We drive the upcoming all-new Range Rover Sport at JLR's own proving ground. This could be Gerry McGovern's best effort yet.
Land Rover executives won’t put a figure on the final development cost of the second-generation Range Rover Sport, except to reveal that 6000 engineers were involved and no expense was spared.
Certainly, the build process seems impressive - the all-new Range Rover Sport is built on exactly the same production line as its more luxurious Range Rover sibling and it’s difficult to tell them apart in the Solihull bodyshop as the Swedish-built robots insert 3722 rivets into each all-aluminium monocoque.
The Range Rover Sport used to be built on the same ladder frame chassis as the current Land Rover Discovery, but customers around the globe were chanting a new mantra for the next-generation Sport: 'more Range Rover and more Sport'.
The message was clear and vision was simple: Start with a clean sheet and set about creating “The fastest, most agile, most responsive Land Rover ever”.
As a result, the Range Rover and upcoming Range Rover Sport are currently the only all-aluminium bodied SUVs in the world, although overall the Sport is 75 per cent bespoke.
The all-new Sport somewhat unsurprisingly promises ‘stunning’ off-road capability – but that’s just assumed isn’t it? It’s actually the Sport’s performance on the tarmac that deserves the highest praise - and weight, or rather, weight loss is what plays a key role in the Sport’s significantly uprated dynamic ability.
Squaring up against its 3.0-litre TDV6 predecessor, the new Range Rover Sport with its similar V6 diesel sheds a whopping 420kg to tip the scales at 2115kg, down from
The resulting lightness has also meant a dramatic improvement in the Range Rover Sport’s straight-line acceleration.
A brief stint behind the wheel of the entry-level 190kW/600Nm 3.0-litre TDV6 at JLR’s own UK proving track at their Gaydon headquarters, verified the vehicle’s published acceleration times.
Pin the right pedal (as we were duly encouraged to do on this occasion) and the new Sport will hit 100km/h in 7.1 seconds, bettering the old model by 1.7 seconds for the same off-the-line sprint.
And somehow it feels even quicker than that behind the wheel. Throttle response is faster, there’s almost no turbo-lag and the eight-speed ZF auto puts the power down seamlessly.
There’s a sport mode that holds the gears and quickens throttle response to great effect, but disappointingly the entry-level model misses out on paddleshifters.
It’s also encouragingly difficult to pick this as a diesel. There’s none of the usual clatter even on start-up, let alone while winding it up to 220km/h and lifting off for the long left-hander on the back straight.
Steering feel and response is exceptionally good and we like the move to a smaller, fatter, steering wheel.
The electric power steering is claimed to be 10 per cent quicker than the Range Rover and the variable-ratio system weights up perfectly and feels natural from the straight-ahead. It’s confidence inspiring even at 200km/h plus.
Our base model Sport TDV6 is equipped with conventional dampers and anti-roll bars, while the more powerful models get adaptive dampers and active anti-roll bars.
However, you can’t fault the handling or the ride on this entry-level variant – both are exceptionally good and offer a huge improvement over the previous generation Sport.
We’re entering turn one at around 90km/h – a reasonable rate of knots for a long-winded corner that continues to tighten up – and while there’s some initial heft, it’s marvellously well composed and begs you to get back on the power early.
Increasing the pace further there’s still no tyre squeal and the Sport holds its line while feeling dynamically sound.
The ride is also very impressive, despite riding on optional 21-inch alloy wheels and low profile tyres. There’s an inherent refinement and softness to this suspension where even sharp ridges on the proving ground don’t hamper passenger comfort.
It doesn’t seem to matter how you drive the new Sport, or what condition the surface is, the suspension is able to absorb each and every imperfection on the road.
Overall, the Sport’s design is more about revolution than evolution, with the styling aligned to the Range Rover Evoque and fewer design cues from the outgoing model.
Inside, it’s more luxurious. The leather is suppler and the quality of the materials and switchgear has been further refined and closer to that in the Range Rover.
Range Rover Sport ditches the tricky rotary gear selector (borrowed from Jaguar) for a traditional shift lever for a sportier environment. Even the sequential shifts are the right way round – pull to change up and push to downshift.
The ergonomics are superb. There’s a driver-centric approach and 50 per cent less switchgear than the outgoing model.
General comfort levels have been raised significantly from the last version and there’s a good deal more rear seat leg and headroom in the new Sport.
It’s also the first Range Rover to offer optional third row seating (electrically powered) but these are thoughtfully kid-friendly.
Land Rover has packed the new Range Rover Sport with a raft of new technology with features including the brand’s first laser-based head-up display and a 12.3-inch instrument display.
Other kit includes Terrain Response 2, featuring a new Auto setting and the new Wade Sensing that uses senses in the door mirrors to alert the driver of outside water depth.
Land Rover’s head of design, Gerry McGovern hasn’t put a foot wrong since he penned the LRX Concept in 2008. That vehicle became the hugely successful Range Rover Evoque.
He followed up with the new-generation Range Rover in 2012, only to outdo himself with the upcoming Range Rover Sport.
While the all-new Sport launches in Europe and other major markets from August 2013, Australian customers will need to wait until November for their cars.
Pricing and specification will be announced closer to the launch.