Rory Reid road tests and reviews the new, 2013 Range Rover Sport to find out whether it's truly the ultimate incarnation of the ultimate car.
The all-new Range Rover is probably the best car on the planet. That's a bold claim, but there's almost no other vehicle on the market that delivers as wide a breadth of capability. It's just as happy trudging through sticky mud as it is wading through rivers and then, when it returns you safely to tarmac, will rival any limousine for smoothness and general opulence. So to say we've been expecting big things from the new 2013 Range Rover Sport -- a model that fits just below the full Range Rover and just above the Evoque -- is a bit of an understatement.
Land Rover's engineers claim this is 'the ultimate luxury SUV'. They say it's the fastest, most agile and most responsive Land Rover ever so we hopped aboad the flagship 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged Dynamic edition to see if it lives up to the hype.
The Range Rover Sport may bear a striking resemblance to its big brother, but to think this is merely a Range Rover with a bodykit would be doing the company's designers a disservice. While it uses the same chassis as the Range Rover, the Sport is 75 per cent unique, only switchgear, engines and transmissions are borrowed from the other car. There are plenty of familiar design elements, of course -- the clamshell bonnet, the 'floating' roof and the new front and rear lights are present and correct -- but there are plenty of new interpretations of the brand's established design language.
The front grille has fewer horizontal panels, different fog lights and a more sporty front diffuser The side has gloss black pillars and side skirts and smaller, less 'gill-like' vents. The rear, meanwhile, has another enormous diffuser and a large wing. The changes aren't merely cosmetic.
The new Range Rover Sport is 8 per cent more aerodynamic than the previous model. It now cuts through the air with the same efficiency as a Nissan Micra.
The new Range Rover Sport is almost 6 inches (149mm) shorter than the new Range Rover. As a result, it has slightly less leg room in the rear and a bit less storage space in the boot. But it's still eminently spacious, more so than the outgoing Range Rover Sport. There's plenty of headroom and legroom only becomes an issue if the front passengers are being deliberately greedy with the amount of room they're taking up when sat in front of very tall passengers.
The 'full fat' Range Rover offers 909 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place while the Sport, which sadly lacks a split tail gate, has to make do with 784 litres. But its boot opens and closes automatically and has a flat load area so you're unlikely to ever have much of a problem loading luggage or flat pack furniture. Also, to its credit, the Sport comes with a seven-seat option, which you don't get in the full Range Rover. These pews, which fold up automatically, are a useful addition when you need to transport extra passengers in emergencies, but we wouldn't want to ride in them on long journeys.
Getting in and out of the car might be a bit of a challenge for those who lack mobility. The car rides lower than the outgoing model, but you still need to drag yourself into the front seats by grabbing hold of the steering wheel, or hurl yourself into its rear quarters. Those with sensitive bottoms may notice the seats are noticeably firmer than those in the Range Rover – Land Rover has changed the density of the foam material that pads the seats to create a sportier feel. They're firm, but not overly so, and we never once felt any bottom fatigue during the course of our test drive.
There are plenty of storage compartments inside the car. The refrigerated central cubby is large enough to stash four small bottles of water or a bottle of champagne and the glove box is capacious, but the door bins are small and hard to access. We found we had to open the doors in order to get to what was inside them, as there isn't enough room for a normal-sized man's hand to fit in the gap between the seats and the doors.
Performance & Handling
The Range Rover Sport is almost impossible to fault where performance is concerned. It will be available with a choice of five engines (not all available at launch). The cream of the crop is Land Rover's bonkers 5.0-litre V8. This engine, also used in the Jaguar XKR-S and Jaguar F-type, produces 510hp and 625Nm of torque, which is good for a 0-60mph time of 5 seconds dead and a top speed of 155mph.
Drop your right foot in anger and the thing takes off from a standstill like a kicked hamster. On the move, you'll have to exercise enormous restraint to keep it at road legal speeds, as even the briefest squirts of the accelerator pedal can result in triple figures on the electronic speedo. None of this is helped, of course, by the incredibly addictive exhaust note, which is almost musical in its tone. It sings, bellows, shouts and, at full tilt, screams like deranged banshee. It's beautiful.
It steers remarkably well, almost impossibly so for something of this size. The car's all-new suspension is tuned to help facilitate fast changes of direction. It also features a dynamic active rear locking differential and torque vectoring by braking. When cornering, the system can brake the inside wheels to slow their rotation, while allowing the outer wheels to roll at a higher speed which helps reduce understeer and improve turn-in (imagine a tank cornering in place by rotating only one set of its tracks).
