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A question came to mind when I was driving the 2017 Range Rover Sport SDV8 HSE Dynamic, an SUV that – its name suggests – prioritises cornering prowess over outright opulence.
The question was: “What is luxury?”
If being able to rumble along at 1500rpm on the highway while an unassuming 4.4-litre turbo diesel V8 engine ticks away under the bonnet, waiting for that moment you’ll need to call upon its epic 250kW of power and 740Nm of torque is luxury, then this is the epitome. “It’s absolutely effortless,” I thought.
If that, combined with an almost impossibly good ride on 22-inch wheels wrapped in 275/40 Continental rubber thanks to its adaptive air suspension, and a level of quietude in the cabin that can put an agitated toddler to sleep, is luxury… then I’m sold on this whole luxury thing. Still, I kept finding myself thinking: “it shouldn’t be this comfortable on these huge wheels”.
But the thing is, the Range Rover Sport is much more than just luxury. It’s a surprisingly, er, sporty SUV, but with all the hardware you’d expect in a model bearing the venerable British badge. You could say it’s the thinking person’s SUV – one that has proper off-road ability, along with plenty of practicality and comfort to boot.
When we mention 4x4 bits, we had no intention of testing them. It wasn’t worth the excess on the insurance bill to risk scratching that beautiful optional Silicon Silver paint (a $4330 option), nor scuffing those big rims (another $2470). Still, if you so choose, there’s a multi-mode terrain select system with grass/gravel/snow, sand, mud and ruts, and rock crawl settings, which adjusts the height of the standard-fit air suspension, the traction control system, throttle sensitivity and gearing.
There are also sport and normal drive modes, too, with the sport setting making the steering a little beefier and the gearbox all the more eager to let the engine rev out. It makes for a surprisingly engaging drive experience for an SUV that tips the scales at 2398 kilograms (kerb weight), with accurate and nicely weighted steering that helps in making it feel smaller than it is
Because that diesel V8 engine is so easy to push, you may find yourself going a little quicker than you thought. Under light to mid throttle it is relatively quiet, too, but if you plant your foot there’s a rewarding roar to be heard.
The engine cruises at pace with grace, easily eliminating kilometres on the daily commute, and around town there are few foibles to complain about aside from some turbo lag if you stomp the throttle from a standstill. The eight-speed automatic is superb at all speeds, offering thoughtful and crisp shifts, whether you’re pottering around or pounding it. As for fuel use, it's not as thirsty as you may expect: the claim is 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres, and we saw 10.3L/100km.
It goes fast, and pulls up decently too, but we found under hard driving the brakes would benefit with a little more feel through the pedal.
As nice as it is to drive – and believe me, it’s very nice – the Sport is starting to feel its age inside the cabin. Bear in mind this is a car that launched in this generation in 2013, and the pace of change in this (and all) segments is quicker than it ever has been.
The interior is still luxurious to a point, but it doesn’t look or feel as technically impressive or sporty as, say, an Audi SQ7. It’s just a bit… plain.
The InControl touchscreen media system developed by Land Rover for Range Rover is relatively easy to use, though not as intuitive as dial-based systems from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and we noticed it could be glitchy when jumping between audio inputs, and the Bluetooth wasn’t as good as it should be for a car at this price point, either.
All the controls are well sorted, but in terms of presentation there are some elements that just don’t gel. For example, the graphics on the controls for the climate dials are vastly different to the graphics on the very attractive driver info screen, which is again different to what you see on the media system. It simply doesn’t feel as cohesive as some other luxury SUVs in that regard, though its hardly a hanging offence.
Its back seat space is family-of-five suitable, with good toe room and headroom, but the seats are a touch small and firm in the backrest. But there are dual ISOFIX attachment points, as well as three top-tether hooks, and the rear seat has air vents to keep things cool, but unlike some more up-to-date models it lacks standard rear seat climate control. There are no rear USB ports, either, but you do get a 12-volt outlet for charging devices.
Storage is decent throughout. There are door pockets that are big enough for a bottle but lack dedicated bottle holsters, plus small mesh pockets in the doors. There is a fold-down down centre armrest with cupholders in the back seat, which has a nice soft padded area for elbows. Up front there’s a large console bin that includes cooling and features two USB ports plus a SIM input for connectivity – including news headlines and sat-nav searching – and a HDMI slot.
The boot is generous at 784 litres, among the best in class, and it’s especially noteworthy as there’s a full-size spare under the floor. Niceties include a couple of shopping bag hooks on the side, and a 12-volt outlet.
That material is among many elements that make the Range Rover feel special: the material on the optional Alston headlining is beautiful (for $3800 it’d want to be), and the leather quality is excellent too.
It may be the thinking person’s SUV, but said thinker will need to be well-heeled, because in this case luxury comes at a cost. The list price of the SDV8 HSE Dynamic is pretty reasonable for what you get, at $153,600 plus on-road costs. That is, however, not really indicative of what we had on test.
Our car had an as-tested price of $182,290, thanks to an array of optional equipment.
Here are the items fitted to the body/outside of the car: sliding panoramic sunroof ($4330); Silicon Silver paint ($4330); the Stealth Pack, including satin black exterior accents around the body and gloss black headlight surrounds ($4120); body-colour sills and bumpers ($2470); and those 22-inch rims – including a full-sized spare under the boot floor ($2470).
And on the inside there’s that Alston headlining ($3810) and Meridian 19-speaker surround sound system ($2990), among other options.
And that’s not to say that you still get the whole box and dice when it comes to standard kit. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, and when it comes to active safety helpers there is limited kit fitted. You don't get active lane keeping assistance (optional) and you also have to pay extra if you want blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, which seems a bit daft considering that’s standard on some much more affordable SUVs – the 2017 Mazda CX-5, for instance.
There is, however, autonomous emergency braking, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and lane departure warning (but not assistance), as well as six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain). But hey, if you have the means to think about this sort of luxury model, you’re likely willing to spend a little extra on bits you may find desirable.
Range Rover has servicing intervals of 12 months or 26,000km (note: an earlier version of this story had that info incorrect) for anyone who is game to leave their diesel untended to for that long, but unlike the more affordable SUVs offered by Land Rover and Range Rover, buyers can’t pre-purchase a service program. The British company’s warranty program spans three years/100,000km.
It may not be the newest luxury SUV on the market, but there are few that offer the effortless performance and outright presence that the Range Rover Sport SDV8 does. Another thought arose when I handed back the keys: “It might be time to ask for that pay rise, because I really want one of these…”
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