the Range Rover Sport has simply become the defining and best Range Rover full stop.

And now, the third-generation version shows us what it’s made of. The car has now stepped determinedly forwards into the electrified era. While the outgoing version already came as a plug-in hybrid, this one will be available in two different PHEV guises offering as much as 70 miles of electric range, and it will also be the first Range Sport to go fully electric in 2024.

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We have elected to test a near-entry-level mild-hybrid diesel to find out what kind of future this car is ready to provide.

Range at a glance

There are six engine variants of the Range Rover Sport for now, with a V8-powered SVR hot model expected next year and an all-electric version due in 2024.

A four-tier derivative line-up starts with SE trim and progresses upwards through Dynamic SE, Autobiography and First Edition. Dynamic SE is likely to be a popular trim level, and you can augment its equipment level with Land Rover’s Hot Climate, Technology and Premium Interior upgrade packages.

Engines Power
Land Rover Range Rover Sport D300 SE 296bhp
LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT D350 Autobiography 345bhp
LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT P510E Autobiography 503bhp
Land Rover Range Rover Sport P530 First Edition 523bhp

Range Rover Sport D300 frontcorner

The new Range Rover Sport has followed the full-sized Range Rover in adopting Land Rover's MLA-Flex model platform, and will be built alongside its bigger sibling at the firm’s Solihull plant. So while the original version shared its chassis with the contemporary Discovery, the new Sport maintains its notionally close relationship with the full-fat Range Rover. The new chassis is made of a mix of aluminium and steel, with the latter having been brought back into the car’s construction (where predecessors used aluminium construction almost exclusively) for its noise suppression qualities.

Jaguar Land Rover claims that it delivers sizeable torsional stiffness gains as well, but it makes few specific assertions about weight saving. Sure enough, our Range Rover Sport came in at 2511kg as tested – nearly 200kg heavier than Land Rover’s options-denuded homologation weight, but also 150kg heavier than its predecessor, which we tested in 2013.

Two shark fin roof aerials rather than one? When so much else about the Range Rover Sport is ‘reductive’ almost to a fault, they do look odd; although in previous Range Rover models one has been responsible for normal DAB radio reception, the other the car's mobile data connection.

The Range Rover Sport’s UK-market engine range currently comprises two six-cylinder 3.0-litre mild-hybridised Ingenium turbo diesels (D300, D350) with 296bhp and 345bhp respectively; two mild-hybrid petrols developing 394bhp and 523bhp, the latter powered by a BMW-sourced 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8; and two plug-in hybrid petrol-electric options (P440e, P510e).

Each of the PHEVs teams JLR’s six-pot Ingenium petrol engine with a 141bhp electric drive motor and a 38.2kWh drive battery; and, depending on equipment level, they offer up to 70 miles of EAER lab-tested electric range.

The new Sport uses double-wishbone front suspension, with a new multi-link axle at the rear designed to make room for an electric drive motor for the forthcoming all-electric version. As standard, the car runs on a new height-adjustable, multi-chamber air suspension system that grants it up to 281mm of ground clearance. That’s a marginal gain on the 278mm of the previous-gen car, although getting it depends on avoiding the PHEV models, which offer slightly less. The car gets only open diffs and an eight-speed automatic gearbox without low range, unless you pay extra, though.

This time around, you can also add Dynamic Response Pro active anti-roll bars, active four-wheel steering and mechanical active torque-vectoring diffs, these three items being bundled as part of the £5330 Stormer Handling package on our test car.

In its styling, meanwhile, this new Sport becomes a disciple of design boss Gerry McGovern’s ‘reductive’ design philosophy, as first seen on the Range Rover Velar in 2017. Its primary features are smaller and neater than those of its predecessors, its surfaces cleaner for the most part. One voice among our road test jury suggested the new car’s look might have become a little too sleek and pretty and that a Range Rover ought to look more tough and functional. Even so, this is a handsome car.

Range Rover Sport D300 straightdash

Stepping up into the cabin reassures you that you’re boarding a ‘proper’ Range Rover here; and the plush material richness, the sophisticated digital technology and the sheer space that surrounds you once you’re settled in makes for an ambience that feels both super-modern and special.

The driving position is medium high but still fairly recumbent, offering great all-round visibility but a certain understated sporting appeal. The high-rising centre console and door panels echo the sense that you’re sitting in, rather than on, the car, and protected from the outside world. There are touchscreen interfaces and digital screens where they’re useful, by and large, but physical controls (heating and ventilation, audio system, Terrain Response driving modes etc) where they add value.

Some interior material trim choices are yours to make, but there’s no avoiding quite a lot of shiny black plastic on the transmission console, which may be a turn-off for some

The size and aspect ratio of the 13.1in Pivi Pro infotainment set-up strike a good balance between display at scale and size for its own sake. It fills the centre of the dashboard without spilling over the transmission tunnel or into the front passenger’s living quarters and it’s well furnished with features and easy to use.

