– Handsome styling
– Very comfortable ride
– Powerful engine
– Very expensive
– Rear space could be better
– Few cheap interior bits
The latest crop of luxury Land Rover products has quickly taken a huge chunk of the elite four-wheel-drive market. Even more surprising is the fact that this charge is led exclusively by pricey Range Rover vehicles rather than the ordinary LR-badged line. The big Range Rover was doing well enough, but the newer Range Rover Sport seems to be the new hit on the block.
The Range Rover Sport is one handsome 4WD wagon. It looks so simple and yet it manages to look so good. No wonder it is now the vehicle of choice for upscale highway tailgaters in this region, surpassing the BMW X5 in both snob appeal and off-road ability. While we didn’t indulge in public shenanigans with our Sport Supercharged test vehicle, we did push the limits in other ways.
The interior sports a blocky theme that is pleasant enough, with high-quality materials throughout. The moderately-bolstered power front seats are draped in leather, and are comfortable in the front, with tons of headroom and legroom, and access to a cooler box nestled between armrests, and two covered cup-holders. The rear bench of this five-seater is also leather-clad, with good headroom, but isn’t as spacious as it could’ve been, offering even less legroom than a typical midsize sedan, with no cup-holders to boot. All armrests are nicely padded, and wood is liberally applied all over. There are storage pockets in all the doors, with two glove-boxes up front. The rear luggage area is large, but height is considerably reduced thanks to the sloping rear and low roof. Even though this is an expensive ride, it has some noticeable cost-cutting oversights, such as the non-leather steering wheel with manual height adjustment, and the aluminium-look plastic on the centre console instead of real metal.
The baby Range Rover does have the full suite of power controls though, such as power windows, electric mirrors, power sunroof and cruise control. The knob-operated air-conditioning is decently powerful during the November morning, and easily chilling at night, with vents both front and rear. The changer-equipped CD/MP3 stereo system goes all out, with tweeters and speakers spread out all over the cabin, including in the roof, providing excellent sound. There are even headphone jacks in the rear doors, for quiet listening. The navigation computer is a bit of a reach, but its touchscreen operation makes it easy to input destinations, though programming anything else is a headache without reading the manual, which we didn’t anyway. Safety features include stability control, a solid shell, and numerous front and side airbags.
The heart of the matter is this thing has nearly 400 horses. In our top trim, the Jaguar-derived 4.2-litre supercharged V8 is rated at 390 hp, with a massive 550 Nm of broadly-spread torque to make it unrealistically speedy for its size. We managed a 0-to-100 kph time of 7.6 seconds, with the smooth six-speed automatic aiding the equally smooth engine to put power down through all four wheels. This allows effortless highway cruising at high speeds, especially when paired up with the excellent air suspension system that smoothes out the ride to class-leading standards. And by class-leading, we are talking about the luxury car category. There is mild floatiness over uneven pavement, but that has no effect on stability. The trip is also eerily quiet up to 120 kph, which is when slight wind hush can be heard. Driving in city traffic and parking are eased by excellent all-round visibility, a high seating position and parking sensors. However, the overly soft throttle pedal means inadvertent lurching is annoyingly common in stop-and-go jams, as the parking sensors occasionally beep for no apparent reason with no cars nearby. Also, fuel economy is far from impressive, and we could not get it any lower than 24.2 litres per 100 km, although the fuel tank is large enough to last for days.
This vehicle, as big and heavy as it is, offers surprisingly agile handling. It is nowhere near as sporting as a BMW, but there is a definite car-like demeanour in the way it carries itself. We’d say it feels a lot like a softly-sprung Toyota sedan in handling, except in certain situations where it is better than any Toyota. Really sharp turns induce controlled body roll, and the fat 275/40 tyres start squealing, but take a long constant curve and the computerised suspension gets time to think, resulting in an amazingly flat cornering experience that edges you to go faster. It can be cornered as quickly as any standard car in normal driving, without having to take care like you would with a standard low-tech 4WD vehicle, but we didn’t dare test this expensive machine’s high-speed cornering limits, even though theoretically it shouldn’t topple. That said, the huge four-wheel Brembo disc brakes, showing through the 20-inch wheels, are at the ready to bring the Sport to a quick and event-free stop with the help of ABS and other high-tech electronic wizardry.
The Sport also attempts to continue the Land Rover tradition of total off-road dominance, and it certainly has the mechanical goods to accomplish that, with a little help from electronics as well. There are a slew of knob-operated options on the centre console to tackle mud, snow, mountains and sand, with an automated hill descent function and height-adjustable suspension too, but when we ventured onto some moderate sand, the baby Range Rover struggled in certain parts even under hard throttle. Admittedly, we did not deflate the tyres for our off-road jaunt, but that would’ve resulted in flat tyres on our return to the road, given the rubber-bands wrapping the massive standard 20-inch rims. It does handle firmer surfaces with ease, and it comes with low-range gearing for situations that need it. Oddly enough, the 18-inch wheels on the non-supercharged base model will probably handle the soft stuff better.
It is very easy to see why the Range Rover Sport has proven to be popular in this region. Though we don’t particularly enjoy our close encounters with the clientele of these cars on the highway, we have nothing against this well-rounded vehicle itself. It is easily a trend-setter in its own right.