Words by Matt Brogan | Pics by Brendan Nish & Land Rover Australia
At first glance the new Range Rover Sport might look suspiciously the same as the old one, but to dismiss the value of the technological improvements and increase in overall refinement found in this year’s model on appearance alone would be nothing short of injudicious.
Boasting a raft of changes from the superseded model, which has been with us since 2005, the amelioration of the Range Rover Sport sees a fresh engine line-up, new six-speed transmission, revised steering and ‘Terrain Response’ systems, an updated interior and, believe it or not, some modified exterior styling cues that make this year’s model unarguably the best one yet.
Testing the entry-level Range Rover Sport TDV6 this week, we find a leather-clad interior worth a million in prizes. It’s seamless blend of wood, aluminium and flawless hide is impeccably well put together, loaded with all the mod cons you’d expect at this end of the price spectrum, and as comfortable – and indeed as British – as a deep buttoned Chesterfield by the hearth of an open fire.
The captain’s chair-style front seats are the ultimate in off-road opulence offering a supportive and cogent driving position that is entirely electrically adjustable in all the usual directions. Console mounted controls for the smooth-shifting six-speed CommandShift automatic transmission, sophisticated Terrain Response suspension and all-wheel drive settings, and Electronic Park Brake all fall easily to hand from the comfort of a 110-degree adjustable arm rest.
All the technology in the world isn’t worth a cent if it isn’t a joy to use, fortunately Range Rover have made all the controls and functionality of its latest Sport model as straightforward as using the household fridge. The pellucid Harman Kardon stereo, concise seven-inch touch screen satellite navigation system and even the rudimentary layout of the dual-dial instrument panel enjoys simplicity of function even the most technologically challenged dolt could master in a heartbeat.
The large leather-wrapped steering wheel is adjustable for tilt and reach and offers thumb-operated controls for the Sport’s instrument panel-mounted multi-function display (which includes vehicle settings and trip computer controls), audio system, cruise control and (optional) Bluetooth operation.
With a standard feature list that reads like War and Peace, the Range Rover Sport includes such highlights as dual-zone climate control air conditioning, eight airbags, cruise control, single-CD tuner with iPod integration, auto headlamps and wipers, and keyless pushbutton start.
Beneath that vast clamshell bonnet lays perhaps the most impressive upgrade to lower-spec Range Rovers in years, an infallible twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre LR-TDV6 engine. Capable of delivering 180kW of power and a brawny 600Nm of torque, this is the engine low-end Rangey’s always deserved, and is an impressive 40kW/160Nm improvement on the out going model.
Power delivery is seamless, with absolutely no turbo lag whatsoever, and although it still feels like the runt of the litter compared to such offerings as the mighty 375kW supercharged V8, the 3.0 TDV6 tackles highway hills and the off-road obstacle course without raising a sweat. Best of all the LR-TDV6 uses a miniscule amount of fuel at 9.3L/100km (combined, as tested), a triumph considering the Range Rover Sport’s 2535kg tare weight.
In detracting from what’s otherwise a highly polished performance, the Range Rover Sport did stumble, if only very slightly, in a couple of areas.
The first was the obvious step between first and second gear when upshifting at low speeds. This small but distinguishable ‘shunt’ came as an unwelcome recurring visitor to what otherwise proved to be a smooth and decisive transmission – so good we barely bothered with the manual (+/-) override (steering wheel mounted paddle shifts are also available as an option at $430).
Secondly the Sport’s brake pedal modulation is a little on the irregular side at very low speeds, meaning that achieving a comfortable soft stop of the meaty 360mm front / 350mm rear discs when approaching the lights is almost impossible.
While the low-profile hoops on the Sport’s stylish 15-spoke, 19-inch alloy wheels are not ideally suited to serious off-road use, they do offer an almost sporty feel on-road, bolstering the sharp steering and first-class chassis for a level of handling that is, on-road at least, the top of its class. Range Rover’s intelligent fully independent, air suspension makes the ride quality akin to that of off-road royalty and is adjustable through three self-explanatory height settings (Access/Normal/Off-Road).
The horizontally split, two-piece tailgate allows easy access to the 958L cargo area which can be extended to 2013L thanks to the practicality of split fold rear seats, and for those wanting to tow where no man has towed before, the Range Rover Sport offers a 3500kg braked towing capacity. A full-size matching alloy wheel is also included as standard equipment, slung beneath the exterior of the cargo floor.
Five-star ANCAP safety comes courtesy of front, side and full-length curtain airbags (for a total of eight), while electronic aids include ABS braking with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist, Roll Stability Control, Hill Descent Control, Dynamic Stability Control (which automatically compensates when towing) and Traction Control. All five seating positions offer adjustable head restraints and three-point inertia reel seatbelts with front seat passengers adding pyrotechnic pretensioners to their belts.
Optional equipment includes high-beam assist, surround camera system, reversing camera, front parking sensors (rear parking sensors are standard) and Adaptive Cruise Control with Advanced Emergency Brake Assist (a full option price list is included below).
The Range Rover Sport is a competent, comfortable and classy machine offering a true best of both worlds approach to the luxury SUV segment. Coupling excellent fuel economy with confident performance the Sport is very nearly a bargain at $99,900*, and would easily trounce any market-sector rival in an off-road arm wrestle.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: