Range Rover Sport V8 HSE
By Dan Strong
It's the Range Rover with X appeal! Aimed at BMW's X5 and hailed as the best driver's car Land Rover has ever built, the Range Rover Sport - the Range Rover's baby brother - will enter the toughest sector of the 4x4 market when it arrives this month.
Offering drivers a choice of 4.4 V8 and 4.2-litre supercharged V8 petrol engines, plus a 2.7-litre TDV6 diesel, the newcomer costs from £34,995. It slots into the five-model Land Rover line-up between the Discovery and Range Rover.
Auto Express was first behind the wheel of this right-hand-drive 4.4 V8 car to put the bold claims about its character, performance and handling to the test.
The early signs are encouraging. In terms of looks, the Sport is unmistakably a Range Rover. Classic design cues such as the clamshell-shaped bonnet and 'floating roof', created by the black pillars, blend with a rakish windscreen and steeply sloping tailgate to give a more sporting, modern appearance than the flagship Range Rover. Some have suggested the Sport looks ungainly in profile, but we think it's distinctive.
The spacious five-seat interior of our flagship HSE model is beautifully trimmed, and matches the more upmarket Range Rover's quality. It offers the same commanding view of the road ahead, yet is more cocooning. The centre console sits higher, while the seat feels as though it's mounted lower.
Yet despite the cabin's sporting edge, there's no shortage of luxury, while a TV screen relaying information about the all-wheel-drive transmission and Terrain Response traction control acts as a clear reminder that the Range Rover Sport is an off-roader at heart.
Terrain Response, which debuted in the Discovery, allows the driver to select one of five distinct settings to tune the air-suspension and transmission to different environments, such as snow and ice, sand and rocks. Other standard-fit toys include adaptive cruise control, sat-nav and an impressive Harman Kardon audio system.
But what sets the Range Rover Sport apart is its 4.4-litre engine. Blending refinement at idle with a purposeful wail under acceleration, the V8 propels the 4x4 from 0-60mph in only 8.2 seconds. The six-speed auto box provides smooth changes, and in top gear the car cruises at motorway speeds in near-silence.
Responsive and torquey, the Jaguar-sourced unit is a vast improvement over Land Rover's previous V8s, including the BMW-sourced one from the rival X5. The only fly in the ointment is fuel economy, at a paltry 18.9mpg. Head on to the open road and it's immediately obvious that the car is more stiffly sprung than the Range Rover.
It's also a little more fidgety at speed than we expected. But the good news is that the standard 19-inch alloys give masses of grip in flowing corners, and the car is extremely nimble, despite its 275cm wheelbase.
The brakes are equally impressive; the huge discs provide incredible stopping power, particularly when you consider the car's size and weight.
There's no doubt the Range Rover Sport is eagerly anticipated by fans of the marque the world over; Land Rover already has 4,000 orders to fulfil. But is it better than the likes of the BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne? We'll reserve judgement until next week's full group test. What's clear is that the new car has a unique character. Range Rover enthusiasts are unlikely to be disappointed.
Heading into the ultra-competitive luxury SUV market is a brave move for Land Rover - but with such pedigree and vast engineering expertise behind it, the new Range Rover Sport has all the ingredients for success. In isolation, it's impressive and rewarding to drive - but competition in this class is tough. So expect fireworks when the car meets BMW and Porsche rivals in our road test.
At a Glance
* Engineers at Land Rover have reduced weight in a bid to boost handling on the new car - for example, the bootlid is made of aluminium. Nevertheless, the Sport retains the practicality of flagship Range Rover, as the split tailgate remains.