Positioned between the urban cowboy’s Evoque and the big full-fat Range Rover, the Range Rover Sport manages to do what no other SUV can; it’s equally brilliant on and off the road, writes Adam Hay-Nicholls.
Standard operating procedure when road testing a Range Rover is to dig one’s Hunter wellies out of the cupboard, dust off the wax jacket and head to somewhere boggy. Which I have done but, on this occasion, my first meeting with the Range Rover Sport is in a metropolis – the metropolis – for the 4×4 awaits me in New York City.
It’s to this urban jungle and others like it that so many of Britain’s finest all-wheel-drive exports are deployed, and where the wildlife includes restaurant valets and yummy mummies. The lifestyle ideal, of course, is to have an SUV that can fight its way down Fifth Avenue and then head for the lakes, mountains and beach houses that provide weekend temptation.
But any SUV can do that. The Range Rover Sport, particularly in this 5.0 V8 guise, is overqualified in every department. It’s the automotive equivalent of a wristwatch that’s water resistant to 200 metres and can time to within 1000th of a second – you’ll probably never have to test those features to the full, but it’s nice to know you have the tools for any task.
It is just as imperious on the road as it is off. Despite its sumo weight and supermodel height it corners like a sports car. Then it’s able to turn off the highway and, on the same tyres upon which it was glued to the tarmac, cross a river and then climb its way up a mountain. And all the while it can accommodate up to seven passengers in Aman-grade comfort. The Range Rover marque has always been a kind of leather-clad royal-hallmarked Swiss Army knife but never has there been one with such breadth of ability and without a hint of compromise.
Accessing Manhattan via the Queensboro bridge, the elevated seating position of the Range Rover gives me a commanding scope of the traffic and a spectacular view down the East River to the UN, the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center at the tip of the island. This is the inner-city appeal of having an SUV, and I lose count of how many other Range Rovers I’m sharing the road.
Most SUVs are a bit flash. They’d look out of place stuck in mud and surrounded by sheep. Can you imagine an Audi Q7 with a deer strapped to the roof rack? I can’t. However the Range Rover, which shares its umbilical cord with the utilitarian Land Rover, has farm cred and is about the only thing that’ll be accepted without hesitation at both the local hunt and Cipriani. This makes it the ultimate Chelsea tractor.
The first generation Sport was, therefore, a bit of a spoiler because before the landowners could put their deposits down the footballers had swooped in. The Sport developed a reputation for being all mouth and no trousers. A Range Rover that lacked substance. And the plethora of Sports with modified bumpers, comical alloys and impenetrably tinted windows led one to the conclusion that it was the ultimate drug dealer’s car.
This new Sport is a heavily revised beast. It still appeals to the footballers but it’s more streamlined and feminine, and therefore perhaps no longer stuffed with Uzis and white powder.
The same design language flows through all three of the current models, with both the Sport and the daddy Range Rover taking cues from the distinctive baby Evoque and scaling them up. The front end is imposing but more elegant than the first-gen Sport. The slab sides are similar to the full-size model. The rear’s low roofline, high set taillights and pinched end are its design flourish.
Inside, I am taken aback by the leather, for my press car boasts a shade that is best described as Manchester United. Those ghastly red chairs the management sit in at Old Trafford? That’s what I’m sitting in right now. This unfortunate event can be avoided, however, if you’re the one doing the spec-ing. Sex toy shades aside, the interior is very well designed and airy. The dashboard is luxuriously rugged, individual and thoroughly contemporary. The panoramic roof makes you feel at one with your environment. There’s oodles of space including the option for a third row of seats making this a very real alternative to an MPV.
Driving along with a hand on the chunky steering wheel, one elbow on the window sill and the other cosseted on a pillowy arm rest you really do feel like the king of the road.
New York in the summer is a stifling place. Let’s get out of town. My destination is Vermont where, one hopes, the Sport will cash in on its lifestyle credentials and I’ll look the bee’s knees when I pull a kayak and a golden retriever from the trunk. It’s all about the props, you know.
On the open road the first thing to tell you is that this car can really go. It can body-slam 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds and it sounds like Brian Blessed gargling as it does so. The more frugal may wish to enquire about one of the smaller engined models, for there’s a 3.0 litre V6 available. My supercharged 5.0 V8, they say, will average 21.7mpg, and this is America so buns to it. Should you really want to go mad – if 503bhp isn’t already pretty gosh darned ludicrous – there is the SVR. Born from Solihull’s Special Vehicles Operations department, a kind of skunk works led by a former F1 engineer, this HK$2.7 million monster pumps out 542bhp and boy will they hear you coming.
Then there’s the cornering, and it’s a revelation. A big tall car like this is going to lurch like an old drunk, right? Nope, dead flat. It’s every bit as chuckable as a 3-Series. It seems to defy physics, but the tech sheet offers some explanation. The outgoing Sport’s steel chassis has been replaced with an all-aluminium monocoque and the result is Hollywood-method-level weight loss. An Oscar-deserving 400kg. Beat that Matthew McConaughey.
So there’s less weight to deal with, and more tech to deal with it. Computer-controlled suspension fights the body roll and wins. There’s also active rear differential, and torque vectoring which dictates how much power is sent to each wheel and when, responding to sensor readings 500 times a second. This is supercar stuff.
Five hundred kilometres and a couple of cheesesteaks later I reach Woodstock VT, and it’s time to off road. What makes the Sport so good on tarmac is also what makes it stellar off it. The old chassis was borrowed from the Land Rover Discovery whereas the new model’s aluminium chassis is to the manor born Range Rover, a more sophisticated bit of kit. It is no longer a Disco in drag but blue blooded, and its genes have handed it Range Rover’s Terrain Response system as well. This analyses the terrain upon which you’re driving and automatically adjusts the suspension, gearbox, brakes, throttle and traction control to suit. There’s also a system that disconnects the anti-roll bars to increase wheel articulation so you can get across the kind of humps that could break a cross-axle. Standard air suspension allows you to raise the ride height 65mm to clear large obstacles with the additional benefit of soft ride. You can also lower it, which is handy when your golden retriever is being lazy and uncooperative.
Another of the Sport’s party pieces, should you decide to go all Sir Walter Raleigh, is sonar. Yes, you read that right. Sonar transmitters and receivers give the driver a Wading Depth Indicator and if you go too deep into a ford or the Amazon River it will beep at you. The car is capable of wading along in up to 85cm of the wet stuff.
So there you have it. A car that is equally at home in Midtown, on the highway and halfway up Mount Everest. Its talents are virtually boundless. Few owners will regularly use it as a hot hatch or exploration vehicle, instead they’ll use it as a spacious and luxurious shuttle and in this regard it is as capable as it is in all areas. Short of the Rolls-Royce Ghost and a Gulfstream G450 I haven’t experienced many machines capable of covering big distances with such little fuss.