What is it?
The all-new Range Rover Sport is at once Land Rover's riskiest model to replace, and one of its simplest.
It was a risky choice because even towards the end of its eight-year life it has sold remarkably strongly; it's the easiest because of the arrival last year of the new, all-aluminium Range Rover flagship.
The new flagship made it obvious that huge gains in styling sophistication and weight reductions (up to 420 kilograms) would be possible in a slightly smaller, lower and sportier SUV that used the same up-to-date underpinnings instead of a tough but less sophisticated twin-rail chassis from the Discovery.The Range Rover Sport, on sale now at prices beginning just below £60,000, comes with a choice of a 288bhp SDV6 turbodiesel, a 503bhp 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8 engine or a slightly lower-powered TDV6 model. An all-new diesel hybrid (producing just 169g/km of CO2) is also due.
It utilises an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, controllable by paddles if the driver so wishes. At launch, the £81,000 eye-catcher is the petrol V8 which gives the Sport the remarkably impressive 0-62 sprint time of 5.3 seconds (with a governed 155mph top speed), which pitches it directly into battle with Porsche's Cayenne - another long-term sales success.
What's it like?
The recipe for a sporty SUV - build a big, high, boxy and draggy SUV, then give it so much horsepower and engineering sophistication that it drives brilliantly anyway - has never pleased the purists but it creates a new level of desirability here.
The styling combines some of the wedge-shaped dynamic qualities of the Evoque with the majestic qualities of the "real" Range Rover. The interior is sophisticated and draws much from its senior partner, but places its driver and front passenger in a slightly lower yet elevated position, in tub-like positions with their legs in a more car-like pose - and with an improved version of the previous Sport's high central console to separate them.
Space efficiency is also much better: this model has proper rear room, and can also house an optional "plus two" row in the rear, an unexpected bonus.On the road, its abilities are as you'd predict. It is firmer and faster than the flagship, but the degree of its advantages take you by surprise. The quicker steering and impressive damper control give it an agility that is truly surprising.
At a point in hard corners where the previous Sport simply had to resign from delivering any more cornering force, this one continues to obey the wheel with ease and aplomb. Body roll is there, but always well-controlled by the multi-adjustable air suspension (the new 'auto' setting on the console-mounted Terrain Response knob will suit most people).Ride quality is a little surprising. The car is always quiet over bumps, but its firmer rates are always obvious, even on the motorway. In all of the major responses, engineers have tried to build a genuine difference between the two biggest Range Rovers - and the matter is reinforced by the remarkably sporty design of the seats, which have very supportive side bolsters, almost of the kind you'd find in a sports car.The strong, smooth thrust of the supercharged V8 engine is familiar from previous applications, even though it comes with a brand new exhaust note, a muted, rasping roar that seems to come entirely from the tailpipes because mechanical noise is to well controlled. The gearbox is simply unobtrusive - always ready to drop a gear or two for quick passing acceleration, but also keen to let the car cruise on long journeys between 2000 and 2500rpm.
Should I buy one?
If you're a keen driver who likes or needs the practicalities or elevated driving of an SUV, it's hard to see an argument against it.
Fuel consumption might be one - our tests show you'll never do much better than 22mpg - but even this is tolerable, given the accessible and impressive performance.
What is most surprising is the genuine difference in driving characteristics built into the new Range Rover Sport. It is truly built for a different kind of driver.
Land Rover is already preparing for a rush of buyers that will beat the impressive demands of the previous model - and they're right to do so.
Range Rover Sport Supercharged
Price £81,550; 0-62mph 5.3sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 22.1mpg; CO2 298g/km; Kerb weight 2310kg; Engine V8, 4999cc, petrol, supercharged; Power 503bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 450lb ft at 2500-5500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic