The British icon remains one of the best choices in the luxury SUV segment
The problem with buying a large luxury SUV is that there are now so many different makes and models to consider that picking between one becomes a near incomprehensible choice. Even so, in the ever-busy crowd of champions and pretenders, the Range Rover Sport remains a solid pick.
Having handed back our own Land Rover Discovery Sport – trading it in for the soon to arrive Jaguar F-Pace – we borrowed this Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE, which is priced from $131,400 (plus $16,530 of options), for the last two months.
To be perfectly honest, the thought of a Range Rover Sport didn’t originally have much appeal; mainly because the British luxury SUV – along with the BMW X5 and Audi Q7 – has become the default choice for buyers Australia-wide. Mainstream isn’t generally our style, nonetheless, it took about a week of using the Sport as our primary family car before it became obvious why it’s just so damn popular.
Despite its SPORT badge, the SDV6 HSE Range Rover is actually more akin to a lounge chair on wheels. In saying that, it doesn’t come at the compromise of daily dynamic ability.
The Range Rover Sport demands, and receives, a commanding presence wherever it goes. Where the German options tend to blend into traffic with an inoffensive design, the Sport’s bulky proportions and modern, yet traditional, styling demonstrates a different character.
Our test car is, in our opinion, the pick of the lot in the Range Rover Sport lineup. The 3.0-litre diesel is an ideal balance between power (225kW) and (700Nm) torque, while delivering a reasonable fuel economy figure of 7L/100km.
More importantly though, where the base SE model feels under-equipped with a host of options required to make it a rewarding ownership experience, the HSE presents a more solid case that gets you almost everything you want, with just a few necessities still optional.
The best thing about the Range Rover Sport is the cabin ambience. No other car in its class has the same aura when you jump inside. Sure, the infotainment system is at times annoyingly slow, occasionally even unresponsive and lacks technologies such as Apple CarPlay. And the fully digital instrument cluster is laggy in how it presents data, but ultimately the feel of the leather, the use of materials across the dash, the sense of spaciousness, is all a class above the rest.
Perhaps it has something to do with the shape of the car itself. Land Rover has never shied away from the box on wheels approach of design, and while the Sport is a slightly slicker design than the Discovery, the general proportions of the car are as such that the high roofline and general width of it generate a sense of open space that is hard to find in its class.
Behind the wheel the Range Rover Sport, equipped with this diesel engine is certainly not sporty. It will easily meet the daily challenge and certainly not exhibit noticeable body roll if pushed hard into a corner. However, if dynamic competence is your primary focus, a petrol V8 or the SVR variants are certainly the pick of the line-up.
What it lacks in on-road dynamics though, it makes up for in off-road ability. HSE models come equipped with a proper low-gear transfer case (not available in SE) and Range Rover’s full suite of off-road driving modes. We did some relatively simple off-roading with ours, but in all seriousness you would have to be somewhat mad to take your $150,000 Range Rover bush bashing. But if you did lose your marbles, it would feel right at home!
On the road it feels effortless to drive, with a light, yet responsive steering system that makes parking or manoeuvring very simple. It’s a big car, measuring 4850mm in length and 2073mm wide (mirrors folded), however even my wife, who even I would struggle to call a competent parker at the best of times, has not once complained about its size (and she’s an expert complainer), thanks in large part to sensors all around and its boxy shape which makes its touch points rather predictable.
Around town, the commanding position of the driver’s seat makes for a confident and inspiring driving experience, though we do wish that Range Rover would include the vast array of active safety systems at its disposal as either standard fit (like its German rivals) or as more affordable options. This would substantially improve the monotonous driving one would experience on a highway or start-stop traffic.
Having features likes of active cruise control, lane departure warning and assistance as options – while they are standard fit on a $60,000 Hyundai Santa Fe – does raise some eyebrows. Ultimately though, buying a Range Rover is an experience one makes with more emotional force than logic and any claims that you’re ‘paying for the badge’ is rubbish, as the build quality (aluminium structure) and sheer feel of the car when you see it, touch and drive it, goes a long a way to explain the hefty asking price.
On the comfort side, the British SUV rides beautifully thanks to its adaptive and height adjustable suspension. In this tester’s opinion, the Range Rover Sport is actually the most comfortable SUV in its segment, or any other segment for that matter. The way it absorbs and floats over the utterly garbage roads we have in Brisbane, with minimal cabin vibration or sound intrusion makes you love the car immediately.
You can lower the car to ‘access height’ for when you want to put the kids in and then raise it much higher if you plan on driving on a beach. There is 65mm of selectable travel in the suspension ride height (from 213mm to 278mm).
The term lounge-chair on wheels is perhaps made just for Range Rover as the sensation of driving one is generally that of calm and peace, regardless of the traffic or road conditions outside. It’s like a personal piece of your home decorated in the finest materials that travels with you wherever you go. It’s also one of the few SUVs that lends itself beautifully to a light coloured interior, thanks to its large proportions and the coloured textures used on the dash.
On that same note, our nearly five- and nearly two-year old boys have tried their absolute best to destroy the car’s leather and interior fit and finish, but so far it has all wiped off without a mark. It’s an easy car to keep clean.
We fit our two ISOFIX child seats in the rear and the kids have had no issues feeling right at home or falling and staying asleep even as we went over dirt roads. More importantly, my wife can comfortably fit between them when there’s an argument over which coloured M&M goes to who.
Our test car was equipped with the seven seats, which are powered for quick assembly. We tested them a number of times and while they are certainly good for occasional use, or if there is an eight- to 12-year old that doesn’t mind the third row, the Sport is not a true seven seater in the same manner as the Q7 or Volvo XC90. You just wouldn’t want to try and fit adults back there.
We’ve put nearly 3000kms on this SUV and so far it has not once skipped a beat. Our biggest gripe with the car has been the lack of privacy glass or tint! Which of course is easily fixed post-purchase. It also lacks fast charging USB ports in the second row, which has at times led to a few meltdowns thanks to flat iPads.
In summary, the Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE is the pick of the lot in the British brand’s rather complicated line-up. With an updated 2017 range confirmed for Australia next year, the 2016 SDV6 HSE remains a solid performer day in day out, both for long drives and city commutes. It might not be the best dynamic choice or the best value for money, but it makes up for it in every other way.
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