The pretence is over – now it really is an RR underneath
A while back I drove a new Range Rover Sport on a test track for about five minutes and, unlike certain colleagues of mine, felt sufficiently inhibited by those factors to be unable to write a detailed review. Now I have put several hundred miles under the wheels of one, I feel qualified to comment.
The previous, original Range Rover Sport was a curious car, simultaneously quite the least able and most successful product of Land Rover’s recent past. No matter that it looked ungainly, weighed more than Harrods, had dreadful space efficiency and possessed not one sporting bone in its body, Land Rover couldn’t make enough of them. And because beneath its cod-Range Rover clothes lay nothing more noble than a simple Discovery, Land Rover made a fortune out of every one it sold.
Profit margins on the new one will be distinctly smaller, as this Range Rover Sport is now based on the architecture of the Range Rover – which is brand new and made from expensive aluminium. Land Rover’s gamble is that profits will be not only maintained but boosted by still-higher sales of the new car.
On simple merit, that would seem assured because the new car is as good as the old one was not. The brief said ‘More Range Rover, more Sport’ and the engineers have delivered both in spades.
However, merit alone does not sell cars – if it did, there’d be acres of unsold old stock rotting in fields across the Midlands. Even so it’s hard to see anyone who liked the idea of the old Range Rover Sport not loving the idea of this one: it’s just as bold and imposing but far more attractive outside and a different world inside.
More important to me is the fact that model for model it’s almost half a tonne lighter than the outgoing car, so that even the 3-litre V6 diesel version that everyone will buy has far more get up and go than the old V8. Indeed, and at last, there is no sense of missing out by saving in the showroom and at the fuel pumps but getting one of the cheaper models.
It’s almost fun to drive too, something I can rarely bring myself to say about huge SUVs. From the way it turns into a corner and the linearity of its steering, you can tell Jaguar engineers had a huge influence on its development, and with entirely positive results. It’s the best-handling car of its kind with the possible exception only of the Porsche Cayenne.
However, it is the car’s more prosaic qualities that are likely to endear the Sport to owners and their families over time. Its interior is beautiful and, unworthy sat-nav aside, is thoughtfully laid out and tastefully executed. There’s room for five adults and, if you tick the right box on the options sheet, two more children in the boot to make this the first seven-seat Range Rover in the brand’s 43-year history. I’d have preferred it to retain the proper Range Rover’s split tailgate, but that I understand is a key model differentiator.
Even as it is, if Land Rover is going to have any issues with this car, it is likely to come in the form of cannibalising sales of the Range Rover. But with two cars as good as they are, that comes squarely under the category of nice problems to have.
Engine: 3 litres, 6 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 292bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 442lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 130mph