Review: 2018 Range Rover Sport
A fine long-distance GT that's great in the rough and stunning inside
What is it?
‘The most dynamic Range Rover’, according to Land Rover. We’ll be the judge of that But it’s all relative. This isn’t a truly road-focused SUV like a Porsche Cayenne. It’s a smaller Range Rover, with the option of seven seats, like the Discovery, with a slightly wieldier, more dynamic bent while retaining much of the stately upright-ness and off-road prowess of the full-fat Range Rover. It’s had its territory eaten into significantly by the lower, more stylish Range Rover Velar, but recent improvements to the Sport have kept it competitive in a highly fought class.
The Sport uses the same aluminium construction as the full-fat Range Rover, meaning it’s far lighter than its predecessor: 400kg model-for-model, in fact. Though it’ll live on the road, the Sport can do the business off tarmac as well: it’ll wade through 85cm of water, and boasts far greater axle articulation and wheel travel than the Audi Q7.
You’ll spot the tweaked, facelifted 2018-onwards Range Rover Sport coming towards you with its squared-off LED lights and intakes, and inside it’s the buttonless, touchscreen-covered cockpit that gives away the latest version.
Meanwhile, the performance variant from Special Vehicle Operations – the bonkers SVR – has been treated to another 25bhp and a carbon fibre bonnet, plus optional orange paint, in so doing actually breaking the industry measurement device for vulgarity on four (enormous) wheels. If you’ve ever wondered what the lovechild of a Jaguar F-Type and a monster truck would look and drive like, wonder no more.
In the heartland of the range, there’s a choice of four, six and eight-cylinder engines, and while all versions get four-wheel drive, the off-road nowse of Terrain Response 2 and air suspension isn’t standard across the models. You’ll also need to shell out for air suspension – basically, you spec the car depending on how much time, if any, it’ll spend off road, and how you’ll drive it on the road. Seven seats aren’t standard either, to gap the RRs from the ever-more luxurious Discovery.
The range starts with the HSE, and rises in prices and spec through HSE Dynamic (horrid body kit, avoid) and Autobiography Dynamic to the SVR, complete with its certifiable 5.0-litre supercharged V8.
What is it like on the road?
Because the Range Rover Sport opts for a statesmanlike, tall and upright seating position instead of aping a sports saloon, clambering aboard and surveying the road from its supremely comfortable captain’s chair doesn’t really encourage a sporty driving style. Lighter it may be that the old RRS, but the latest Sport is still a two-tonne car, fitted with all-terrain tyres and far more capable off-road than a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. As a result, it’s happiest sweeping along flowing A-road or bludgeoning a motorway than it is pretending to be a hot hatchback on a twisty road. It’s less unwieldy than a full-fat Range Rover, but the lower Velar is just as adept at covering ground as the loftier Sport – which may allow future versions to get bigger and more luxurious, as the Range Rover itself graduates to fight the Bentley Bentayga.
The steering isn’t overly quick, and Land Rover doesn’t mire it in weight like BMW and Porsche chooses to, which suits the car’s luxury saloon-on-stilts feel, and makes this big bus more relaxing at the helm than it might otherwise have been if Land Rover had overdone the sportiness. The eight-speed gearbox, as usual for Land Rover, isn’t the most quick-witted, but again, it’s happiest when being plied gently, cruising with aplomb and going about its business smoothly. You can take control with the paddles (which are cheap plastic as standard) and we much prefer the pistol-grip gear selector than the rising rotary gear selector as seen in many Jaguars and the ‘main’ Range Rover.
Land Rover’s done a great job of making this flying brick cut a quiet hole in the air. The giant door mirrors don’t generate deafening wind noise, and the overall rolling refinement, despite being so upright in stature and wide of tyre, is impressive. And it can be comfortable too, but you’ve got to be clever with the spec. Standard wheels on HSE models are 19s, but they look so pathetic you’ll probably upsize to 20s, which still have plenty of sidewall. You can get away with running these and no air suspension. This heaps in tech like the automatic Terrain Response 2 gadget which senses what surface you’re driving over and sets the car up accordingly, by adjusting ride height, gear and traction control settings.
However, you’ll have a much more agreeable time on the larger 22-inch rims if you spec air suspension, and even then, the wheel control of a Range Sport versus, say, a Porsche Cayenne simply isn’t as refined or subtly damped. You’re more aware there are very heavy lumps of metal and rubber thwacking into potholes and over drain covers. Given how many Range Sports you’ll spot in the wild wearing the largest, blingiest wheels possible, it’s likely buyers simply don’t care about the thunk-fest ride on dodgy roads.
You can now have a 2.0-litre Ingenium four-cylinder petrol with 296bhp, but without the torque of the V6 and V8 diesel, the car feels underpowered and unworthy of the Sport moniker or its thrusting, outtamyway connotations. The sweet spot of the range, much as we appreciate the lunacy of the 567bhp SVR, is the SDV6. It develops 304bhp (only 30 fewer than the V8 diesel) and generates a colossal 700Nm of torque, which is enough to hurl the RRS from 0-100kph in a very respectable 6.8 seconds.
On the inside
You’ve not seen this much screen real estate since you were last in Curry’s. The Range Rover Sport has inherited the same interfaces bequeathed to the Range Rover by the upstart new Velar, which you can read all about here. So, it’s a 12.3-inch digital screen for instruments – vastly improved in clarity and configurability – and the 12.3-inch touchscreen known as InControl Touch Pro, which is still off the pace of BMW iDrive and Audi MM, chiefly because it still doesn’t feature Apple or Android device mirroring, and often succumbs to freezing when asked to multitask. It’s miles better than the rubbish from the old RRS, so Jaguar Land Rover is at least on the right track, but the arms race of coding interfaces demands even greater budgets and more advanced leaps.
Below the infotainment lies the most impressive screen in the RRS – a giganto-pane which incorporates drive settings, climate control, phone and media menus and general settings. Land Rover still appreciates that physical controls are easier to use on the move than featureless glass, so the lower section features two rotating knobs which adjust cabin heating and heated seats, and can alter off-road modes too, should you have ticked the relevant boxes. It’s a well-rendered, well-executed section of interior design, though we remain convinced that good as a touchscreen can be, it’ll never be as user-friendly hands-free as tactile buttons and switches. That’s minimalist design for you…
The back seats offer plenty of headroom but it’s not huge in terms of legroom – adequate rather than enormous. You’ll easily seat three across the rear bench, but we’ve found the ISOFIX mountings very tricky to access, what with Land Rover’s penchant for very tightly-packed leather. The rearmost two seats are a child-only zone, but their very presence is welcome versus this car’s five-seat only predecessor.
There’s no split tailgate in a Range Rover Sport, but the flat, wide boot opening offers 522 litres as a five-seater and expands to 1,686 litres in two-seat truck mode. The rear backrests don’t fold flat, and as per usual for the class, the removable, retractable parcel shelf is hefty and cumbersome.
The Range Rover Sport has one of the broadest repertoires of any large SUV. It’s just about wieldy enough to be entertaining, convincingly luxurious, and its tech updates for 2018 add a welcome dose of modernity to a car that has lagged behind its German rivals onslaught of gadgets in the past. You don’t need a V8 to sample it at its absolute best – though money no object, the TDV8 or SVR are fabulous answers to the ‘all the car you’ll ever need’ debate.
The sweet spot remains the SDV6, which will do us just fine, and once you’ve got yours, in a sensible, un-gawdy spec on handsome wheels and sans bodykit, don’t drive like a Premier League left back and you’ll do wonders for the reputation of Range Rover Sport drivers as you waft along.