Remember 2003’s Range Rover Stormer concept? The sleek, fastback-style 4WD coupe show vehicle was Land Rover’s pointer to its response to the 2002 Porsche Cayenne.
If the Range Rover Sport production SUV that materialised a year later didn’t have the same wow factor – looking too much like the flagship Rangie, but with a slightly sloped roof line – the second-generation version of 2013 at least looked sportier.
The Range Rover Velar actually has more in common with the Stormer visually, though the good news for Rangie Sport buyers is that the stunning interior from that model one rung down on the line-up has transferred across for a model-year update.
That all-new dash fascia, standard on the base S model upwards, is arguably the Sport’s most important update, giving the Rangie the interior wow factor needed in the showroom battle with the higher-tech, third-generation Cayenne also released in 2018.
There’s also a mild exterior tweak that includes sharper, squarer headlights and integrated daytime running lights.
Incidentally, the model we’re testing here – the $114,900 Range Rover Sport SE SDV6 – is priced closest to the entry-level Cayenne ($116,300).
‘Dieselgate’ has prompted Porsche to abandon diesel engines, but powertrain difference aside it seems Land Rover looked closely at its rival’s equipment list as the specification is broadly similar. There are, for example, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, automatic tailgate, climate control, rain-sensing wipers, side mirrors with heating and auto-dimming, Wi-Fi hotspot, front and rear sensors, and 14-way electric front seats.
For those shopping exclusively in the Sport range, a new entry-level diesel arrives for MY19 – now also a V6 rather than four-cylinder and badged SDV6, but offering less power (183kW/600Nm) than our 225kW/700Nm SDV6.
What do you miss by not upgrading to the $134,700 SDV6 HSE? Nothing mechanically, it’s purely features. They include Matrix LED headlights, gesture tailgate, heated front seats, electrically adjustable steering column, perforated Windsor leather upholstery, keyless entry, head-up display, configurable ambient lighting, digital radio, and various trim upgrades.
Almost everything is available as an option on the SE, however, in case there’s a feature you desperately want.
Let’s start in the cabin with that new Touch Duo Pro system. The set-up comprises twin upper and lower 10-inch touchscreens, with various functions split between them.
The upper, mid-dash display focuses on navigation, media player and phone connectivity, while the lower screen deals with climate control (moved from the upper display compared with the Velar’s version) and vehicle settings including Terrain Response. The higher display can also be tilted to help avoid glare.
If not quite on the same level of intuitiveness as BMW’s iDrive, Touch Duo Pro proves Jaguar Land Rover is definitely on an upwards curve with its infotainment. (And will be improved further if they can add smartphone-mirroring tech such as Apple CarPlay at some stage.) Response time is good, and there’s a 12.3-inch digital driver display to extend the sophisticated presentation.
The Sport also gains the steering wheel touch-control pads from the Velar, which not all our testers have found easy to use on the move. The mirror switches are the least successful ergonomically. Besides looking like a touchpad but requiring a firm press, their high positioning on the door makes them awkward to reach.
Land Rover has recognised drivers may find it more helpful to have physical buttons for some functions when on the move. The Terrain Response system – which adjusts settings such as engine response, gearbox calibration and traction control for various surfaces – can be controlled alternatively via a rotary dial on the centre console.
We’re also fans of the dual rubberised dials, where the left can be switched between temperature and fan control, and the right dial can rotate through vehicle modes (yes, a third option for operating Terrain Response).
The Sport’s stubby shift lever looks more premium than the Velar’s rotary transmission dial, complementing an interior brimming with class (if looking like a Mafia Edition or a spec for New Zealand rugby fans with its all-black trim matched to the Santorini Black exterior paint).
The leather upholstery is not the least of the soft-touch materials pervading the cabin.
The front seats feel a touch flat, though a long cushion is welcome for longer-distance driving. Extra bolstering would be welcome to increase lateral body support, too – especially in the context of a sporty SUV.
To have a Range Rover Sport at its sportiest, SE buyers need to pay extra for a Terrain Response 2 system including a Dynamic mode (for sharper throttle response, sportier auto mapping and firmer damping), as well as a hydraulic anti-body-roll system (called Dynamic Response) and a torque-vectoring system that can brake the outer rear wheel to help minimise understeer.
All three of those features are bundled into an On Road Pack costing $9080. That may be worth considering if you’re a keen driver, as certainly without them the Rangie Sport isn’t as dynamic to drive as a Porsche Cayenne.
The Brit SUV’s lateral body control could be much tighter, with the body rocking noticeably when traversing bumpier surfaces, and leaning to a fair degree through corners – if feeling far from short of reassuring tyre grip (at least from our test car’s larger, wider optional rubber).
The Range Rover Sport doesn’t exactly shrink around you, either. You’re always conscious of the vehicle’s size – and particularly its two-metre width.
Dial back the speed a bit, however, and you can enjoy what the Sport SDV6 does best: tackle long-distance country driving with its comfortable (air suspended) ride, limited tyre and wind noise, well-weighted steering, and smooth, torquey turbo-diesel.
And if you need to tow a boat or caravan, the Range Rover Sport SDV6 matches the 3500kg braked towing capacity of the best dual-cab utes. (Trailer Stability Assist is standard; a $410 semi-auto trailer parking system called Advanced Tow Assist is only available on HSE trim grades and above.)
Flick that stubby gear lever left to engage the drivetrain’s Sport mode and the eight-speed auto, while not the fastest-shifting gearbox around, ensures there’s good throttle response on twistier roads despite the 2.2-tonne kerb weight – capitalising on the terrific in-gear shove provided by the SDV6’s 700Nm.
There are paddle levers, though they seem somewhat pointless in the context of a diesel engine with only a 4250rpm redline.
Some lag is evident at lower revs, which can cause a slight hesitation when taking off at roundabouts or junctions.
Ride quality isn’t perfect around town – occasionally thumpy and prone to mild crashiness – but it’s agreeable enough in the context of our test car’s optional 21-inch wheels (in lieu of the standard 19s), and the fact this is a Range Rover wearing the Sport rather than Vogue badge.
Some buyers may interpret sporty driving as more about going off-road than along a winding ribbon of bitumen. And, in that sense, the Sport SDV6’s air suspension allows the ride height to be increased up to 278mm, while the four-wheel-drive system features a two-speed transfer case with low-range and can vary the torque split from 50/50 to 100 per cent front or rear.
There’s an off-road cruise control (All Terrain Progress Control), assist systems for going up and down steep gradients, and the Sport can wade through water up to a depth of 85cm. Tyre pressure monitoring would be useful, but is a $950 option.
A full-size spare wheel is standard, though, and boot space – accessed via an auto tailgate – is generous at 780L and more than doubles in capacity with the 60-40 seatbacks folded. Seatback-release levers are absent, but there’s a cargo blind, tie-downs, hooks and a 12-volt socket.
A $3850 third-row option turns the Sport into a seven-seater, if more of a 5+2 compared with Land Rover’s Discovery that gives rearmost passengers more space. (Just note this forces a change of full-size spare to a repair kit, and isn’t available with 19-inch or 22-inch wheels owing to, respectively, undersized brakes and too-thin tyre profile in consideration of the extra weight.)
Space is decent rather than palatial in the second row. The centre-middle occupant benefits from a virtually flat floor, though not a particularly wide middle seat. Features include an armrest with lidded tray and cupholders, ventilation, two USB ports, elasticated map pockets, and bottle-shaped door pockets.
The door pockets up front aren’t so great for large bottles, but storage is good overall – including dual gloveboxes and a deep console bin with various power ports and a top layer that can hold larger smartphones. There’s also a clever cupholder section (with sliding cover), which can be slid forward to reveal another deep compartment (and another USB port).
Your pockets will also need to be deep for some of Land Rover’s expensive options. Plenty are fair, such as paying extra for high-end audio systems (up to $14,650 for the 1700-watt, 23-speaker Meridian Signature), customised paint jobs (up to $14,890 for ‘special effect’ colours from JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations), or those third-row seats.
But the SE requires additional outlay for driver aids such as blind-spot detection, fatigue monitor, lane-keep assist, or conveniences such as adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, surround view, and digital radio.
(The Sport has still yet to be tested by NCAP, though both the Range Rover flagship and Velar models achieved five-star ratings.)
While the Range Rover’s equipment looks fine compared with the Cayenne (especially as the base Porsche charges extra for air suspension), the SDV6 SE looks a bit mean-fisted when considering the new $112,990 BMW X5 30d that includes all of the above and more.
A $2200 five-year (or up to 130,000km) servicing plan sits between what you can expect to pay for a Cayenne (more expensive) or X5 (less expensive) over the same period.
You can go even posher (Autobiography) or even sportier (SVR) in the Range Rover Sport range – for significantly more coin – though we wouldn’t be disappointed to settle for the SDV6 SE.
You still get the impressive new-look cabin to better match the Rangie Sport’s visual presence, while the SDV6’s V6 turbo-diesel is a wonderfully versatile engine.
And if the Range Rover Sport is considered more of a 4WD GT than an SUV trying to replicate sports car-like dynamics, it’s easy to give it even greater respect.