– Fast on straights and corners
– Class-leading cabin styling
– Comfortable on and offroad
– Very expensive
– Not as distinctive as before
– Potentially high fuel bills
Riding the coat-tails of its big brother, the Range Rover Sport has always held its own as a unique offering within the British brand’s increasingly large portfolio. The previous one was an excellent car in terms of character and desirability, managing to hide its shortcomings well – it was a cramped, average offroader that was good on-road, but never as good as its rivals due to its offroad underpinnings. We expected more of the same with the new-for-2014 model, but it turned out to be a rather different beast.
Let’s be honest, the outgoing model was design perfection. Boxy yet elegant, tall yet sleek, no other 4×4 could quite replicate that balance of utility and chic, except maybe its big brother, the full-sized Range Rover off of which the Sport bummed its styling cues. The new model did the same thing, looking like a slightly-shrunken Range Rover with an Evoque tail tacked on. It doesn’t quite grab your appreciation like the old Sport did, but when viewed in isolation, it is easily the best-looking SUV in the midsize luxury class, considering how ugly the Germans’ newest offerings are.
The Sport continues Range Rover’s tradition of clean cabin designs with excellent use of premium materials. The upper dash is upholstered in stitched leather to match the beefy multi-adjustable seats, buttons reduced to a minimum with the use of a touchscreen for most multimedia functions, while thankfully still retaining knobs for the a/c controls. Almost all surfaces are padded, with some metallic trim spread about, while hard plastics are relegated to a few out-of-reach areas. Again, it’s the best cabin in its class.
Cabin space is great up front, and adequate in the rear, certainly more so than the previous model though not as much as you’d expect, given the Sport’s new-found girth. The carpeted boot is big, but our tester did not have the optional third-row seating. There’s also enough covered cup-holders, armrests and pockets to rival a business jet.
The Sport is expectedly loaded with gadgetry, including fully power-adjustable front seats, electronic gear-selector, climate control with rear vents, rear camera with parking sensors, standard HID headlights with LED running lamps, smart keyless entry with starter button, panoramic glass roof, numerous airbags, adaptive cruise control and an LCD screen for a gauge cluster, aside from the usual multimedia/navigation touchscreen. The screen has a neat party trick where the driver and the passenger can look at two completely different things on the same LCD panel. The screen’s graphical interface looks outdated though. And there aren’t any marvel-worthy new technologies, such as heads-up displays or pop-up mechanical thingies that seem to be all the rage in some other luxury cars.
Powered by a carryover 5.0-litre supercharged V8 in top trim, it makes a formidable 510 hp at 6000 rpm and 624 Nm of torque at 2500 rpm. Combined with a smooth new 8-speed automatic, intelligent all-wheel-drive and a newly-lightened all-aluminium structure, the Sport did the 0-100 kph sprint in 4.8 seconds during our August test, considerably quicker than the underrated manufacturer time as well as any other super-SUV we’ve tested, such as the Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG and the BMW X5 M, let alone any average muscle-car. It doesn’t burn as much as you’d expect either, at 18 litres/100 km, although still high in the grand scheme of things, more so if you drive harder.
And amazingly enough, drive hard it does very well. With active roll-control and torque-vectoring systems on our top-spec model, it takes corners as if it were, literally, on rails. Body roll was minimal and tyre squeal was held off for an unfathomably long time. The electrically-assisted steering is respectably accurate, with a little bit of feedback, while the brakes were fairly decent. Frankly, the dynamics were excellent, considering what we were driving was a big 4×4 that actually retained a degree of offroad ability, while still being smooth and quiet on the highway.
It’s a pretty good offroader, with height-adjustable suspension, electronically-locking center and rear diffs, and an all-wheel-drive system backed up by proper low-range gearing. There’s also a terrain-management system that includes “sand” and “rock” modes, among others. Once lifted at the touch of a button, ground clearance and wheel articulation aren’t a problem. The only thing to watch out for are that the low-profile tyres and open-spoke wheels dig into the sand rather easily, so you have to keep the power on and keep moving, but also be careful not to apply too much power, of which there is an abundance of. With a deft right foot, the Sport can go pretty much anywhere as long you don’t overdo it with jumps and such.
So here’s a car that’s as quick as a serious sports car, as agile as a sports sedan, and as offroad-capable as, well, a Range Rover. It’s a bonus that it’s the best looker, inside and out, in its segment. What’s not to like? Well, the pricing is sky-high, but then again, it really is better than anything from Germany, or anywhere else for that matter.
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