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Land Rover Range Rover Sport

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Land Rover Range Rover Sport
7/10

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Road Test

Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE

Driven September 2009

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The original Range Rover Sport was, in my opinion, rubbish. It aped the styling of the Range Rover, but never managed the larger car's quiet grace. It had ‘Sport' emblazoned across the back, but should have been hung, drawn and spatchcocked for false advertising. It was as sporty as a fish and chip supper. Heavy. Unwieldy. Annoyingly small for the still considerable road footprint. The number one aspirational car for crack dealers, thick-browed footballers and sink-estate yoof. A cliché, but unnervingly true. It's like, a Range Sport, innit.

Being brutally honest, Land Rover would have to struggle to make the RRS any worse. But I still wasn't expecting much from this mid-life facelift. A bit less CO2, a few more mpg, less wallow to go with your understeer followed by a new, slightly more subtle suite of digital interventions to stop you punching a cleansing hole through the front windows of the Met bar. Hmm.

When it turned up, the sneer was softened by the new look. It's basically now a mini Range Rover. If one flashes past on the opposite carriageway of the motorway, you're going to have to be autistic to spot the differences. Two horizontal perforated barsin the grille and two fingers of indication in the lights instead of three each for the RR proper. New twinkly lights front and back, new smoothed-out front and rear bumpers - the general massage of the mid-life crisis but an unusually effective sweep nonetheless.

Easy to dismiss, but actually, I really like the Range Rover, so the fact that the Sport now looks like it is no bad thing. The fog lights have moved down and out. The front now has a big swathe of horizontal bumper free of clutter, and the foglights being lower and set further apart make the RRS look both wider and more planted. There's also a bigger, more horizontal air intake under the front bumper that bulks out the car's stance. It does exactly what Land Rover Design boss (and LR board member) Gerry McGovern says it does. It also manages to look, remarkably, less like a scale-wonky photocopy than it did before. It hangs together very well indeed. Very coherent.

It looks much better then, but that's only half the story. I can only assume that people who bought previous-generation RRSs didn't really like driving. Nevertheless they did buy the Range Rover Sport. In droves. Both Land Rover's biggest-selling model in certain periods and also its most profitable - those who buy the RRS are obsessed with high-dollar baublage. Put it this way: there were very few bone-stock diesel RRSs with cloth on 17-inch wheels rolling out of the factory.

The interior is also new, and as excitingly better as the outside. More Range Rover, less Austin Rover. It's still got the cockpit heftily bisected by the centre console, but most materials look and feel better than before. Plus, the new look to the centre console and general tidy-up of the all the major controls means that there's less of a sketchy attitude to switch placement. It makes sense, and looks more sensible too.

And everything simply works that little bit better, from the TFT (thin film transistor) screen in the instrument binnacle, to the satnav with a quicker hard drive. Problems? It hasn't got the depth of the first-class experience of the Range Rover. Your head hits the roof if you sit in the back and are 5ft 10 or more. The clock front and centre in the dash looks like a cheap copy of a Panerai watch, and the glovebox opens with a twang of crackling plastic. It does not feel as soft, as deeply engineered, as thorough as the bigger brother.

But it drives roughly 50 per cent better than before. The new LR TDV6 3.0-litre diesel with twin sequential turbochargers (basically the same motor as in the Jag XF D S), is brilliant. Quite a thrummy growl and nearly 30 per cent more power than the old 2.7. Add that to 36 per cent more torque than before, and you realise that hitting 62mph in under nine seconds actually feels quite brisk. Infinitely more useful in-gear acceleration is where you feel it most: you can overtake with confidence rather than crossed fingers.

Corners are, dare I say it, also things to be enjoyed rather than feared now, too. Thanks to new Adaptive Dynamics operatingon the damping, the new Range Rover Sport handles far, far better than before. It's still a fat old thing at easily over 2.5 tonnes, but it no longer feels quite so flabby and uninterested. The steering is more nuanced, even though it loses interest at higher speeds and can still feel numb. Also, the revised suspension feels much more capable of handling the usual daily mix. Less roll, more precision...more like you imagine it should have been in the first place, basically. And off-road it'll still do things that you really can't believe - pointless for 99 per cent of RRS owners, but deeply impressive.

This isn't so much a re-fresh then, as a proper overhaul. The new Range Rover Sport looks better, drives better, has a better interior and much improved engines. It might not get my vote over a new Discovery 4 or a slightly shop-soiled Range Rover, but you have to admit Land Rover has finally made a decent fist of making the RRS live up to its name. It might not be the TDV8 Range Rover you really should want, but at over £14k cheaper, it's no longer the joke it once was.

Tom Ford

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