When Porsche announced its intention of building an SUV back in 2000, there were howls of protest from their purist fans.
But, four years later, when Land Rover revealed concept sketches of its Range Stormer, there was little umbrage taken by lovers of the green badge. Which is curious, because, when you think about it, the two vehicles are opposite sides of the same coin. With their Cayenne, Porsche set out to build an SUV with sports car DNA; while, with their Ranger Rover Sport, Land Rover set out to build a sports car with SUV DNA. Happily for both brands, the results proved to be a resounding success.
SA4x4 magazine recently attended the international launch of the secondgeneration Range Rover Sport in the UK; the event took place in Wales (the only place in the world where vowels are taxed) and the Cotswolds. The two-day test route included… well, just about everything. Motorways, B-roads, tight district lanes, some fast gravel, swooping tar across the Brecon Beacons; as well as off-road excursions in illustrious surrounds like Eastnor Castle. Plus, one technical challenge of a very aeronautical nature – as you’ll see on some of the images.
The Sport continues a design ethic first seen with the launch of the Evoque, and more recently consolidated in the new Range Rover. In fact, the Sport and its larger brother were developed simultaneously, although the manufacturer was at pains to assure us that the Sport parts are 75 percent unique. Less of a bruiser than its predecessor, the newly-mannered Sport offers a more aerodynamic profile with its raked windscreen, streamlined styling, flush glazing and sloping roofline. As one might expect, it’s a little larger: some 62 mm longer and 55 mm wider; but it’s worth noting that the wheelbase has increased by a rather more substantial 178 mm, which translates into more interior space and improved access for the chaps in the back.
As it’s a Range Rover, you’ll easily spot the signature design cues – like the clamshell bonnet, floating roof and side fender vents – although twin vents in the bonnet are new. This is a vehicle best viewed from the front or side; it’s less distinctive from the rear. LED treatments on head and tail lamps might also take a little getting used to.
For the longest time, German designers have set the bar when it comes to vehicle interiors, but the Sport puts paid to the notion that its Teutonic rivals are unassailable in this regard. Eschewing the organic forms and curves which have become ubiquitous in most cabins, the designers have kept faithful to the earlier model’s classic interior lines. Almost architectural in form, the new interior is a masterpiece of simplicity and understatement.
Though dominated by strong horizontal and vertical elements, the cockpit still provides a cocooning feel for its lucky occupants. It maintains a competitive edge: although not distracting or gimmicky, the dials are now digital. But, best of all, there’s less switchgear visible in this model. It’s not that there are fewer features – there are more than ever before – but Land Rover have realised that simple truth about very expensive motorcars: they’re too complicated. So, what they’ve done is present the driver with a small selection of familiar controls and switchgear which are designed to allow you to ‘drill down’ and take advantage of the added features – if you want to! The upshot is that you can climb into the Sport and figure out everything within seconds. It’s a simple concept, but also a bold and brave one.
Apart from that, the interior is as sumptuous, luxurious and wellequipped as you’d expect it to be. One thing worth noting is that the new Sport is available with a third row of seats. We won’t be seeing this option on our local spec sheet because it requires the fitment of a space-saver spare wheel – and Land Rover SA have wisely decided that this isn’t an option in our country.
Engine and gearbox
It’s difficult to talk about engines and gearboxes without first referencing the fact that the new vehicles are up 420 kg lighter than the old, thanks to the extensive use of aluminium in bodyand suspension components. This is a weight-saving equivalent of six people. Or two Blue Bulls supporters. Needless to say, this slimming down has a terrific impact on performance and economy. We’ll be getting three engine variants: one diesel, the 3.0-litre SDV6, and two petrol supercharged motors, the 3.0-litre V6 and the 5.0-litre V8. Other markets will get a SDV8 turbodiesel, a diesel Hybrid, and (potentially) a four-cylinder motor, but don’t expect to see these variants arriving this far south.
All these motors are mated to an 8-speed ZF auto box, controlled through a conventional gearshift knob, with the option of a steering-wheelmounted paddle-shift; both allow for manual, and multiple downshifts.
While the supercharged V8 is a known entity to us, its performance in the lighter body offers some impressive figures: try 0 – 100 km/h in just over five seconds; almost a full second quicker than last year’s model, plus a 14 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.
We had the pleasure of driving the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel –-the SDV6 – during the launch . It’s good for 215 kW and 600 Nm, which translates into 0 – 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds. But the pick of the bunch has to be the second vehicle we drove, the 3.0-litre petrol supercharged motor, which puts out 250 KW and 450 Nm. While we don’t have performance figures for this model, it was immediately apparent that this motor is very well matched to the new Range Rover Sport, providing an exhilarating wave of controllable power.