Range Rover's Sport is all new for 2014. Can it more deserved wear the Range Rover badge?
For a while now, Range Rover purists haven’t really loved the Range Rover Sport. That’s not to say it hasn't been an incredible sales success around the world regardless. Maybe that’s exactly what Land Rover was trying to do - appeal to a completely new type of buyer who would never have considered the brand before.
Criticisms among the faithful were few but strenuous nonetheless. The outgoing Range Rover Sport was built on a ladder frame chassis from the Land Rover Discovery so it wasn’t befitting of the coveted Range Rover nameplate in the eyes of the faithful. Furthermore, thanks to its heavy kerb weight, it also wasn’t befitting of the Sport badge either. Critics obviously never punted the TDV8 or Supercharged petrol V8 Sport models because they were serious missiles, even on a race track.
Similarly, critics obviously never took Sport too far off road either. In it’s old guise it was mightily capable. Owners could whip along a freeway at 110km/h and then crawl through mud and water with just as much ease. A few years back, I did things in a Sport at the Land Rover Experience in the UK that I never would have thought possible from a luxury SUV.
With the new model, everything has changed. The all-new Range Rover Sport is bigger but lighter thanks to the aluminium monocoque chassis, and it now looks a whole lot more like the flagship Range Rover than it ever did before. Measuring 4.85 metres long, 2.07m wide and 1.78m tall, it's a fairly large SUV. It’s also available with seven seats for the family minded buyer with some cash to splash around (you'll need to pay $3700 for those extra two seats).
The styling brings Sport more into line with Vogue but in my opinion, there’s also a lot of Evoque there too. From any angle, Sport exudes a sense of style and class, which is vital to this segment, where form is often as important to buyers as function.
The Range Rover Sport isn’t cheap, with pricing starting at just over $100,000 - but it's impossible to argue that you don’t get more for your money than ever before. I’d go so far as to say that after a week behind the wheel, I’d find it very hard to justify the extra expense to step up to the Vogue. As tested, the 4.4 SDV8 HSE Dynamic model (yes that is a mouthful) will set you back $146,300. With the options we have fitted to our test vehicle, that price stretches out to $174,280 (yikes!).
Standard equipment is, as you’d expect for nearly 150 large, extensive. There’s a three-year/100,000km warranty and as yet, no capped price servicing available. The five-star ANCAP safety rating is par for the course, and likewise the full suite of safety and driver aids.
Optional equipment fitted to this test vehicle includes a sliding panoramic roof ($4000), Alston head-lining ($3700), HSE Luxury Pack ($3550), automated parallel/perpendicular parking system ($2960), premium audio ($2900), blind-spot monitor and wade-sensing ($2220), metallic paint ($2100), HSE Comfort Pack ($1640), 22-inch Style 6 alloy wheels ($1600), lane-departure warning ($1400), privacy glass ($900), DAB+ digital radio ($900) and steering wheel paddleshifters ($110).
Two of those options packs bear further explanation. The HSE Luxury Pack has a few noteworthy features including a super clear and easy to navigate 12.3-inch TFT 'virtual instrument panel, volumetric alarm with battery back-up sounder, a first aid kit and 18-way powered front seats with memory.
The blind-spot monitor and wade-sensing is particularly interesting. Along with 'closing vehicle sensing' and reverse traffic detection, this pack adds a wading system that can read the depth of the water crossing you’re entering and, via a graphic on the central screen, illustrate the safe depth that you can drop too. Very clever. I didn’t get to test that system myself but I’ve seen some footage of it and it’s very handy if you head off road often. Plenty of times I’ve headed across a water crossing only having to wonder if I was getting in too deep, so to speak.
The new Sport’s cabin is an execution of style and finish. It’s comfortable, luxurious and beautifully appointed. The optional audio system fitted to our test vehicle was particularly impressive. The Bluetooth phone system is also one of the more high-end units I’ve used too. Easy to set up and synchronise, and crystal clear once your phone is connected.
Second-row passengers get more knee room now and the cabin is a little wider, so shoulder space will be less confined when you have three adults across the second row. The optional third row is, like Discovery 4, entirely serviceable for adults for shorter trips and folds flat into the floor to open up a huge luggage area.
The 4.4-litre turbo diesel V8 engine is an absolute powerhouse with more ability than ever before. 0-100km/h comes up in 6.9-seconds, a time that is scarcely believable for a bonafide off-roader. The engine note is almost completely devoid of the usual diesel chatter and under load there’s an enticing eight-cylinder bellow as the revs rise. The engine generates a silky smooth 250kW at 3500rpm and 700Nm between 1750 and 3000rpm while using only 8.7-litres/100km on the official ADR combined cycle.
I covered just over 625 kilometres during my week with the car (I didn’t want to get out of it) and used a measured 10.4L/100km. That is genuinely impressive from a big, seven-seat SUV that weighs in at more than 2400kg.
The eight-speed ZF auto is still as impressive as it ever was and in a world of ever-increasing numbers of ratios goes to show that more isn’t always better. Equally smooth tooling around town or shifting under load when you accelerate, the gearbox is one of the best around. Proper high- and low-range 4WD means you can take the new Range Rover Sport into the dirt without worrying about whether you can make it back out. The gearbox performs well in these situations, even in low-range, and never feels jerky or uncertain.
I only went off0road for a short period over tracks that were far too easy to test its sophisticated off-road driving systems. Even at speed on loose dirt and gravel though, the Sport is composed and agile. Its low-range system is highly competent, allowing for slow speed crawling when the going gets really tough.
The Sport is a handy tow vehicle too, with a maximum braked capacity of 3500kg making it perfect for hauling boats, cars or caravans.
On the road the Sport can sometimes be a little too stiff over nastier road surfaces. Part of that deficit could be the optional 22-inch wheels and tyres fitted to our test vehicle, but a large part of that must be the new aluminium chassis. On smooth road surfaces, however, the ride is sublime. The handling is also noteworthy for a vehicle that is so capable off road. You would have to push Sport a whole lot faster than our laws allow to even find out whether it will start to get unsettled.
For many years now, the name Range Rover has symbolised the ultimate status symbol in luxury SUVs. Perhaps the most difficult part for the brand has been the fact that any Range Rover must be as capable off road as it is composed and luxurious on road. Numerous brands have tried to take the crown over the past few years with every European company getting into the luxury segment that Range Rover started way back when.
While some might be marginally better on road, none are better off-road. None manage to deliver luxury with the same dose of panache that Range Rover has in its DNA.
While the Range Rover Sport isn’t perfect (mainly due to our poor road surfaces), it remains the luxury benchmark and Sport is as close to its more expensive and luxurious bigger brother than it has ever been. Most of us are on a tight budget when it comes to buying cars, but if I had around a buck fifty to spend on a daily driver, I know what I’d be buying..