The car’s standard of material quality is high but perhaps lacks quite the same level of tactile appeal that it has on the eye – in certain places. The gear selector, for example, feels just a little light and plasticky when you move it; the central display installation wobbles and squeaks a bit when you interrogate it; and the prevalence of shiny, easy-for-grubby-fingers-to-mark decorative trim around the transmission tunnel just takes the edge off the appeal of an interior that invites you in like few luxury SUVs on the market.

Space in the second row is generous for adults of average height, but the key distinction here is that while the bigger Range Rover is a car you might choose for chauffeuring, the Sport probably isn’t quite. For now, Land Rover won’t offer a seven-seat cabin layout on this car. Loading space is as abundant as you would hope and, as we measured it, competitive with key rivals (X5, Q8).


Range rover sport d300 infotain 2 0

Land Rover’s 13.1in Pivi Pro touchscreen infotainment set-up really is a vast improvement on the old InControl system, and that it can sit in an £85k car here and offer every feature you would want proves the point powerfully.

The system has some haptic feedback features but isn’t like Audi’s equivalent in that it demands an annoyingly firm contact to register any input. It comes with two eSIMs for fully networked data connectivity, which needs to be extended by subscription after the first year. 

Failing that, it also offers wireless smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android handsets, and wireless charging, should you prefer to stick to the data connection you are already paying for. During our testing, it seemed a reliable connection, filling the aspect ratio of the touchscreen well.

The system offers Amazon Alexa voice control services built in as well. A 29-speaker Meridian Signature premium system, with as many as four headrest speakers, is on the options list, along with rear-seat entertainment screens.

Range Rover Sport D300 rear34pan

It will take a traditionally minded owner to opt for a diesel engine in the Range Rover Sport, in a market in which company sales will be dominated by those tax-efficient plug-in hybrids, and plenty of private buyers will pick an electrified option too. In that scenario, especially given how little diesels figure in farther-flung global territories in sales terms, Land Rover could perhaps have been forgiven for neglecting the D300 and D350 in developmental terms.

As soon as that straight-six engine is turning, though, you’re reassured that it hasn’t. Just like the bigger Range Rover, the ‘L461’ Sport has outstanding mechanical isolation and noise suppression. The luxury car aura it conjures at low speeds is second to none in the class. Combustion noise is a muted hum even at middling crank speeds and there is no detectable vibration at all.

There’s no handbrake switch here: the electronic handbrake actuates automatically when you put the gearbox into park. Which, for those who like to leave their cars in ‘D’ and engage the handbrake at traffic lights, may seem a strange choice.

The Sport’s measured performance against our road test timing gear, in terms of both acceleration and braking, is softened somewhat by several factors. Because of its genuine dual-purpose 4x4 remit, this is a particularly heavy car among its peers; it runs on Pirelli all-season M+S tyres instead of the dedicated on-road rubber that key rivals use; and it is shorter-geared than some in order to provide the off-road capability that a Range Rover needs (without a low-range transfer ’box as standard, remember).

For evidence of that, our performance figures reflect that the car won’t even hit 40mph in second gear, which is quite unusual for a modern passenger car. In isolation, though, it has all the power and drivability it needs, with room to spare, and more than enough accessible torque to marshal its weight, which is the right kind of flavour for any entry-level engine to have. 

Step-off is handled in a Range Rover-typical gathering wave of momentum, which makes the car easy to drive slowly and to manage when you’re on and off the throttle off road, if a little hesitant when you want the fastest getaway. Gearchanges are timed intuitively and delivered smoothly, and the engine has laudable low-end response and decent high-end flexibility and refinement by diesel standards.

Land Rover does provide a Dynamic mode as part of the car’s Terrain Response menu, which sharpens the powertrain’s character usefully but not aggressively. Unfortunately, it also disguises the engine’s audible character with some conspicuous digital engine fakery.

Range Rover Sport D300 frontcorner

Land Rover has now had nearly two decades to perfect the Range Rover Sport’s particular compromise of go-anywhere toughness, use-every-day comfort and drive-with-interest dynamism on the road – and, with some new technical tools to draw on here, it has done a world-class jobof polishing that compromise to a very high standard.

Leave it in Auto driving mode and this car really feels like it can do it all. It has the inertia and the sheer size that you expect of a Range Rover and doesn’t seek to disguise it with overly direct steering, or overly firm suspension, or by working those four-wheel steering, active anti-roll or active differential systems too hard. 

When you’re pulling out of narrow side streets or navigating tight roundabouts, there are no surprises. The Sport’s bulk makes its presence felt a little, and you know that it’s yours to manage – although doing so isn’t the slightest problem (and the difference made by that four-wheel steering system to the car’s manoeuvrability in tight areas really is remarkable).

