Sam Philip11 June 2013

First drive: the new Range Rover Sport

0-60 in five seconds and a top speed of 155mph – we cover thousands of miles in Cheshire's new pin-up

First drive: the new Range Rover Sport

What is it?

This is the all-new Range Rover Sport. We watched 007 whip the covers from it, we punted around in a prototype, but this is our first shot in the car you'll soon be able to buy.

Let me guess: a few miles around a Midlands ring road?

Oh no. Strictly in the name of research, Top Gear has covered more than 2000 miles in the new RRS, spanning the breadth of Europe on a top-secret (but very British) mission. All is revealed in the next issue of Top Gear magazine, on sale Wednesday June 19.

So what's it like?

Fast. Alarmingly fast. Naturally TG tested the range-topping V8 petrol, healthily equipped with 510bhp and five litres of supercharged grunt. It's the quickest Range Rover ever made, cracking 60mph in five seconds flat and bellowing towards its 155mph maximum (on the autobahn, of course) in a maelstrom of very British noise. Such alacrity is partly thanks to all that power, but also because the RRS has shed weight like a Hollywood method actor preparing for a particularly harrowing role.

Nothing but raw veg and egg-white omelettes?

Sort of. The Sport shares the new Range Rover's all-aluminium chassis, technology that cost JLR billions and shaves some 400kg from the weight of its predecessor. OK, so the last-gen RRS was an inexcusable fatty, but 400kg is class-leading stuff: the lightest of the new Sports will sneak in under two tonnes.

More pics and stats on the new Range Rover Sport

Which means?

Which means the new Range Rover Sport is a lot more wieldy than its predecessor. On a twisty road in the old car, you always felt you were fighting the car's sheer mass, but not now. In dynamic mode, which hunkers the RRS down on its springs and instantly makes potholes at least six inches deeper, there's not a whisper of roll nor suggestion of understeer. It doesn't so much disguise its sheer size as smother it under a smorgasbord of tractiontastic technology. There's lots of clever stuff here: subtle braking of the inside wheel, centre and rear differentials, and an adaptive dynamic system that monitors and responds to its sensor readings 500 times per second.

Sounds... intrusive?

Actually, no. The cleverest bit of all is that you don't feel the RRS's cleverness doing its stuff, only masses of traction and a frenzied desire to deposit all 510bhp onto the road. In cars packing this sort of grunt, most of us tend to run out of cajones or talent before you run out of power, but the RRS just lets you push ever harder, right until you have all four wheels squealing angrily and realise you've run out of physics.

And when you're not engaging Maximum Stig mode?

That's the Sport's neatest trick: its duality of character. Disengage Dynamic mode, point its big nose at a motorway and the RRS settles into the easiest of long-distance lopes. Short of a Bentley Flying Spur or a small private aircraft, I can't think of much that covers big distances with so little fuss - even on the vast 22-inch wheels of our test car. Even at autobahn speeds, there's nary a whisper of road or wind noise, the Sport making the easy, tiptoeing progress we've come to expect from JLR's best.

Any downsides?

Though the cabin is smartly appointed, the Sport's infotainment system isn't quite up to the stellar standards of Audi's and BMW's best. But probably the biggest challenge, for British buyers at least, will be the RRS's sheer size. Light it may be, but it's not small. Though 18cm shorter than an Audi Q7, the Rangey is five cm taller and almost 10cm wider. Which makes it something of a squeeze down Britain's finest, narrowest back roads. But hey, what did you expect from an SUV that'll fit seven at a tilt?

More pics and stats on the new Range Rover Sport

So should I buy one?

Does the world need a seven-seat SUV capable of 0-60mph in five seconds, one with over half a metre of axle articulation, one capable of wading through nearly a metre of water? Perhaps not, but if you want a big SUV to have fun in, the Sport is just about as good as it gets. Only the Porsche Cayenne can really match the Rangey for an entertaining drive, but the Cayenne will only seat five and - most crucially - can't compete with the RRS for light-footed, long-distance cruising. And with prices starting at £50k for the V6 diesel (and from £80k for this V8 petrol), the Sport looks like good value to us, too. Value enough, certainly, to have you considering whether you really need that new full-fat Range Rover...

For TG's massive Range Rover Sport review and road trip, pick up the new issue of Top Gear magazine, on sale Wednesday June 19

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