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626bhp SV model adds technical sophistication and decimates actual sophistication

The Land Rover Range Rover Sport range becomes ever more complete, with the new SV joining an already comprehensive line-up from spring 2024. Global volume and luxury car profit margin come together crucially for JLR with the Sport range, whether that's at the lower end, or with the latest £180,000+ performance model.

The Sport 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 and becoming so central to the company that it has eventuated with the firm renaming itself JLR and hiving off four distinct brnad lines - Range RoverDiscovery and Defender plus Jaguar

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 powertrains, and the advanced suspension and four-wheel drive technologies. To many of its owners, the Range Rover Sport has simply become the defining and best Range Rover, full stop. Of all available models, we've driven several in the UK, and most recently the new SV performance derivative overseas. Read on to find out more.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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Like the full-sized Range Rover the Range Rover Sport adopts JLR's MLA-Flex model platform, and it's built alongside its bigger sibling at the firm’s Solihull plant. So while the original version shared its chassis with the contemporary Discovery, the latest Sport maintains its notionally close relationship with the full-fat Range Rover.

The chassis is made of a mix of aluminium and steel, with the latter chosen for the car’s construction (where predecessors used aluminium construction almost exclusively) for its noise suppression qualities.

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.

JLR claims that it delivers sizeable torsional stiffness gains as well, but it makes few specific assertions about weight saving. We've had one Range Rover Sport on the scales at 2511kg tested – nearly 200kg heavier than Land Rover’s options-denuded homologation weight, and also 150kg heavier than its predecessor which we tested in 2013.

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; two plug-in hybrid petrol-electric options (P440e, P510e); and the latest SV, with a 626bhp variant of the 4.4-litre V8.

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 multi-link axle at the rear designed to make room for an electric drive motor for the forthcoming all-electric version. The SV has a bespoke rear subframe and suspension links, and sits as standard 10mm lower than the regular Sport. All Sports run on a height-adjustable, two-chamber air suspension system that grants regular models up to 281mm of ground clearance; less in the SV.

Most models have open differentials (and an eight-speed automatic gearbox without low range) unless you pay extra, but the SV has locking centre and active rear differentials as standard. It also has what JLR dubs 6D Dynamic suspension, a hydraulically-linked damper system not unlike that fitted to McLaren supercars, only here it not only links the suspension side-to-side, negating the need for anti-roll bars, but is also linked front-to-rear, so can control the car's pitch. Range Rover claims exceptional levels of roll and pitch control. 

In lesser models, you can also Dynamic Response Pro active anti-roll bars, active four-wheel steering and mechanical active torque-vectoring diffs.

INTERIOR

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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, though some previous physical controls (heating and ventilation) should have remained that way. They're less easy to use on the touchscreen.

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.

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).

Infotainment

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 (road tested in the UK) 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.

In the SV, JLR is introducing a new system called Body and Soul Seats (BASS), a funky acronym that, in JLR-speak, has transducers in the seat backs to generate high-fidelity haptic feedback in response to low audio frequencies. In more understandable words, little speakers that vibrate. But the fidelity and precision of them means it's not just like a bass box shaking the seat, you can feel individual instruments as they tap to a rhythm. And it's not a gimmick, it really works. But you can change the amplitude of it, or turn it off if you don't like it.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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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.

In the UK, among the Sport models we've tried we've fully road tested a D300 diesel. Its measured performance against our road test timing gear, in terms of both acceleration and braking, was softened somewhat by several factors. Because of its genuine dual-purpose 4x4 remit, it's 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).

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.

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.

Overseas we've driven the latest SV Edition One model too. Its performance is astounding - JLR's claim that it can do from 0-62mph in 3.8sec feels entirely plausible and the BMW-sourced V8 is responsive throughout the range. There's little point extending it all the way to the 7000rpm redline and there's so much effortless shove through the mid-range you'd only do it to enjoy the sound, which is rich and purposeful, if less angry than you'd remember from the old 5.0-litre supercharged Jaguar Land Rover unit. 

RIDE & HANDLING

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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 job of polishing that compromise to a very high standard.

When it comes to a regular version, in Auto driving mode 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.

The SV variant is a different proposition. Not just in ethos, but also in hardware, owing to those hydraulic dampers which can control body movements to such a tight degree. In its Comfort mode, though, it doesn't always try - on a straight road, it slackens them off perhaps too much for our tastes, at least on an undulating straight road, where it lolls a little, at odds with the sharpness of its steering, quicker than the standard car's, and a lack of body roll elsewhere. We preferred the car in Dynamic suspension mode, which reins those subtle movements in, but doesn't seem to impact the ride quality.

Drive faster, too, and the SV is a hugely different car to the standard Range Rover Sport. JLR says that it can carry up to 1.1g of lateral grip even on its standard-fit all-season tyres, and it can do remarkable things. It feels like it pivots around its middle, it's more agile than a two and a half tonne car has any right to be, and even on a circuit (overseas, not at Millbrook as described below for the D300) it's genuinely entertaining.  

Comfort and isolation

The D300 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 optional ClearView video rear-view mirror, which opens up your field of vision behind you, and also compensates for low light.

Track notes

Our D300 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.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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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 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.

The SV is hugely expensive to buy, available for now only in Edition One form at more than £180,000 before options - and among those are 23in carbon fibre wheels at £6900 and carbon-ceramic brakes at £7000. Most cars will leave the factory nudging close to £200,000, one suspects. It also has a fairly drastic low-20s mpg figure. Not that this seems to matter - all of the Edition One SVs are sold.

VERDICT

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Even though the range has grown since we road tested the D300 variant of the Range Rover Sport, it still feels the the model is finding its place, and even though there's a comprehensive line-up perhaps the most important (electric) version of the car is still to hit showrooms, and there are still things to prove for a car that must build its maker’s standing for reliability as much as anything else.

But in the forms we've tested it, 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. That's true even in the less powerful forms, in a way that rivals simply don’t. In the most powerful SV form what's remarkable is that it retains nearly all of the base car's off-road abilities, save for 10mm in ultimate ride height, while adding as much dynamism as you'll find anywhere else in teh class.

Overall, the Sport doesn’t win an unqualified recommendation. 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. 

 

Additional testing by Matt Prior.