The most remarkable thing of all, perhaps, is how little roll the car experiences. Adaptive Dynamics on the higher-spec cars incorporates continuously variable dampers with infinitely variable damper settings to provide a soft-ish ride (it's a bit jiggly on rough roads) and very little roll when cornering.
The Range Rover Sport is just as happy driving through mud as it is driving along motorways. Land Rover claims better ground clearance, better wading depth and better approach and departure angles than the previous car. We threw it at some of the harshest terrain in the UK and even drove it into and through a decommissioned Boeing 747, and it barely batted an eyelid.
Not all Range Rover Sports are created equal, however. Every single model comes with four-wheel-drive, but if you're a seriosu off-roader, you'll need to spend a bit more to get the version that uses a two-speed transfer case with low range ability and Terrain Response 2. This analyses what sort of terrain you're you're driving on and intelligently figures out what off-road settings to apply to get you over it.
Economy & Environment
Land Rover has worked hard to make the new Range Rover Sport as efficient as possible. The car is now well over 400kg lighter than the previous model, but while that certainly helps fuel economy, there's no getting away from the fact the flagship 5.0-litre supercharged V8 is thirsty – very thirsty. This version returns approximately 22mpg, but on our test routes, which incorporated a mixture of city and motorway driving, plus a few b-road blasts, we saw that figure fall to 15mpg – and we were barely even trying. A committed driver – one who isn't scared of a hefty fuel bill – should easily be capable of dropping that figure to single figures. CO2 in this car with this engine is rated at 298g/km.
If you're truly concerned about running costs or the environment, you're far better off opting for the entry-level Range Rover Sport SDV6, which returns 37.7mpg while emitting 199g/km of CO2 – a 15 per cent improvement on the previous car. An even more frugal TDV6, due in 2014, promises 38.7mpg and 194g/km.
Equipment & Value
The Range Rover Sport comes with five engine choices and four trim levels – SE, HSE, HSE Dynamic and Autobiography Dynamic. The cheapest of these, the £51,550 SE, is only available with the entry-level TDV6 engine. Obviously, this is a relatively basic car, on which many features are either optional or not available at all, but it does come with 19-inch alloys and metallic paint.
Shell out for a £59,995 HSE model and you'll get a beefier SDV6 engine, paddle shifters on the steering wheel, premium metallic paint, front fog lamps, 20-inch alloys, 14-way heated, electrically-adjustable front seats, power adjustable steering column, front and rear carpet mats, aluminium tread plates with 'Range Rover lettering, front parking sensors, rear view camera and keyless entry.
£64,995 HSE Dynamic cars add 21-inch wheels and illuminated treadplates. Autobiography Dynamic cars, which cost £74,995, include 21-inch alloys, 20-inch red brake callipers, a sliding panoramic roof, painted side sills and bumpers, automatic headlamps with high beam assist, a 19-speaker Meridian audio system, heated and cooled front seats with heated rear seats, leather heated steering wheel with multifunction controls and better carpet mats.
The 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged car is only available in Autobiography Dynamic guise, and will set you back £81,550.
The new car features new gadgets including Wi-Fi hotspot and a smartphone app that helps you find your vehicle in the car park.Gadget freaks will be pleased to learn the RRS comes with a new Wi-Fi hotspot feature that lets all passengers in the car access the Internet on their smartphones using a single data contract, and the InTouch smartphone app that lets you locate your vehicle if you've forgotten where you've left it in a car park.
The Range Rover Sport has yet to be crash tested by the masochists at Euro NCAP, but as it uses the same chassis as the full Range Rover, we expect it'll be pretty safe. That car scored a full five stars in tests, along with an impressive 91 per cent adult occupancy rating.
We can't recommend the Range Rover Sport highly enough -- it lives up to Land Rover's hype and then some. It's certainly less practical than the full Range Rover, with a firmer ride and less cabin and storage space, but these are minor gripes, particularly when one takes into account its immense capabilities both on and off road.
It's lightning fast, particularly in 5.0-litre V8 supercharged guise, remains remarkably flat through corners, can negotiate bends like a car half its size and can, with no modifications whatsoever, conquer inaccessible, inhospitable terrain without the merest hint of a struggle. It's a remarkable car, make no mistake, and should make buyers think twice about whether the full Range Rover is worth the extra cash.
Buy it. Now.
Model tested: Range Rover Sport 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged Autobiography Dynamic
Engine: 5.0-litre Supercharged V8
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 5 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Emissions: 298g/km CO2