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The second generation Range Rover Sport is a very different proposition from its predecessor. Jonathan Crouch drives it.

Ten Second Review

Bigger, lighter and sharper in its reactions, the second generation Range Rover Sport has come of age, frightening German luxury SUV rivals by at last matching them on-tarmac whilst still obliterating them off road. No longer a dressed-up Discovery, it now shares plenty with the fully fledged limousine-like Range Rover but is able to bring much of that car's high technology to a wider audience.

Background

So to the Range Rover Sport. A car that in its original guise was neither a Range Rover or 'sporty'. In fact, it was based almost entirely on the brand's sensible Discovery model and, thanks to that car's practical ladder frame chassis, as about as dynamic to drive.

Not so this second generation model. Appropriately, its very existence is at last properly inspired - and in many ways completely made possible - by the fully-fledged Range Rover. Back in 2012, that car was completely redeveloped in fourth generation form with aluminium underpinnings, sharper handling and hybrid power, engineering eagerly seized upon by the Range Rover Sport development team in their quest to at last be able to offer a credibly sporting SUV rival to cars like the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5.

These two competitors of course, don't have to blend in unrivalled off road excellence with their back road blasting. They don't have to be automotive swiss army knives - all things to all people - in quite the same way. So, burdened with such expectations, how can this Range Rover - how can any Range Rover - take them on at their own game? That's what we're here to find out.

Driving Experience

Can this car really be what Designer Gerry McGovern calls the 'Porsche 911 of SUVs'. The original version had no chance of even considering such a demanding brief, mainly because it weighed nearly three tonnes. Not any more it doesn't. Thanks to an exacting diet and primarily to an aluminium monocoque chassis borrowed from the fully-fledged Range Rover then redeveloped for this model, a massive 420kgs has been saved from the kerb weight - equivalent to a car-full of adults each carrying a hefty suitcase. Even if you didn't know this - even if you weren't expecting the enormous difference this ought to make - the feel you get at the wheel in what's called the 'Sports Command Driving position' anticipates a very different, far more involving driving experience than was ever delivered by this car's predecessor.

The range starts with a 258PS TDV6 diesel but this does without the Adaptive Dynamics continuously variable dampers that so improve the ride on models further up the range. And it gets a much less sophisticated Torsen 4WD system that, unlike the usual large Range Rover AWD set-up, can't push up to 100% of torque to either axle to get you out of a sticky spot. Better then, to find another £10,000 and get yourself into the 292PS SDV6 diesel variant we tried.

This model can be further optioned up to include a desirable 'Dynamic' pack that includes a low range gearbox and an 'auto' setting on an upgraded Terrain Response system that'll always choose the perfect off road set-up. For on road, the Dynamic spec adds Torque Vectoring and 'Dynamic Response active lean control' to sharpen things through the bends, plus a 'Dynamic programme' that quicken up throttle response, steering and gearshifts if you're feeling sporty. All of this is fitted as standard to the most powerful models in the line-up, the diesel/electric Hybrid, the 339PS SDV8 diesel and the 510PS supercharged V8 petrol.

Design and Build

Imagine you were toned, fit - and nearly 20% lighter. How would you look? Sharper? Smarter? Younger? As indeed this car does in comparison to its boxy, heavy predecessor. The faster windscreen angle, streamlined profile and sloping roofline make it sleek and contemporary - as it should be, a Range Rover Sport for a new era. But recognisably a Range Rover Sport: the clamshell bonnet, 'floating' roof, powerful wheelarches and side fender vents that define this model are all present and correct.

And inside? Well, you'd be disappointed if you didn't have to climb up into a Range Rover - that's part of its appeal - though older folk can now ease the process by selecting the now lower 'Access' mode on models fitted with air suspension. Once installed in the generously side bolstered seats though, there's no mistaking that you're at the wheel of this British institutional model's younger, slightly smaller and much sportier twin. For a start, you're sat a tad lower than you would be in a Range Rover, plus the more compact thicker-rimmed wheel's smaller, the upright gearstick more purposeful and the centre console higher.

