James Ward gets intimate over a week with the flagship Range Rover Sport
The all-new Range Rover Sport has big shoes to fill, both in terms of living up to its name as a 'proper' Range Rover and as being a favourite automotive urban fashion accessory.
It has been well received by the media (CarAdvice awarded it 9/10 back in October last year) but what is it like to live with? To find out, we spent a week driving the Range Rover Sport Autobiography Dynamic – the top-of-the-range model.
My first impression upon collecting the Range Rover Sport is one of overall quality. From the weight of the door to the smell of the leather, this is a premium product. The controls are intuitive, and despite the driver’s seat needing some ongoing adjustment to get just right, the sportier Rangie is a very nice place to be.
Inside, the car is quiet and bigger than I expected – more like the previous-generation Vogue, and, in the case of our test car, covered end to end in leather, suede and other delicious materials.
On the short drive back to the office, the car feels solid and easily handles Melbourne roads, riding tram tracks and bumps with composure – despite rolling on big 21-inch wheels. My only issue comes from the sunroof wind deflector that generates considerable wind noise even at low speeds.
As you would expect at this level – the Autobiography starts at $182,400, about $80,000 above the entry point to the model – the air conditioner is able to cool the car quickly, even after being parked outside on a 40-plus-degree day.
The large eight-inch touchscreen is simple to use when connecting a phone and setting up radio stations, but the navigation system is still a few points behind the industry best – have a look at Mercedes-Benz’s new Comand-5 interface to see where navigation is heading. Though functional, it could be a bit more user friendly.
The Range Rover Sport Autobiography Dynamic is fitted as standard with a 375kW/625Nm supercharged 5.0-litre V8, the same unit found in the $161,600 HSE. Burbling nicely at idle, effortless acceleration at suburban speeds hints at the power beneath with little encouragement needed to briskly get up to local speed limits.
Even without using the ‘Sport shift’ setting or changing the car to ‘Dynamic’ mode, there is more than enough oomph to lead the traffic off the line. Slow speeds are easy and the car manages U-turns well on typical four-lane tram line-split roads. Even a three-point turn on a narrow street is a stress-free affair.
Tuesday brings a run down the freeway and a chance to use some of the driver support technology. The optional adaptive cruise control with queue assist and intelligent emergency braking, which accelerates and brakes to maintain a two-second gap to the car in front regardless of their speed, is impressive and very smooth.
Sadly, the $4700 system is also more advanced than most Melbourne drivers who see the gap as an opportunity to cut in front, causing the Range Rover to slow its pace to create a new gap – until another car cuts in and the process is repeated.
My 100km/h setting has me dropping to almost 80km/h in no time. The technology works, Melbourne drivers do not. An annoyance of increasing severity, I actually find myself switching it off – along with the collision avoidance alarm.
On the highway, though, the car is comfortable and quiet, and would make for an effortless tourer except for one thing… That fabulous supercharged V8 engine is horrendously thirsty. Land Rover claims a combined cycle average of 13.8L/100km for the 2310kg Sport but driving ‘normally’ around town we regularly see figures nearer the SUV’s claimed urban economy of 20.6L/100km and as high as 22.7L/100km.
Our full-tank range is less than 500km – which, granted, includes a few spirited and noisy squirts of rapid acceleration, but, hey, it’s a supercharged V8 able to shove a genuine 4x4 to 100km/h in 5.3 seconds and we aren’t made of stone.
Used to driving a turbo-diesel SUV, I regularly see more than 1000km to a tank (particularly on a highway cycle). To be forced to fill up twice as often isn’t just expensive, it’s down right inconvenient.
The Range Rover Sport is a favourite on the school run with the new car fitting in well with Little Miss Five-year-old’s first week of prep.
Climbing in and out – particularly for little people – is made easier by the Sport’s ‘access height’ air suspension setting.
Fitting the required child car seat proves a simple process with access to the retractable anchor point gained via a single lever to the side of the rear seat – a very neat feature. The 784-litre boot is very good for a car of this size (even featuring a full-size spare under the floor) and easily handles shopping, school bags and even a trip to IKEA, where the split-fold rear seats come in handy.
Vision is good, although the front corners seem to disappear quickly making tight car park ramps a cautious experience.
Fitted with automatic parking – which left the five-year-old suitably impressed by the wheel that turns “by magic” – the Range Rover manages to park itself perfectly two out of three times. The third time leaves me slightly auto-park gun shy after the system manages to navigate the rear wheels dangerously close to the curb – I pull the pin after deciding I’d rather not have to blame the system for scratched wheels.
Five parking cameras combine to give a number of views but not the handy top-down or ‘bird’s-eye view’ option. The cameras’ resolution is pretty ordinary too – providing a dark, grainy and blurry image – which compared with the system in current BMW offerings, makes it a VHS versus Blu-ray-type comparison.
As well as handling entertainment and navigation functions, the Rangie’s touchscreen gives access to some amazing driving data and images for both on and off-road adventures.
Once you have selected your interior mood lighting colour – right up there for one of the most fun but useless features of any car – you can graph your driving style, check your water fording depth and monitor suspension articulation. There’s not much need for this around suburban Melbourne, but it does show the Range Rover is capable of so much more than being a ‘Toorak Tractor’.
The rest of the week – with more school runs, meetings and shopping trips – has the Range Rover Sport feeling more and more like home.
It also becomes more apparent just how many previous-generation Range Rover Sports are on the road. At one of the many stops at the petrol station, I park next to one of the earlier cars (a black 2010 model) – certainly a generation behind in terms of design but still looking great. The owner tells me she wants to upgrade soon but is waiting to see more of the new ones on the road so she can “decide on colour”.
This is no once-off, either, with many previous-model Sport drivers coming over wanting to know more about the car and what it’s like – “If only there was a website that provided this type of information,” says one chap who’s swiftly educated.
It seems, however, not everyone shares a great enthusiasm for the iconic 4x4 brand.
All of us in the CarAdvice office experience a substantial amount of ‘Rangie rage’ from other drivers when behind the wheel. From being cut off and blocked from merging or pulling out into traffic to horns, single-finger salutes and general ill will, the Range Rover Sport cops it all. Tall poppy jealousy for plodding around in her majesty's finest perhaps, but certainly something I've not experienced since my halcyon Volvo days.
With the Rangie’s return looming, Miss Five is particularly disappointed we can’t “just keep it” – like a stray puppy that consumes a significant amount of fuel. Even after only a week, however, it’s easy to see the Sport’s appeal. Classy and luxurious but with a bolder design than the regular Rangie, it’s still practical and works well for a family with one or two children.
It’s a pity that most owners will never use much of this car though. The terrain response system that automatically judges driving conditions and locks differentials and alters ride height accordingly is a real marvel. Fantastic for an African safari but wasted in South Yarra.
Overall, the new Range Rover Sport is a fabulous car to live with and a definite step up from the already impressive previous generation. You’ll still want the main Range Rover if a truly cosseting ride is a priority, but the Sport is still sufficiently comfortable, while it’s also practical and manageable for all daily duties – barring the fuel bills that will necessitate chats with the bank manager.
Given the Autobiography’s hefty starting price, however – which could easily rise above the $200K mark with a few options such as a sliding panoramic roof ($4000), premium metallic paint ($4200), rear seat entertainment ($5000) and 1700-watt 23-speaker Meridian audio system ($10,700) – you could opt for a well-specced turbo-diesel HSE for around $150K and enjoy practically the same car, albeit without the BBQ bragging rights.