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The Range Rover Sport offers just the right dynamic twist on the well trodden SUV formula

The second generation Range Rover Sport is at once Land Rover's riskiest model to replace, and one of its simplest.

It was a risk because even towards the end of its life it has sold remarkably strongly; it's the easiest because of the arrival the new, all-aluminium Range Rover flagship.

What Solihull's all-aluminium SUV can do is impressive

The new Range Rover made huge gains in styling sophistication and weight reduction (up to 420kg), and it soon became obvious that the same would be possible in a slightly smaller, lower and sportier SUV that shared the same up-to-date underpinnings instead of using the tough but less sophisticated twin-rail chassis from a Land Rover Discovery.

When the new Range Rover was introduced, the almighty fanfare emitting from Gaydon must have been loud enough to rattle the factory windows in Solihull. Clearly it is an icon, but had the hullabaloo been dictated solely by a model’s impact on the firm’s sales sheet, the Sport’s launch would likely have been heard on the far side of the moon.

Unlike the Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover didn't come up with the second best-selling Range Rover all on its own. By 2004, the company was desperate to compete with the new Porsche Cayenne, and showed its intent with the Range Stormer concept at the Detroit motor show.

The design statement swept the upright Range Rover profile back, and trimmed it into a striking coupé. The production version grew two more doors and more seats, but it retained enough of the look to satisfy the public's desire for a properly sporty British SUV.

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It's also offered with a choice of a 288bhp 3.0-litre SDV6 turbodiesel, a 503bhp 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8 engine or a slightly lower-powered 255bhp 3.0-litre TDV6 model, in order to widen its appeal.

Moreover, in order to keep prices at reasonable levels, Land Rover has jettisoned its usual heavy-duty four-wheel drive system on the entry-level SD4 model in favour of a lighter, less pricey and more economical alternative.

A proper Range Rover, then, or playing second fiddle to the best? Let’s find out.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Range Rover Sport rear

You need only know one fact about the latest Range Rover Sport to understand its chief advancement. While the first-generation model used the steel hybrid monocoque developed for the Land Rover Discovery, the new one has been engineered in tandem with its big-brother Range Rover and uses an adapted version of that model’s aluminium platform.

That makes it the first SUV in a class populated by cars as sporting as the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne to switch to aluminium construction – which ought to make it lighter than the class average.

The SDV6 HSE is our pick of the range

Just as we found with the full-fat Range Rover, however, what it actually does is make it competitive on kerb weight while also allowing Land Rover to offset the effect of richer equipment levels. When weighing a SDV6 model our scales settled at 2360kg, so it’s more than 300kg lighter than we would have expected of the outgoing equivalent, but still not light.

While it has grown dimensionally in all directions, the Sport still looks relatively athletic and, next to a Range Rover, compact. That’s down to the higher belt line, flatter windscreen and a wheelbase that’s 178mm longer than it was. More streamlined styling also flatters the Sport where the old model’s brash looks never did.

Suspension is via aluminium double wishbones and multi-links, along with height-adjustable air springs teamed with continuously variable dampers. The engine range includes an entry-level 2.0-litre diesel capable of 236bhp and 45.6mpg. That is followed by the 302bhp 3.0-litre SDV6 and a hybrid unit utilising the same oilburner, while completing the diesel range is the venerable 4.4-litre V8.

The petrol engine consists of two supercharged units - a 335bhp 3.0-litre V6 and a 5.0-litre V8 in two power outputs - 503bhp and 542bhp with the latter powering the boombastic SVR version.

But it’s the cheaper end of the scale that many will be interested in – specifically, 3.0-litre SDV6. It uses a lighter and simpler Torsen-based 4x4 system, shuns the Dynamic chassis and driveline add-ons and – until next year’s diesel hybrid arrives – represents the Sport at its most affordable and economical, and, by extension, palatable in volume terms.

The difference between the heavier-duty transmission fitted to the more powerful Range Rover Sports and the lighter one on the SDV6 model is, in meaningful terms, 18kg. That’s how much weight is saved by substituting the multi-plate clutch and transfer box of the more expensive models for the Torsen centre differential of the SDV6.

Land Rover clearly foresees lighter off-road usage for this less powerful diesel model. As far as its functionality is concerned, the difference between the two systems is that – besides sacrificing the heavy-duty set-up’s low-range ratio – the Torsen system can’t be locked in a 50/50 front/rear torque split.

On top of that, while the heavy-duty set-up can route 100 percent of torque to either axle should the Terrain Response deem it necessary, the Torsen system can only supply a maximum of 62 percent of torque to the front or 78 percent to the rear. There’s also no torque vectoring on the rear axle, as there is on higher-powered versions, to apportion torque like a limited-slip differential.

