It’s here: the new Range Rover Sport
Jason Barlow reports on a celeb-heavy debut in Manhattan
The Range Rover Sport didn't really need the combined firepower of Daniel Craig or the Manhattan skyline to make its point, but such is the confidence of Land Rover these days that anything is possible.
In fact, the film accompanying the launch, which climaxed with 007 actually driving the Sport into the venue at a celeb heavy party in New York last night, was shot in the city a few weeks ago amidst major security. That didn't stop the team from driving an undisguised Sport across Manhattan Bridge in broad day-light, a ballsy arrangement for which they needed the Mayor's permission, while the tunnel under Park Avenue was closed for filming purposes for the first time ever.
Normally TopGear.com would be immune to this sort of hoopla, but not only were we the only media on set throughout, we also suspect that the new RR Sport is worth the effort. The top-line info is that this is the most road-oriented vehicle Land Rover has ever made, although all concerned are keen to stress that this is still one hell of an off-roader. Note, however, that two different 4WD systems will be available: one with a two-speed, low-range transfer case, a 50/50 torque split, and 100 per cent locking capability for heavy-duty mud-plugging. The other is 18kg lighter, has a single transfer box, and splits torque in tandem with the traction and stability control systems. This version has a 42/58 torque split front to rear, for optimum on-road behaviour. Brand DNA pollution or just shrewd product planning? The first-year sales figures will make for interesting reading.
The Sport's design is a proudly tailored, almost metrosexual affair. Land Rover's urbane design director Gerry McGovern knows a good pair of shoes when he sees them, and the Sport is a car that has as much in common with contemporary architectural trends as it does automotive design. This is basically a very good thing indeed. See the new Sport alongside the latest Range Rover and the colossally successful Evoque (more than 110,000 sold so far), and there's a clear and very strong visual narrative. It has what McGovern calls a ‘faster' windscreen angle, a more rounded shape with plumper volumes - especially in profile - and a lower roofline. At a stroke, it makes the outgoing Sport look very old hat. A bit like an old hat, in fact.
‘The previous model was a huge success for us,' McGovern says, ‘but it was rather rectilinear and dates from a time when the company was still really establishing itself. The new model has killer proportions, and moves on from the Evoque, which put design at the core of our business. Design is the main differentiator these days.' The colour and trim guys have had a field day, too, and the Sport's online configurator is likely to be a great way of doing some additional differentiation: there are 19 exterior colour options, 11 interior ones, three contrasting roof colours are available, and seven alloy wheel designs, in 19, 20, 21 and even 22in diameter. Range Rover, it seems, is really taking it to the custom guys who have made a killing on its cars this past few years.
That said, the Sport's technical overhaul is arguably even greater, as it was with its Range Rover big brother. Although there is some commonality, the Sport is apparently 75 per cent unique, most of which is there to make it handle properly. As the RR Sport's vehicle line director Nick Rogers told TopGear.com: ‘The car has unique suspension tuning, the actuators on the active roll bars are different, the control systems are unique, and the electric power steering has been programmed differently. You will not believe how good this thing feels.' The Sport's all independent fifth generation air suspension is mostly made of aluminium, has wide-spaced double wishbones at the front, and a multi-link rear. Its wheel travel is best in class (260mm at the front, 272mm at the rear, which is considerable), and the car now has an overall range of movement of 185mm. Wading depth, meanwhile, is up to 850mm. In other words, it can really do stuff.
There's also the small matter of its ‘aerospace-inspired' aluminium monocoque, the same architecture that has transformed the full-size Range Rover. ‘Engine to engine,' Rogers says, ‘the Sport is between 420 and 513kg lighter than the previous car. It's like six people have gone missing...' The clever design totally disguises the fact that it's 62mm longer than the outgoing car; overall, it's 149mm shorter and 55mm lower than the Range Rover, and 45kg lighter, model for model. It's big, but not imposing or obnoxious.
Various bits of chassis and suspension cleverness govern the Sport's handling repertoire: choose Dynamic Mode and we might be talking about a Range Rover that even works on a circuit. There's also a torque vectoring system, which trims the Sport's attitude via braking and yaw sensors, adaptive damping, and the usual array of electronic stability programmes. (On top of all that, welcome Flank Guard, which warns you of impending idiocy in a multi-storey, Queue Assist, which extends the adaptive cruise to cope with the M25, and Closing Vehicle Sensing, which warns you if someone is about to drive up your back side... this is either the safest car in the world or the most paranoid.)
Two engines will be available initially: the 500bhp 5.0-litre supercharged V8, and a 287bhp 3.0-litre six cylinder turbodiesel. The diesel options will grow next year to encompass a 254bhp V6, a 4.4-litre 335bhp V8 (with a useful 700Nm of torques), and a diesel hybrid (just 169g/km of CO2s for that one). The transmission is ZF's fantastic eight-speed system, though a new nine-speed one is waiting in the wings. Brembo supplies the brakes, with 380mm/360mm diameter discs front-to-rear on the punchiest Sport models.
The Sport's cabin is a huge improvement, in terms of visual interest and quality. Actually, there's less to look at than before, which is good, the infotainment system is a giant leap forward (it needed to be), the Meridian audio system runs up to 1700W and 23 speakers, and the climate control is available as 2-, 3- or 4-zone system. Interior packaging is vastly improved, and a third row of seats can be added.
To say that the new Sport sounds promising is a bit like saying that George Best was quite good at kicking a ball about. Range Rovers have always been cool and imperious, but this is one we really can't wait to drive. And drive hard.