There’s a clear trend in the prestige sector of the market for new models not to stray too far away from the successful formula. You can understand why. If your existing model is selling strongly, why would you want to risk scaring loyal buyers with something they might not like?
The new Range Rover (and in particular the Range Rover Sport which I drove for this test) is an interesting example. It continues the distinctive Range Rover look. But behind the evolutionary appearance, the latest model is radically different beneath the skin.
Whereas the outgoing Range Rover Sport actually had the Land Rover Discovery as its nearest relative, this new version really is part of the Range Rover family. In place of the body frame and separate chassis it inherited from its Discovery underpinnings, the new Range Rover Sport is built using the same aluminium monocoque construction as the latest Range Rover. This change has resulted in dramatic weight reduction, shedding a massive 400kg on some versions.
One of the most notable features of any Range Rover is that commanding driving position and fans of this will not disappointed. You definitely step up into the new Range Rover Sport.
That height is important, of course, for the Range Rover Sport’s off-road ability. Compared to some other luxury SUVs, the Range Rover Sport is designed to have real off-road ability. Ground clearance with the air suspension in off-road height, is 278 mm. It can approach a 31º slope without grounding and leave a similar angle slope (30.9º to be precise). It can also cope with water up to a wading depth of 850 mm. (There is even a wade sensing mode in the £750 blind-spot monitoring system.)
The cabin is spacious and luxurious. I quickly found my ideal driving position, thanks to the electrical adjustments and, if you hate to get too hot, or too cold, you can hand Land Rover an extra £500 and specify the heated and cooled front seats. If you are spending that little bit extra, you also have to pamper yourself on cold winter mornings with the £175 heated steering wheel.
The test Range Rover Sport came with mysterious cloth pouches. On investigation they contained the headphones for passengers to use with the video and TV screens front and back. The Dual View Touchscreen (£600) manages the neat trick of showing video to the passenger, while displaying navigation or other settings to the driver on the same screen.
The air suspension initially felt a little floaty, such was the way it insulates you from bumps and thumps. But, the more I drove it, the more I marvelled at how Land Rover’s engineers have managed to overcome the dreaded “lurch” that used to afflict comfort-sprung Land Rovers in days gone by. Despite its inevitably higher centre of gravity, this Range Rover Sport simply corners amazingly flat, with very little lean.
The loss of weight makes the Range Rover Sport feel more nimble and sporting. It also brings considerable improvement in efficiency. Times were when you feared to glance at the fuel gage in a Range Rover, but this Range Rover Sport now boasts a combined economy figure of 37 mpg. On mainly out-of-town driving, I found it easy to achieve a real-world figure of around 30 mpg – which seems pretty good for such a big four-wheel-drive vehicle.
As with most cars these days, you can see the manufacturers efforts to squeeze the most miles out of every gallon. In the Range Rover Sport I got the impression that the – otherwise wonderful eight-speed auto gearbox – had been giving a slightly lethargic initial uptake. I usually opted for the sports gearbox setting, which satisfied my desire for a sharper response.
My test would not be complete without taking the Range Rover Sport off road. You can set it up for off-road conditions either manually, by using the off-road terrain control, or you select ‘auto’.
With the suspension in high setting, the gearbox in low and the differential locks engaged, I set off on my off-road course. Needless to say it romped over the heather, without a moment’s hesitation. I found the side cameras, mounted in the door mirrors, useful to ensure there were no hidden boulders.
The Range Rover was the original vehicle that set out to combine off-road ability, with on-road refinement and a dash of luxury. Over the years it has become more and more luxurious and the Range Rover Sport has added its own more rakish style.
That combination of all-conditions driving ability, comfort, luxury and refinement makes the Range Rover Sport feel special. That is probably why it has continued to sell in huge numbers, despite the recession. This latest version is aimed at keeping it that way.
Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE Dynamic
Combined fuel consumption 37.7 mpg
CO2 emissions 199 g/km
VED band J
0-60 6.8 seconds
Max speed 130 mph
Boot capacity 784/1761 litres