The brief for developing the second-generation Range Rover Sport was simple: make it ‘more Sport and more Range Rover’.
It was a mission statement that was, in essence, laid down by Range Rover’s loyal customers who were looking for a good dose of tradition to go with the iconic SUV’s evolution.
But to claim the new Range Rover Sport is purely a result of ‘people power’ is only getting half the story.
Pressure from rivals such as the Porsche Cayenne and BMW’s X5 and X6 models – arguably, the three most dynamically sound luxury SUVs in the business ¬– played an important part in on-road benchmarking for the new Sport.
It seemed Land Rover had some catching up to do. Despite its nameplate, the outgoing Range Rover Sport wasn’t really very sporty at all. Its lineage was decidedly more Land Rover than Range Rover.
Built off the same ladder chassis as the lumbering Land Rover Discovery, the similarly heavyweight Sport tipped the scales at anywhere between 2489kg and 2635kg, depending on which model you chose.
Despite its heft, the old boxy Sport could still hustle along a twisty mountain pass with more speed and poise than the laws of physics should have permitted.
It was also faster and significantly more agile than the full-size Range Rover, which was far more at home on a cruisy stretch of freeway, given its propensity for excessive body roll.
As a luxury off-roader, though, the Sport was close to brilliant. It was capable of extraordinary cross-country feats while at the same time providing a thoroughly decent ride for its passengers.
There wasn’t a rival in sight who could come close to delivering such versatility.
It was a tough act to follow, but not impossible. The German rivals offered superior on-road dynamics – and clearly that bothered Land Rover and its customers.
The end result is an all-new Range Rover Sport designed from the ground up to go head-to-head with its toughest competitors, without compromising the brand’s trademark all-terrain capability.
It’s still recognisably a Sport, but the new design is more revolutionary than evolutionary. In fact, from a styling perspective there’s more DNA from the Range Rover Evoque than from the new Range Rover.
Underneath the new Range Rover Sport, out goes the out-of-date Discovery T5 ladder frame and in its place a modified version of the same all-aluminium monocoque as the latest Range Rover, though 75 per cent is still new.
Land Rover’s innovative new lightweight engineering has stripped up to 420kg from the new Sport, despite being 25 per cent stiffer – meaning vastly improved handling and feel.
No expense has been spared when it comes to improving the new Sport’s on-road dynamics, either. Underpinning this newfound direction is a state-of-the-art aluminium suspension system, which is fully independent and double isolated, with double wishbones at the front and a multi-link layout at the rear.
There’s also an all-new steering system, re-engineered four-corner air suspension and the latest chassis and stability systems on-board.
The net effect is a noticeably sharper instrument than the previous Sport and it’s immediately evident on the tightly woven B-roads in Britain’s Cotswolds region we encountered on the model’s UK global launch drive.
It’s in these idyllic conditions that you’ll want to switch the Terrain Response dial all the way around to the squiggly road symbol and get all the dynamic bells and whistles working for you. It stiffens up the dampers, adds more weight to the steering, and sends more torque to the rear wheels.
Land Rover’s engineers say there’s a trade-off in ride quality, but there’s so much compliance built into the suspension that you’d hardly notice any difference.
In the standard Tarmac mode there’s a lovely weight to the steering – not too light, not too heavy. It’s also quick and responsive, enabling more accurate positioning of the vehicle on turn in.
It’s not just the way you can throw this new Sport around on roads more suited to a Mini Cooper than a 4WD behemoth, it’s as much about its superb chassis balance. The old model felt blunt in comparison.
For serious corner carving, there’s a veritable arsenal of chassis control systems to help keep the new Sport in check including torque vectoring, continuously variable dampers and an active rear differential that all come together to provide loads of front end grip. But get a little too ambitious (easy to do given the extra pace the new lightweight Sport can carry into corners) and the grip reverts to gentle understeer.
Dynamically, the latest Sport still feels big on the road and less agile than the Cayenne, though it shines in its overall ride/handling balance.
Pushing hard across the undulating bends in Wales, and the Rangie Sport is superb in its ability to soak up the heavy compressions while maintaining the perfect line to inspire huge amounts of driver confidence.
The all-new Range Rover Sport is noticeably quicker and more efficient, with a mix of turbo diesels and supercharged petrol models on offer from launch.
Quickest of the Sport family is the range-topping 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged petrol version (tested) packing 375kW of power and a thumping 625Nm of torque.
A quick stab of the throttle is enough to produce a certified crackle/pop from the exhaust – there’s clearly more hooliganism built in to the DNA of this generation.
