If you thought the Range Rover Sport was just a Discovery in posh togs, you need to take a look at this latest generation model. It's something quite special as Andy Enright reports.
Think of this car not as a dressed up Discovery but a pared back Range Rover and you're on the right track. Far bigger but lighter and sharper in its reactions than its predecessor, the latest Range Rover Sport can seat seven (just) and features styling that's a cross between the imposing Range Rover and the sleek Evoque.
The formula for the first generation Range Rover Sport was simple. Take a Land Rover Discovery, drape it in Range Rover lookalike body panels, tack quite a bit onto the asking price and watch the orders roll in. And roll in they did. Introduced back in 2005 and weathering the worst years of the recession, 2012 was its second best year for sales, so the formula was clearly working.
So what has Land Rover done with its replacement? Completely changed the fundamentals, that's what.
The look is still 'Range Rover-lite' with less weight in the overhangs and the characteristic floating roof effect, but there's definitely hints of Evoque about its glasshouse and the styling is more muscular and athletic than before, with a more fashionable 'wheel at each corner' stance.
Weight has been slashed to boost efficiency but space inside has increased markedly. The underpinnings are mainly based on latest generation Range Rover technology.
In other words, Land Rover has become serious about the latest Range Rover Sport. It couldn't afford not to.
Designer Gerry McGovern calls this generation Sport the 'Porsche 911 of SUVs'. No, it's not because Land Rover has decided to plonk the engine behind the passengers but because of its superior handling prowess. Despite the old car's name, there was never really anything overtly sporting about it.
If you wanted a sharp steer from your sports utility vehicle, you were always better off choosing a Porsche Cayenne or a BMW X5. This time round, Land Rover has really pulled out all the stops. Shaving over 400kg off the weight is obviously going to be a massive advantage. More focused air suspension provides up to 115mm of regular movement, from the lowest 50mm setting to the standard off-road height. The +35mm intermediate setting means that the offroad mode can remain available at much higher speeds (80km/h up from 50km/h) than was possible before, which is valuable in terrain with long, rutted dirt roads. The electric power steering offers a lighter feel and a choice of two full-time 4WD systems is offered.
One set-up will suit the minority of owners who'll be venturing off road, providing a two-speed transfer case with low-range option, plus a front/rear 50/50 percent default torque split and 100 percent locking capability. The other system is designed for those whose 'off piste' use of this car will be slight. Here, the 4x4 layout is 18kg lighter and features a single-speed transfer case with a Torsen differential. In this case, a default front-rear torque split of 42/58 percent is designed to provide a rear-wheel drive bias for optimum road driving dynamics.
Engines? You get a choice of two — a supercharged 5.0-litre 510PS V8 petrol unit and a 3.0-litre 292PS SDV6 diesel. You can also talk to your dealer about a 3.0-litre 258PS TDV6, a high performance 4.4-litre 339PS SDV8 diesel engine and a diesel Hybrid model. All petrol and diesel engines in the Range Rover Sport are paired with a ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox.
There's nothing too surprising about the Range Rover Sport's appearance. It's good looking, neatly detailed and very eye-catching. It's some 62mm longer than its predecessor, yet at 4850mm, it's shorter than most other 7-seater SUVs.
A significantly longer wheelbase than before (up by 178mm) provides much more room inside. The wheelbase isn't that far off a fullfat Range Rover but shorter overhangs at the front and rear, a more sharply raked windscreen and a sloping roofline distinguish this model. Buyers can choose from 19, 20, 21 or 22 inch alloy wheels.
The Sport's interior features typically Land Rover strong, architectural shapes, this time mixed with even cleaner surface treatments, finished with soft-touch surfaces in key touch points around the cabin.
The sporting cues come courtesy of a smaller, thicker-rimmed steering wheel and deeply bolstered seats with a lower hip point than you might expect.
Interior packaging is optimised to create a more spacious rear cabin with 24mm more knee room, while occupants also benefit from the wider cabin. A neatly integrated third row, occasional 5+2 seating package can be specified. These powered seats leave a flat floor with no loss of boot space and are split 50/50.
Value is a tough judgment to make on this one. The Range Rover has marched inexorably upmarket and Land Rover could have been excused for making the Sport commensurately more expensive, but prices for the SDV6 models range in the £60,000 to £75,000 bracket and the TDV6 will make entry to Range Rover Sport ownership a little more accessible with its asking price of just over £50,000.
The Supercharged Autobiography, with its 5.0-litre petrol V8 tops the range priced at just over £80,000, just over £5,000 more than the outgoing car.
No premium car can do without an integrated connectivity package these days and Land Rover's 'Connected car' technology allows the driver to check the status of the vehicle via an App installed on their smartphone and also provides support features such as Stolen Vehicle Tracking, Emergency Call and Land Rover Assist Call.
A high bandwidth Wi-Fi Hotspot can be installed in the vehicle so that passengers can use the internet and get the best data connection for their smartphones or tablets.
Other technical highlights include an optional colour Head-Up Display, a digital camera system which supports Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition and Automatic High Beam Assist. A unique innovation on the Sport is the Wade Sensing feature that provides 'depth' information when driving through water.
When the very first Range Rover Sport was launched, buyers were faced with a choice; reasonable performance or reasonable economy. You couldn't have both. How times have changed. Across the range, acceleration times for the 0- 60mph dash start from 5 seconds, while fuel consumption is cut by up to 24 percent - depending on model - and CO2 emissions start as low as 194g/km. Wait for the diesel hybrid model and that figure falls to 169g/km.
Still, it's worth remembering that any large SUV is going to shed a significant amount of its new value in depreciation. That's just the way the game works, but buy into the one that's in the biggest demand and you'll offset that somewhat.
Having had a look at what's being launched in the medium term, that model may very well be this Range Rover Sport.
That the Range Rover Sport is a massively superior car to its predecessor is not up for debate. The aluminium monocoque underpinnings are a generation ahead of the old twin-rail steel chassis of the original Sport and help explain why the current car is over 400kgs lighter despite being significantly bigger inside.
It hasn't lost its off-road ability either, although the 'Dynamic' setting in the car's Terrain Response controls hints that it's now better adapted to sporty on-road driving than ever before, something confirmed by the trick TVVB(Torque Vectoring By Braking) system that's not a million miles away from that employed by McLaren in its MP4-12C.
This is a brave new world and Land Rover hasn't been slow to chase new money. If you're anything but the retiring type and want one of the most exciting SUVs we've seen for some time, the decision just got a whole lot easier.