In the back there's more room thanks to the bigger wheelbase and the option of a sliding seat. Which you'll need if you choose the 7-seat option and want to make the atmosphere for third row occupants a bit less cramped. Boot capacity has fallen a bit to 784-litres but with the rear bench folded, the 1,784-litre total will be sufficient for most.

Market and Model

Range Rover Sport pricing is pitched into the £50,000 to £85,000 bracket. If you're looking at the entry-level TDV6 version, that's around £20,000 less than a fully-fledged Range Rover model with the same engine. It's not as simple as that of course, because the specs of the two vehicles are different. But even if you equalise those, there's still quite a premium to pay to go from a TDV6 Range Rover Sport to a TDV6 version of the full-fat Range Rover. The same applies in the unlikely event that you're looking at the 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8 variant. Where this rule doesn't hold true is if you're comparing the Range Rover Sport with a Range Rover at V8 diesel level: here, pricewise at least, there's not much between the two cars at all.

But this could end up sounding complicated, so let me try and simplify things. Essentially, there are three kinds of Range Rover Sport you buy into: let me loosely call these levels 'base', 'volume' and 'nice to have'. At the bottom of the line-up, you've got the 'base' 258PS TDV6 diesel, there as a £50,000 price leader but, to keep its cost competitive, lacking the most sophisticated on and off road technology that really sets this car apart in its market. At the other extreme, there's the top of the range where you'll find the 'nice to have' three most sophisticated engine options, all identically priced at just over £80,000 and all only offered in one top-spec fully-loaded form: choose from diesel/electric hybrid, SDV8 diesel and 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol.

All very interesting, but let's get to the kind of Range Rover Sport almost all UK customers will choose, what I've called the 'volume' level where you'll find the faster 292PS SDV6 diesel, the car we tried priced in the £60,000 to £75,000 bracket.

Cost of Ownership

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. Thanks to the fact that this is the first vehicle in its segment to feature an all-aluminium body structure, a huge 39% weight reduction has been possible, enough along with the adoption of engine Stop/Start, to make a huge difference in running costs.

So how much of a difference does it all make? Well, let me try and put that into perspective by using the volume 292PS SDV6 model as an example. The original version of this car weighed 2,583kgs. This one weighs 2115kgs. The original version returned 32.1mpg on the combined cycle. This one manages 37.7mpg. You get the idea. As for the CO2 emissions that'll determine your VED tax payments figure, well they've improved from 230 to 199g/km. Stretch to the Hybrid model that mates this engine to an electric motor and you can even get the return down as low as 169g/km.

Elsewhere in the line-up, expect a TDV6 variant to manage 194g/km of CO2 and 38.7mpg. At the other diesel extreme, even the top 339PS SDV8 model manages 229g/km of CO2 and, thanks to its increase in fuel tank size from 77 to 105-litres, will probably offer you a similar driving range to that of the V6 diesel variants. The top 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged petrol model also shares that bigger tank - and it'll need it because even though combined cycle fuel economy is 14% better than the original first generation supercharged version of this car, it's still only rated at 22.1mpg, a figure I think you'd only achieve with a very frugal driving style indeed.

Summary

With the fully fledged Range Rover now a plutocratic purchase, it's this Sport model that for me, now most faithfully continues a model line stretching all the way back to the 1970 original. That very first Range Rover was a car you didn't have to be afraid to use as intended, on or off road. And nor is this one.

Get the fundamental thing right with any great design - in this case the weight - and everything else then tends to fall into place. The aluminium platform that here makes this car so much lighter solves at a stroke the two issues that blighted the first generation Range Rover Sport: stodgy handling and high running costs. And yes, it does leave room for proper 4WD hardware to be fitted without compromising paved road prowess. Which is something that German rivals could learn from.

True, it's a pity that the entry-level model does without some of the key on and off road features. And it's also necessary for potential customers to pay a little more than they would for some less sophisticated rivals, especially if they want to buy in at the SDV6 level that shows this car at its best. Still, the right version of this car offers exactly the right kind of luxury SUV experience for those fortunate enough to be able to enjoy it. A Range Rover Sport that at last is a proper Range Rover. That's sporty. And that's a class leader. It's been a long time coming


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