At just over 2300kg it’s still no lightweight, despite shedding 325kg, but punch it from a standing start (as we did at the Cotswolds airport) and you’ll hit 100km/h in 5.3 seconds. Keep the right pedal pinned and it’s good for over 253km/h before you’ll run out of tarmac.
However, things aren’t quite so exhilarating on the efficiency front. Land Rover claims 13.8L/100km on a combined cycle for the big V8, but expect real world consumption as high as 20L/100km if you’re having fun.
It’s especially quick on corner exits with its lag-free supercharger spinning up right from the get-go and that delightful belt-fed whine to boot.
The eight-speed ZF transmission, standard across the entire range, is a masterpiece of refinement, providing rapid yet super-smooth shifts up and down the rev range.
In standard auto mode, it’s programmed to shift up to top gear at just 60km/h in the interest of better fuel efficiency. But knock it over to ‘Sport’ and under full-throttle the transmission will hold the shift points close to redline.
There’s a tendency to engage the paddleshifters in the really bendy stretches, but the fastest recorded times achieved were via the ‘Sport’ auto mode.
The powerful 380mm Brembo brakes deliver huge stopping ability up front, as well as having a wonderfully linear feel to them (at least in our dry test conditions).
The 215kW/600Nm SDV6 Sport we drove is no slouch, either. It shed a full 420kg off its previous weight and despite some initial throttle lag off the line, it can go from 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds. That betters its previous time of 9.3 seconds and matches that of the new V6 Supercharged version.
While it can’t match the V8 models off the line, in-gear acceleration feels rapid. And like the petrol models, the power delivery is smooth and refined all the way up the rev range.
With considerably less mass under the bonnet, the SDV6 also feels more agile through the corners than its more powerful yet heavier sibling.
In the rough, the new Range Rover Sport remains untouchable. Its ability to conquer the toughest conditions while providing a limo-like ride is extraordinary. Only this time, it’s been made completely novice-friendly with some new high-tech 4x4 wizardry.
The new Auto setting on the Terrain Response dial is all you need most of the time. It automatically decides which of the off-road settings you need – grass/gravel/snow, mud ruts and ruts/, rock crawl etc. It’s utterly foolproof as the Range Rover Sport climbs its way up a slippy, mud-encrusted river bank at Land Rover’s formidable test track at Eastnor Castle near Ledbury, followed by a ridiculously steep ascent and decent in the surrounding forest.
And don’t worry about what the wheels are doing or which of the diff locks are engaging; you can see all that in graphic colour in the super-size centre display screen.
Then there’s some new wade-sensing tech that uses ultrasonic sensors in the door mirrors to measure how deep the murky water is that the Rangie Sport is about to plunge into head first.
The whole experience is graphically displayed on that central screen for all to see.
This is all super-impressive stuff that makes such light work of any and every off-road situation that you start to wonder where on earth its limits are.
Cabin quality is another hallmark of the Range Rover badge and the new Sport is exquisite in this regard. For the uninitiated it will be difficult to tell the Sport apart from the full-fat Range Rover.
Every visible surface is covered in either super-supple stitched leather, polished metal or soft touch rubber.
There’s a new smaller diameter steering wheel that looks and feels a treat and the beautifully lacquered real-wood accents on the centre stack look superb.
Range Rover’s trademark ‘Command’ driving position is pretty much perfect and the ventilated front bucket seats are ridiculously comfortable with superb levels of bolstering, support, and cushioning.
Up front is JLR’s all-electronic dashboard, which despite being visually impressive lacks the clarity and resolution of some rivals.
The touchscreen system can also be slow to react to commands while the menus can be frustrating for those unfamiliar with the layout.
The new Range Rover Sport is bigger than the old car, measuring 62mm longer, 55mm wider and a 178mm longer wheelbase. This means there’s plenty of room in the cabin, though more noticeable in the second row seats, where there’s more width.
The Sport also introduces an optional third row, comprising two occasional seats that conveniently rise electronically from the boot floor when needed.
Storage is equally plentiful throughout the cabin, though there’s still no split-fold tailgate for the Sport.
It’s also extremely well equipped with even the entry-level TDV6 gaining a host of luxury items including full-leather trim, an eight-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, xenon headlamps, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera.
Finally, we have a Range Rover Sport that lives up to its name – one that is actually based on a Range Rover and has the firepower to exhilarate.
While dynamically it may not achieve ‘benchmark’ status over its prestigious German competitors, what we get here is undoubtedly a vastly improved piece of kit from the Sport of old.
And when it comes to all-round capability on and off the tarmac, the new Sport is clearly intent on being the last word in sporty luxury SUVs.