Racetrack in the morning, off-road course by noon – that was the itinerary for the local launch of the second-generation Range Rover Sport.
Although the first-generation Range Rover Sport that launched in 2005 was a huge success for the brand, it was based on an off-road-focused chassis shared with the Land Rover Discovery. It was enough to put the Range Rover in its name, but fell short of adequately addressing the Sport bit of the badge.
Now, the British manufacturer claims it has listened to what customers wanted – more Range Rover, more Sport, they told – to create a Range Rover Sport that is actually based on the Range Rover proper.
That means a car-like chassis construction, and a body made entirely of aluminium to save up to 420kg depending on the model. It also makes for a lush cabin that near mirrors its more expensive sibling.
The Range Rover Sport local line-up first consists of two diesels, the $102,800 TDV6 and $113,600 SDV6 SE, $125,800 HSE and $145,500 Autobiography.
All use a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6, the TDV6 producing 190kW of power at 4000rpm and 600Nm of torque at 2000rpm in base trim, while the SDV6 gets an extra 25kW but the same torque.
The petrol V6 Supercharged is available only in HSE trim, and costs $2700 less than the equivalent SDV6 HSE diesel, at $123,800. The petrol 3.0-litre’s 250kW/450Nm results in the same claimed 7.2-second 0-100km/h as the diesel 3.0-litre SDV6, though compared with the TDV6 both are 0.4 seconds faster to that increment.
The petrol, however, claims 11.3L/100km combined, where the diesels claim 7.5L/100km and 7.3L/100km respectively.
For the full blown (literally) Range Rover Sport experience, the petrol V8 Supercharged (above) is the one. It’s a hefty step up from the model with two fewer cylinders, though, but the $161,600 HSE Dynamic and $182,400 Autobiography Dynamic score, as the name suggests, an Adaptive Dynamics package. This includes active front and rear anti-roll bars and torque vectoring. Naturally, the V8 Supercharged goes and drinks harder – the 375kW/625Nm engine claims a 5.3-second 0-100km/h and 13.8L/100km combined.
The cabin of all models is a masterpiece.
The Range Rover Sport interior largely mimics the styling of the Range Rover proper, except with lower seating; highlighted by the driver’s elbow naturally falling on the door armrest now rather than aligning with the window sill.
The seats are more like armchairs, the furnishings – with a hugely customisable range of colours and trims – all look modern and feel high quality, and both rear seat and boot space is expectedly generous.
For the first time, there is the option ($3700 on all models) to add ‘+2’ seating with power folding in the rear (although none were available at launch) as well, but unlike the proper third-row pews in the Discovery, Land Rover admits these are ‘sometimes’ seats.
A downside is the extensive options list of this new Range Rover Sport.
Although a reversing camera with sensors is standard across the range, front sensors, auto dimming mirrors, xenon headlights and auto high beam are a combined $3860 option on TDV6 and SDV6 SE. Also optional on those entry-level models are paddleshifters ($460), electrically adjustable front seats ($3000) and keyless auto-entry ($3000).
Even the $182,400 V8 Supercharged Autobiography has options (that are the same price across the range) including adaptive cruise control ($4700), panoramic sunroof ($4000), surround view camera ($1800), auto park assist ($1490), blind spot monitor with reverse traffic detection ($1420), tyre pressure monitoring ($900) and adaptive headlights ($1000), among others.
There are dramatic differences with the way each Range Rover Sport specification drives, too, depending on what engine and options are chosen.
The TDV6 and SDV6 will be the most popular models, the latter more so because Land Rover claims that most buyers usually pick the model one-up from base.
We only tested the SDV6 (above) and while it proved amply powerful and admirably refined, it doesn’t gel with the newfound dynamism of the Range Rover Sport.
It’s a bit doughy off the line, and lacks the crisp throttle reponse of the petrol models.
The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission – standard with every engine in the range – is a pearler, both seamless in regular mode and intuitive in Sport, though it automatically upshifts in manual mode.
Swapping into the V6 Supercharged (above) is a revelation.
Where many petrol engines struggle to offer the low-down torque characteristics of a diesel, and of which are crucial in a heavy SUV application, the V6 Supercharged produces 450Nm between 3500-5000rpm.
It also makes 250kW at a heady 6500rpm, so it’s both effortless down low and, up top, sounds raunchy and offers a crisp throttle.
Although the V8 Supercharged (above) is ultimately faster than the V6 Supercharged, and sounds even harder-edged with lots of exhaust crackle thrown in, it struggles to justify its price premium.
On a pragmatic level, it would be difficult enough to swallow the refill costs of the petrol versus the hugely efficient diesel alone, but the Big Daddy model makes that even more of an issue.
There are also differences in the way each car handles.
The SDV6 tested came with standard 20-inch alloy wheels. Despite the 255mm-wide footprint, the tyres lacked grip and were squeal prone, undermining the improved chassis of this Range Rover Sport.
Whether the thick sidewalls or Pirelli Cinturato rubber were to blame, we’re not sure, but the optional ($800) 21-inch wheels with lower profile 275mm-wide Continental tyres fitted to the V6 and V8 Supercharged solved the problem. Turn-in was crisper, and agility changing direction transformed.
The 21s are a $2400 option on the SDV6, but Land Rover says they use multiple tyre suppliers and can’t guarantee the brand…
Adaptive dynamics on the V8 Supercharged takes the sharpness of the Range Rover Sport to a higher level. The handling-enhancing hardware is an $8100 option on SDV6, though curiously it isn’t available on the V6 Supercharged.
On the track, the V8 Supercharged still lacks the hewn-into-the-surface feeling of a Porsche Cayenne, but it’s entertainingly sporting (bordering on sporty).
We’re told it is 2.7 seconds slower around the Nurburgring than its German foe.
On the road, though, the new Range Rover Sport delivers a level of ride comfort that the Cayenne (or the BMW X6) can’t come close to matching.
Whether the Sport rides on 20s or 21s matters little – all ride with soothing compliance, yet offer brilliant control over undulations and speed, eradicating the classic ‘head toss’ that remains slightly evident in the softer Range Rover proper.
At the international launch of the Range Rover last year, engineers responded to criticism of the steering’s slight vacancy on the centre position and slowness on rotation by saying “just wait for the Sport”. True, the Sport’s steering is superbly direct and sharp on centre.
Off road, the Range Rover Sport still lives up to the first two words in its name.
Use the Terrain Response 2 dial on the centre console to select from grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts or sand/rocks depending on the view out the front window.
The screen between the speedometer and tachometer will indicate whether you should select low-range gearing, off-road ride height – the air suspension can be raised by 65mm at less than 50km/h – or hill descent control.
The Range Rover Sport is, however, the first Range Rover that has low range gearing optional (on V6 Supercharged only).
Perhaps just to prove a point, Land Rover didn’t provide such equipped models for the off-road course at the launch.
Each still powered up steep rocky climbs, eased down grassy slopes, churned through mud, and used its wheels like tentacles over articulations, all with utter nonchalance.
That the new Range Rover Sport is now nearly as dynamic as the class benchmarks (Cayenne and X6) while riding much more smoothly, going further off road and offering a more sophisticated interior than either of them is testament to this new generation’s excellence.
Just as the Volkswagen Golf does in the small car class, the Range Rover Sport offers all things to all people shopping in this loftier, six-figure atmosphere.