Paul Horrell01 May 2013

First drive: the new Range Rover Sport

Cheshire, rejoice! Paul Horrell spends some time in a prototype Rangie Sport. Count us impressed…

Driven: Range Rover Sport

 It's a big fast hairpin, but a hairpin nonetheless. When I come out of it and floor the thing, the supercharged 5.0 V8 doesn't have much trouble batting us up to about 135mph before the next corner. They say it'll do 0-60 in less than 5.0 seconds, too. Lighter weight certainly has its advantages.

In fact, for this new Range Rover Sport, they've carved 420kg out when compared to an old one with equivalent engine. Mainly by shifting to an aluminium body, and new suspension related to what's under the new Range Rover.

Click here for more pics, facts and figures on the Range Rover Sport

Other changes from the old, steel-bodied, Range Rover Sport? Well, it looks a lot sleeker, and a lot more athletic. You sit slightly lower, so it feels more snug and sporty around you - and yet because of the longer wheelbase, it's got usefully more space in the back. They've even managed to fit in an optional third row, so it's a 5+2 seater.

All good stuff, but not what I'm concentrating on right now.

This is just a brief drive on a test track (hence the guilt-free speed), and the vehicle is a late prototype, but no-one from Land Rover is saying it doesn't represent what you'll be able to buy, and no apologies are needed.

Click here for more pics, facts and figures on the Range Rover Sport

The engine sounds fantastic. The same hard-edged V8 percussion as in the Jaguar F-Type, even if it is a bit quieter. And actually there's very little tyre noise, so you get to hear the engine satisfyingly often. The power goes through the usual eight-speed transmission, which, in sport mode, is programmed to eagerly gather up the best from the engine. No worries about performance, then.

The old Range Rover Sport was a lot tidier than you'd imagine at getting itself along a snaky road. But you could always feel the effort it was having to go through. This one is vastly lighter on its feet.

There's a whole suite of tech to help it. In the first sector of a bend, the insiderear brake dabs a little to help turn the vehicle. Adaptive anti-roll bars and adaptive dampers both chime in to quell body heave and lean. Then a set of programmed centre and rear diffs make sure you're sent around and out of the curve with immense confidence. In the 'dynamic' mode you can really feel the back edge slightly outward as you depart down the next straight.

Meanwhile, the steering is well weighted and progressive, so you get just the amount of turn you expected. None of the old-school SUV slop-n-roll here then. Equally, it feels reassuringly stable as you deploy the V8 down a long straight.

Sure, in max-attack mode, the ride gets thumpy over mid-corner potholes, but when set things back to normal mode, the suspension insulates you with a lovely feathery calm. So it really can still play the luxury half of a Range Rover remit.

Click here for more pics, facts and figures on the Range Rover Sport

The new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport were designed and engineered in parallel, but in fact only about 25 percent of the parts are identical. For instance, even the Sport's suspension arms are different, because it sits lower to the road which would have changed the wheel angles unless they changed the arms. The Sport also uses different springs, dampers and steering, and even different types of electronic diff, all in search of a distinct nature to the driver. And of course the Sport's seats and cabin and external body share almost nothing with the (even) posher relative.

For the first time in a longitudinal-engine Land Rover, you can specify it without a low-range transfer box. This cuts about 18kg, and lowers the price too.

Apart from this howlin' V8, the range also includes the V8 diesel, a V6 diesel in two states of boost, and in America and other places (but not here), a new supercharged petrol V6 that also works so well in the F-Type.

If you want more economy, a diesel hybrid is a year away, and shortly after that is an entry petrol with the turbo 240bhp four out of the Evoque. In low-weight spec (ie, no two-speed transfer case, no third-row seats) it slips in under 2000kg. Which means even with four cylinders it won't be too much of a slug.

To end, a couple more numbers. The old RRS diesel V6 did 0-60 in 8.8 seconds and 30.7mpg. The new one does 0-60 in 6.8 and yet makes 37.5mpg. And it feels like that order of progress has been made across everything the Range Rover Sport is, and does. 

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