What is it?
This is the all-new Range Rover Sport, which goes on sale in the autumn. Autocar has driven a near-production version powered by the range-topping supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine, which develops 504bhp. The company claims it is the ”fastest, most agile and most responsive” model ever developed by Land Rover.
The key phrase for the Sport project was ‘breadth of ability’ - meaning that it should be able to both lap the German Nürburgring race circuit and still have serious off-roading ability. It was a task summarised by Land Rover engineers as ”both having two feet of suspension travel and 'staggering' times around the Nürburgring”.
To that end, much of the new Sport has been designed from scratch. Although it shares the same aluminium architecture as the recently launched flagship Range Rover, company engineers say that 75 per cent (measured by part numbers) of the components that go into the new Range Rover are unique.
Much of the (“no-expense spared”) re-design work has gone into changing the aluminium, air-sprung, suspension system which gets, for example, a bigger motor on the active anti-roll system, redesigned front suspension legs, re-valved steering and active dampers that take readings ”more than 500 times per second”.
Engineers say that the Sport’s new ‘Dynamic Mode’ much reduces body roll compared to the previous model. It also gets a torque vectoring effect via individual wheel braking - which kills off understeer before it begins to build up. A new Dynamic Active Locking Differential - 30 per cent quicker than before - is also fitted. The steering is also the quickest ever specified by the company.
What's it like?
In the new 'Dynamic' mode, very quick, very aggressive — even in ‘Normal’ mode’ — and extremely capable. Although our taste of the car was limited to two quick laps of the Gaydon circuit and two laps of the winding, inner, handling circuit, it’s clear the new Sport is much sharper-edged than its predecessor.
Unsurprisingly, the supercharged V8 has immense pace (propelling a car weighing 2.3 tonnes from 0-60mph in five seconds gives some idea of the sheer wallop) but the Sport has a chassis that never feels overwhelmed.
In entry-level V6 diesel form (which offers 0-60mph in 7.1sec with just over 250bhp), the new car is a massive 420kg lighter than the outgoing model, which was based on the Discovery’s heavy-duty T5 chassis. In this, rather heavier, range-topping, Sport the lighter structure clearly aids the suspension’s active systems in reining in the car much more effortlessly than previously.
Even with the massive performance on offer, the Sport didn’t feel like it has too much power, instead instilling a sense of great confidence in just how quickly a car this large could be driven on winding roads.
Off the circuit, it was the ultra-quick steering that was the biggest surprise and biggest encouragement. The aggression of the steering response over the first quarter turn at the rim was almost shocking, but once the driver has settled into the realisation that the Sport has the body control to handle very aggressive manoeuvres, it is hard to not drive the Sport with commensurate aggression.
True, the suspension is pretty damn stiff in ‘Dynamic’, but the Sport goes so much like a conventional hard-core sports car that a rigid (though well controlled) ride seems appropriate.
Should I buy one?
The Range Rover Sport looks great - better than the rather stately Range Rover in some eyes - and has a fine Evoque-esque cockpit. It is much sharper, much more aggressive and much more capable than its non-too-shabby predecessor.
You might even describe the new Sport as a kind of Jaguar F-type on stilts, which is not as much of an exaggeration as you might think. Indeed, much of the Sport and F-type chassis tuning was completed at the same time and both were overseen by JLR’s chassis guru, Mike Cross.
True, in ‘normal’ mode and driven on normal roads and at normal pace, the Sport looks like it will be civil enough to be an upmarket family car (helped by the 5+2 seating arrangement), but the car’s ‘Dynamic’ personalty is much more hardcore than anyone might have expected. It makes Porsche’s Cayenne GTS seem a bit of a wimp.
In fact, Land Rover is claiming a ‘Ring lap time of 8min 36secs for the Sport, matching a time set in 2012 by a Mini John Cooper Works GP. Which, perhaps, puts this car in true perspective.
Price £81,500; 0-62mph 5.0sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 22.1mpg; CO2 249g/km; Kerb weight 2310kg; Engine 4999cc, supercharged V8 petrol; Power 503bhp; Torque 461lb ft; Gearbox 8-spd automatic, all-wheel drive