The Torsen set-up also features its own, special traction control program, which is tuned to allow it to work differently – albeit still very effectively – from the heavier-duty set-up, and the SDV6 can still tow 3500kg, like the bigger engines.

INTERIOR

Range Rover Sport interior

You have to climb up into a Range Rover; it’s part of the appeal. However, with its Access suspension setting selected, the new Sport sits 10mm lower than the last, so the process is less of a stretch than it was previously.

The Sport’s cabin is lavish, stylish and substantial, and also much more inviting than the typical premium SUV from Germany. Land Rover has managed to develop the car in two opposing directions simultaneously, making it more usefully versatile and more luxurious. From inside, at least, the Sport really has come of age.

Visibility isn't bad, thanks to moderately sized pillars, but the Range Rover is still a big car

Up front, you sit higher than in the average 4x4 but also quite recumbent, in what is now described as the ‘sports command driving position’, which feels about 80 percent ‘classic’ Range Rover and 20 percent ‘new’ Evoque.

Your view out is excellent, but it’s the sheer square footage of expensive materials you’ll marvel at. Our test car had beautiful Ivory leather on the door cards and across the fascia as well as on the seats, as well as tactile aluminium veneer decorating a raised centre console that brings the exterior’s high-design appeal inside.

The climate control switchgear and joystick gear selector reminded us of those in a Jaguar F-Type, but they’re no less fitting. The instruments are conventional and clear and the touchscreen multimedia system – now navigated via touch-sensitive pads rather than buttons – works well.

It's also pleasing to find that the standard Bluetooth phone system works well, although we had to connect twice to successfully stream audio. The sat-nav system is functional, too, but it's starting to look a little dated and it could be faster. The Sport is the first Land Rover to be offered with a colour head-up display however, which can relay sat-nav instructions.

The smallest of ‘buts’ concerns outright space. In the second row, the Sport is about an inch shy of the class’s best on legroom and headroom, and its new third-row seats, while usable, certainly aren’t for regular adult use. But premium SUV-class space standards are otherwise high, and most will find the Sport comfortably big enough for their requirements.

On the standard equipment front, there are four trims to choose from - HSE, HSE Dynamic, Autobiography Dynamic and the rabid SVR. Entry-level models come with 20in alloy wheels, xenon headlights, keyless entry, front foglights, and a reversing camera as standard on the outside, while inside there is perforated leather upholstery, heated seats all round, lane departure warning and JLR's InControl infotainment system complete with sat nav.

Upgrade to HSE Dynamic and the Sport gains red Brembo brakes, a twin-speed transfer box, JLR's all-terrain mode, lots of gloss black exterior mouldings and 21in alloy wheels, while the Autobiography Dynamic adds a panoramic roof, ventilated seats, 19-speaker Meridian audio system, heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and a 360-degree camera system.

The range-topping SVR model not only gets the rapid 5.0-litre V8 motor, but a quad-exhaust system, darkened headlights, blue Brembo brake calipers and a specially-designed rear spoiler.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Supercharged 3.0-litre V6 Range Rover Sport engine

Buyers can pick from seven engines - three diesels, three petrols and one diesel hybrid when specifying their new Range Rover Sport.

The strong, smooth thrust of the supercharged V8 engine is familiar from previous applications, even though it comes with a brand new exhaust note. The muted, rasping roar seems to come entirely from the tailpipes, however, because mechanical noise is so well controlled.

The absence of a low-range box in the SDV6 won't slow many

The gearbox is simply unobtrusive. It's always ready to drop a gear or two for quick overtaking acceleration, but also keen to let the car cruise between 2000 and 2500rpm.

Nevertheless, the only real choice for most British buyers will be which of the two V6 diesels to plump for, with their claimed 37-38mpg and sub-200g/km CO2 emissions.

We don’t look for outright accelerative performance when it comes to cars such as the Range Rover Sport. Diesel engines, automatic gearboxes and two-tonne-plus kerb weights do not make for quick standing start figures.

The joy of the SDV6 is that you don’t need to bully it to get the performance most drivers need, most of the time. You get 302bhp, but it’s the availability of 516lb ft arriving at 1500rpm and available across a fat seam of the rev band that enables a swift, effortless pull-away under half throttle.

Headline performance figures are plenty fast enough for a two-tonne, two-metre-wide car: 0-60mph is dispatched in 6.8sec and the acceleration it won’t stop until you hit 130mph. 

But more significant than any standing start figure is the Sport’s ability to respond to requests for urge once you’re rolling. From 30mph, the SDV6 reached 70mph in a tidy 7.5sec and asked only 0.4sec more when we held it in fourth gear over the same speed range – which requires use of the gear selector because steering wheel paddles are a £200 cost option.

On kickdown – the more likely used alternative on this eight-speed auto, not only because of the absence of paddles but also because this is such a competent, easy-shifting gearbox – 50-70mph takes only 4.5sec.

Reaching and maintaining a fast motorway cruise, then, is something that any Sport model does with consummate ease and oomph to spare, and with precious little noise intruding into the cabin.

The BMW 4 Series we road tested is built to cover vast motorway miles, yet emits as much cabin noise at a constant 70mph as the Range Rover Sport SDV6 does under full acceleration at around the same speed.

At any speed, in any specification, the Range Rover Sport is an impeccably refined, quiet car. It’s even – given its weight – respectably economical.

RIDE & HANDLING

Driving the Range Rover Sport

Sitting on air springs that emit very little low-speed ‘sproing’, the Sport benefits from its hefty kerb weight at urban speeds, its body easing away surface imperfections and potholes in impressive fashion.

Not quite so impressive, perhaps, as its bigger Range Rover brother, but little worse, and considerably better than most of the competition.

The stability control can be a little keen in the wet

As standard, base-powered Sports come with 19-inch alloy wheels, but even those fitted with the optional 20-inch alloys are a pleasure to ride in.

Mercedes-Benz GLE is similarly absorbent, but the Sport retains more composure at speed. You can discount most of the others; a Porsche Cayenne, for example, gets nowhere near the Sport’s level of ride comfort.

What the Cayenne does deliver, albeit hardly surprisingly if you consider how much farther a Range Rover Sport ought to be able to travel off road, is superior fast-road and limit-handling characteristics.

The Sport offers instead more versatility, along with a greater breadth of purpose and abilities. The Sport is hardly slack when it comes to outright dynamics, though. It steers with pleasing weight and slickness and has a control of its body movements that’s the equal of any large SUV other than a Porsche Cayenne or an X-series BMW.

In completely standard form the Range Rover Sport chassis isn't that bad. There’s pitch and dive under braking, turning into a touch of stabilising understeer at the initial limits of grip. The stability control is subtle but can be switched out, after which it’ll only chime in when it thinks a rollover is likely.

Understeer can be prominent, or neutralised with delicate braking followed by throttle. That’s useful off road, where you can tighten the line of a car that’s running wide. 

Variants with active anti-roll bars and a torque-vectoring rear differential offer greater agility still, particularly mid-corner and on corner exit, but given the girth and the ruggedness of the Sport, it’s an unqualified success.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Range Rover Sport

The Range Rover starts at around £70k; the Sport begins at near £50k. That’s the distance between the most expensive Volkswagen Polo and an entry-level Volkswagen Touareg, which is another way of saying that £20,000 buys you a big difference in the car industry.

Here, the differences between stablemates are reduced to subtle questions of taste and status rather than quality and function. That makes the new Range Rover Sport feel worth its base price.

Be careful with option and colour choices

Nevertheless, the decision to ring-fence the SD4 in HSE trim seems destined to upset a slice of Land Rover’s buyer base, who would have preferred to twin the most economical engine with the superior HSE or Autobiography badges.

Both are currently the preserve of the SDV6, but as it delivers no more torque and only a 0.3sec improvement to 60mph, we’d recommend sticking with the cheaper version.

For now, 3.0-litre V6 diesels make up the meat of this segment, and JLR’s broadly measures up to the rest with a combined economy score of 38.7mpg for the SDV6 (we managed a decent 41.5mpg touring) and 194g/km of CO2.

Equipment is also on a par with the Sport’s competitors; sat-nav, cruise control, climate control, rear parking sensors and a DAB tuner are all supplied as standard.

Residual values for the Range Rover Sport should also prove very competitive.

 

VERDICT

4.5 star Range Rover Sport

There is a place for the consummate all-rounder, like the new Range Rover Sport, in every dream garage.

Something that – for those times when one is not racing a Porsche 917 or enjoying a Caterham Seven on the Stelvio Pass – will do any job thrown at it, from driving the length of the country, to towing a heavy trailer or taking people to the airport/school/shops/the other side of a muddy field.

I still prefer the full-size Range Rover, but this is highly recommended

The Range Rover Sport is that sort of car – the one with the go-anywhere, any time, every time capability, and which also blends in to most places you take it.

Most journeys are simpler in the Range Rover than they would be in almost any other car. It eases into your life. Not one of our testers returned saying they wanted more, or less, of anything; the Sport ideally hits the spot at which it is aimed.

What is also surprising is the genuine difference in driving characteristics built into the Range Rover Sport. It is truly built for a different kind of driver. If you're a keen driver who likes or needs the practicalities or elevated driving position of an SUV, it's hard to see an argument against the Range Rover Sport.

Even the 22mpg you’ll get from the Supercharged is tolerable, given the accessible and impressive performance. That we’d prefer it to be lighter is one of the few holes we’d pick in the Sport’s attire.

Make no mistake, this is an extremely impressive car.

 

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport 2013-2021 First drives