It’s a novel experience for me, reviewing a Range Rover Sport. The reason being that I always tried to ignore the old one, finding it strangely objectionable – and not just because it acquired a reputation as a pimp-mobile that looked more at home lurking in the darkened side streets surrounding third-rate nightclubs than crossing the verdant fields of Merry England.
At the risk of offending some of the 380,000-plus people who bought one, what I disliked about it was that it always seemed to be pretending to be something it wasn’t, a halfway-house between the down-to-earth and versatile Land Rover Discovery and the higher-flying and differently versatile “real” Range Rover. It was a car for people who wouldn’t pay the price for the latter but wanted to seem as though they were superior to the former. In the words of the hunting, shooting and fishing set who seldom relied on one, it was neither fish nor fowl.
And I’m fairly sure that not many dyed-in-the-wool country-sports types will give serious consideration to the just-launched All-New Range Rover Sport, either. Which is a shame, because it’s quite brilliant, dropping into that gap betwixt Discovery and Range Rover as neatly as a cartridge glides into the barrel of a Purdey & Sons shotgun. Now, it seems, this Range Rover Sport has all the meaning, purpose and relevance that the old one so obviously lacked.
The key to the dramatic turnaround lies in the fact that the reworked car has been built from the ground up, whereas the old one was a pastiche combining the Discovery’s chassis with a brutish-looking body that clumsily enveloped the mod cons of luxury.
In contrast, the All-New Range Rover Sport is the latest success in Jaguar Land Rover’s drive to make vehicles that are lighter, faster, smoother and more refined, through the pioneering use of aluminium architecture – a design strategy that has drawn accolades the world over for cars such as the latest Range Rover and the Jaguar F-Type.
That alone would have been sufficient to give the new Sport a huge edge over its predecessor, which weighed a lumpen 420kg more. But the design team has changed everything else, too, taking a cue from the successful Evoque for the front and rear styling and adopting the kind of high-tech-yet-minimalist interior that has proved so appealing on the full‑sized Range Rover.
If that makes it sound like another pastiche, it’s not supposed to. Around 75 per cent of the components in the Sport are said to be exclusive to the model. These include an ingenious Wade Sensing mechanism, which monitors water depth via sensors mounted on the wing mirrors, and an optional third row of seating that rises up from the floor of the cargo area at the touch of a button.
Indeed, gadgets are rife on this car, counting among their number assisted parallel parking, reverse-traffic detection (to warn of potential impacts), blind-spot monitoring and, of course, Land Rover’s patented Terrain Response 2, which automatically adapts engine, gearbox, braking and suspension systems to suit the type of ground being covered.
All that electronic wizardry could be an indication that the Sport isn’t going to be much of a driver’s car, but the opposite is the case. True to Land Rover form, the launch was a two-part affair over two days that commenced on the sparsely populated, deliciously snaking roads of the Elan Valley in mid-Wales, where I was nothing short of astonished at the incredible aplomb with which this car handles. It might be big, tall, spacious and quiet, but it can be hustled along like a sports car without a fraction of the notorious yaw that blighted the previous model.
At the moment, three different engine options are on sale in the UK, consisting of two three-litre, V6 diesels, of 258 horsepower and 292 horsepower respectively, and a five-litre V8 supercharged petrol powerplant of 510 horsepower. Early in 2014, a V8 diesel of 339 horsepower will come onto the market followed, interestingly, by a diesel-electric hybrid, which will become available to order later in the year.
But the simple fact that the Sport is so light means that even the smallest engine has more than sufficient power to make it quick off the mark and swift on the road – the power being seamlessly transmitted to the permanent four-wheel-drive system by the excellent eight-speed ZF gearbox. The gears themselves can be operated in standard, automatic mode, or manually, through a choice of paddle or stick shift.
Day two of the launch took us to Eastnor Castle, a Land Rover experience centre in thousands of acres of land in the Malvern Hills, Herefordshire.
The Sport’s design team is clearly proud of the car’s class‑leading wading ability, which is probably why the demonstration drive took in an exceptionally long trench filled with muddy water. In real life, of course, not many people will need to put the Sport’s amphibious credentials to the test. But take it from me – if you do you’ll have nothing to fear from any puddle of less than 85cm deep.
Predictably, the Sport also manages mud, rocks, hill climbs and descents as effortlessly – well, almost as effortlessly – as its bigger brother, the All-New Range Rover, which costs, incidentally, almost £20,000 more.
But if the All-New Sport’s £51,500 entry price still remains beyond your reach, you can rest assured that the pre‑owned sector will doubtless soon be inundated with examples of its less accomplished, pimp-mobile forerunner – and going very cheaply indeed.