Words and pictures by Andrew Middleton.
“Bugger the Bugatti Veyron…” his words rasp through clenched teeth as our Editor floors the throttle and we tear over a mountain pass with 375 kW clawing at the tarmac, “…this is a true supercar!”
We’ve just pulled out of Honingklip 4×4, a grade 4 trail where the Range Rover Sport put its low-range gearbox and rear diff-lock to the test. Now, however, we’re screaming from 0 to 100 km/h in a stomach-churning 4.9 seconds up a mountain road.
It’s a crazy statement, but given the Range Rover Sport’s wide-ranging abilities, I have to say that I agree with him: it’s a supercar beyond supercars; an out-of-this world rendition of wickedness on wheels.
Self-righteous, arrogant and rudely confident, the Range Rover Sport shows an unashamed middle finger to lesser vehicles on the road; and if its pompous poise doesn’t grab you, you’ll no doubt note its spine-chilling war cry when its V8 engine rages in the red.
It’s the ultimate Jack-of-all-trades SUV; but what about the master of none?
As I sink into the leather throne of Earth’s best-smelling vehicle, I can’t help but touch and feel every finely-sculpted surface in the Range Rover Sport’s interior. You’ll need to spend considerable time in this cabin before you’re truly acquainted with its boundless features. Things like reading lights that are touch-activated by the slightest stroke of the hand; or the 23-speaker Meridian sound system that’ll engulf your ears with frequencies that you never knew existed – in the songs you’ve enjoyed for years.
Much like the Discovery 4, the Range Rover Sport boasts unrivalled ergonomics, featuring (among countless other things) comfortable bucket seats, generous cabin room, and user-friendly switch gear that falls within effortless reach. The Rangie’s build quality has also taken a giant leap forward from its hard-plastic predecessor.
As far as rear-seated opulence goes, your kids get DVD players, dual-zone climate control, heated seats and double-stitched leather on just about everything. And, if you’d like to carpool your neighbour’s kids, there’s the optional extra of a third row.
Then, the best part: an acoustic trapdoor that floods the cabin with eight cylinders of induction fury, generated by large throttle openings and a doorway to the engine’s air box. It’s quite possibly the best invention in automotive history. Particularly in the case of a supercharged 5.0-litre V8.
I have but one qualm about the Range Rover Sport’s interior – its touchscreen infotainment system. Simply put, it’s not on par with its German rivals. The Sport’s touchscreen system is unintuitive and slow to respond: you need to wait a second or two before the system processes your selection. More often than not, you land up pushing the same button twice, thinking that it didn’t register the first time. It’s a disappointing factor in a premium SUV, especially when you consider that an Audi hatchback boasts a superior interface.
Aside from its trendy (but tacky) fake inlet ducts on its side quarter panels and bonnet, this is one good-looking SUV. Appearing to be the offspring of an Evoque (mum) and big-bodied Range Rover (Dad), the Sport blends macho appeal with refined elegance. And, although it’s longer and wider than its predecessor, the new Sport looks more lithe and ready for action – largely due to its wheels being 110 mm closer to its corners.
But a quick glance at the Range Rover Sport’s exterior reveals an unmistakable weakness: 22” alloy wheels. While these goliath-sized hoops may be suitable for suburban asphalt, on a potholed road they cruise a thin line between sidewall damage and a cracked rim.
Despite its racy appearance, the Range Rover Sport is remarkably capable off-road. Of course, most people who buy this vehicle will never go further than a grassy car-park at a high-school fair, so it makes sense that the Range Rover Sport’s low-range transfer case and Terrain Response system are optional extras.
With regard to the latter, it’s the same system used in the mighty Discovery 4, but, in the Rangie’s case, you get six drive-modes adapted to various terrain types – which go by the names of Gravel, Sand, Mud Ruts and Rock Crawl modes. The other two selectable drive-modes are Auto and Dynamic.
As the name suggests, Auto mode adjusts torque distribution according to wheel spin and other sensory factors, while the other, more terrain-specific modes use pre-set traction control settings that alter drive distribution and the locking / unlocking of the centre and rear diffs.
What’s even more impressive is that the Range Rover Sport features active anti-sway bars; meaning that the vehicle can sense when suspension travel is needed, and, if this is required, completely disconnects its anti-sway bars.