Out of town, though, the car’s capacity to control its considerable mass, to sharpen the precision of its responses and to distinguish itself as something of a driver’s car comes to the fore and lifts it above so many luxury SUVs that are content to be more prosaic to drive. Careful tuning of steering weight, pace and feel, and supple but surprisingly taut and sophisticated damping are the car’s calling cards. While it is still an undemanding vehicle to drive, it is also tactile and at least a little communicative.

So while the Sport has long been a particularly satisfying car in which to bowl along at that engaged but still sensible eight-tenths road pace, the new one has that interested cross-country canter down to a fine art. Instead of fighting with its mass, it lets it breathe over a gently rising surface, keeping it in check but allowing you to easily gauge how much composure is in reserve.

Push harder on the road and some of that sense of dynamic sophistication can ebb away a little, the car’s electronic stability controls seeming peculiarly underdeveloped by JLR’s typically high standards (see ‘Track notes’). But generally, it is precisely that easy-going pleasure you would hope it might be.

Comfort and isolation

The Range Rover Sport registered just 60dBA of cabin noise at a 50mph cruise, on a pretty average dry autumn day on the Millbrook high-speed bowl. On the same stretch (albeit each in slightly different conditions), an Audi Q8 and BMW X5, both six-cylinder diesels, each registered 2dBA more, and a Mercedes S580e was only 1dBA quieter. Both SUV rivals were also noisier than the Range Rover Sport at idle by an even wider margin. 

Clearly, the work that has gone into boosting this car’s cruising manners is both deep-running and effective. Our test car’s optional 22in alloy wheels made its rolling refinement a shade less immaculate, and it occasionally clunked a little over sharper intrusions, but it always kept road surface hum to a minimum. If you want to configure your car for the best possible ride, we dare say you could simply pick a smaller rim and end up with something very special.

The front seats are broadly and easily adjustable, easy to slide into and very comfortable and they grant excellent forwards visibility. Rearward visibility can be boosted by Land Rover’s superb optional ClearView video rear-view mirror, which opens up your field of vision behind you, and also compensates for low light.

Track notes

Our test car dispatched the steepest inclines of the Millbrook Hill Route with performance to spare, containing body movements well. But there were a few instances, at the limit of grip, where the electronic stability control intervened particularly harshly to keep it on line, and once when that intervention actually forced the car closer to exiting the road than it would have been otherwise.

The DSC system works effectively up to a point. The car is secure under power but can slide around a little on a trailing throttle if you are carrying plenty of speed. Its movements are well telegraphed and would be instinctively controllable. But the DSC tends to work the front brakes particularly harshly, and quite early, to rein in yaw movements, and to resist what it may perceive as the threat of impending rollover – and doing that can be problematic if you’re making steering corrections yourself. There is a deactivation mode but it’s never fully off and it can intervene even when you are not expecting it to.

Range Rover Sport D300 front tracking

Price remains the biggest potential hurdle in making a case for Range Rover Sport ownership. Meanwhile, Land Rover’s reputation for reliability seems to be persistently difficult for the company to improve, with its bigger models coming in for criticism in particular in several annual UK reliability surveys. Time will tell if cars on the firm’s new MLA-Flex platform can turn a corner in that respect.

On the first score, however, it seems owners will be able to count on strong residuals to soften the blow of those high list prices. The market experts at CAP suggest that a new Range Rover Sport D300 SE Dynamic bought today would actually depreciate less, over a typical three-year ownership period, than an equivalent Q8 – despite the Audi’s list price being five figures cheaper. So expect monthly finance quotes, while clearly expensive, to be at least competitive with key rivals.

Interesting to see Land Rover pilfering Volvo’s idea for a pop-up boot divider, which certainly makes smaller bags easy to secure in the boot. Land Rover’s is chunkier, with part-metal construction, and rattles gently when deployed. Somehow seems apt.

For Land Rover’s plug-in hybrids, their 5% benefit-in-kind banding, courtesy of a long EV range, will have fleet buyers queuing up because, at present, there isn’t another big luxury SUV that qualifies for the same rate. If you want a more tax-efficient rival, the only option is to go full electric.

Range Rover Sport D300 static

It’s still early days for the third-generation Range Rover Sport, with perhaps the most important version of the car still to hit showrooms, and a little still to prove for a car that must build its maker’s standing for reliability as much as anything else.

But, in mild-hybrid diesel-engined form at least, it’s ready to drive Land Rover forward and bring new buyers into the fold while maintaining the integrity of the Range Rover brand. It does everything we expect of a luxury SUV, a proper off-roader and a big, enveloping driver’s car – and, thanks to electrification, potentially a whole lot more.

The car earns particular credit for its excellent mechanical refinement and smooth drivability; its rich and inviting interior; its uncompromising versatility; and its ability to engage and satisfy its driver, even in this less powerful form, in a way that rivals simply don’t.

It doesn’t win unqualified recommendation. In its stability control calibration and in a handful of examples of its interior perceived quality, it leaves a little room for improvement. Even so, this car feels close to greatness; which, for the money, is perhaps exactly how it should feel.