Charming and likeable luxury SUV offers polished Land Rover handling for a price

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The essential difference between a Range Rover and the supercharged Range Rover Sport is like second child syndrome; first borns are the upstanding offspring – good, reliable sorts that play it by the book.

By contrast, second children are mavericks who care not for convention and have one way of doing things, their way, and one speed at which to do them – flat out.

Doesn't matter whether you go for petrol or diesel: as far as company car tax is concerned, both are comfortably 35 per cent 'BIK' cars

Land Rover's Range Rover Sport is the younger brother: smaller, slightly less practical but, through sheer force of charm, capable of grabbing almost all the attention.

Of course you don’t have to spend almost £70k on the range-topping supercharged Range Rover Sport to drive home in one, and the bulk of sales will go to the £49k Range Rover Sport TDV6. The diesel trades on the same basic concept as the 5.0-litre, five-hundred-horsepower blown model: of the offer of Range Rover brand luxury, desirability, performance and capability, at slightly less rarified price, and in a slightly more managably-sized package.



Range Rover Sport rear

Don’t be deceived by the name, beyond its looks the Sport has little to do with the Range Rover. Its true sibling is the somewhat cheaper Discovery, whose chassis it uses, albeit abbreviated by 14cm in the wheelbase. So don’t be surprised that it’s heavy: the integrated body frame construction means it flattens the scales at 2590kg, more even than the Range Rover.

The structure is designed to combine the strength of a ladder chassis with the rigidity of a monocoque and, as we’ll see, it satisfies both aims admirably. But it’s also a significant part of the reason the Sport weighs twice as much as a family hatch.

All Land Rovers have to pass a water ingress test. Park your Sport sills-deep in a pond overnight and it should start fine the following morning

Ensuring all this bulk is bowled along the road with the conviction you’d expect is Jaguar’s 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine. Though its 503bhp at 6000rpm and 461lb ft at 2500-5500rpm are near identical outputs to those realised in cars with cats on their bonnets, it has been reworked to suit a Land Rover. The sump has been redesigned to make sure oil continues to circulate even at the Sport’s 34deg approach angle. Ancillaries have been placed high up while the oil pump has been redesigned to allow harm-free wading.

The diesel's 242bhp at 4000rpm sounds a bit meagre by comparison to that titanic V8, but the twin-turbo diesel's 441lb ft of twist is generous. And on both counts, the Range Rover Sport competes on equal terms with its competition from Audi, BMW, Mercedes and others.

Like the Discovery, the Sport is suspended by a wishbone at each corner. But anyone thinking Land Rover would take the opportunity presented by its most sporting model yet to throttle back on its commitment to off-road ability needs to think again. The Sport has inherited the Disco’s capability, with air springs capable of raising or lowering the car by more than 10cm, a low-ratio transfer case, hill descent control and Land Rover’s marvellous Terrain Response system. Turn a knob to whichever one of six settings best describes the environment and computers alter the ride height, electronic diff settings and even the engine’s throttle map to suit.

A car of this weight and power generates massive momentum, so equally vast ventilated discs are used at each corner with four-piston Brembo calipers – updated in a 2011 facelift


Range Rover Sport front seats

Land Rover has made sure that the Sport has similar levels of interior space to the X5 and Porsche Cayenne, this means comfortable seating for four adults with Land Rover’s trademark raised ‘stadium’ seating position ensuring a good view for everyone on board.

The sport front seats are excellent but we found the rear bench a little firm and flat. With the rear squabs tumbled forward there is an admirably large load area, but you don’t get the Range Rover’s split tailgate: instead you can lift either the glass section or the whole tailgate assembly.

TV screens for the back seats are a £2.3k option, even in range-topping Autobiography spec

The Sport should also be a fairly safe thing in which to have a large accident, thanks not only to the six airbags but also the impact-absorbing properties of all that metal.

The car's driving environment is one to really savour, with its wraparound cockpit that places almost everything you would ever want at your fingertips. Those used to the wide open spaces afforded by the Range Rover’s cabin may feel a little claustrophobic in the Sport, but even to the most demanding this should seem a very accommodating luxury car.


Longitudinal Range Rover Sport engine

If the Range Rover Sport’s performance is to be understood, its power must be viewed in the context of its weight. Even with the Supercharged petrol Sport, the car's power-to-weight ratio is barely better than that of a Golf GTi. What the Golf cannot offer, however, is the sheer majesty of 461lb ft of torque persuading a 2.5-tonne block of metal to hit 60mph just 5.9sec. The Sport bludgeons its way through the air with real conviction, if not quite the ludicrous velocity of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo.

More impressive, perhaps, is the way the engine interacts with the ZF automatic 'box. There are normal, sports and semi-auto modes, but we concluded it’s best to select Drive and leave the decision making to the intuitive software. The diesel model received a heavy update in 2011 that brought with it a new eight-speed auto, which helps to provide yet more reason to opt for the punchy and more economical, if less extravagantly rapid TDV6, while the V8 kept its older six-speed ’box. 

Nobody combines on-road refinement with off-road ability quite as effortlessly as Land Rover

These are all the reasons we would say you’d be better off going for the diesel, despite the temptation of truly gratuitous pace from the V8. The TDV6 isn’t simply the practical option, it’s also a joy to drive, being refined and seamlessly torquey. 


Range Rover Sport off-road

Land Rover’s chassis engineers faced a unique challenge with the Sport: combining on-road handling with the level of off-road capability expected of all Land Rovers while, at the same time, serving up a quality of ride to suit its day job of family wagon. No, none of the car’s ride, handling or off-road ability approaches perfection but the blend of all three is something to behold.

The Sport is stiffly sprung so the ride around town is more bearable than brilliant, but show it a decent road and you soon see why it has been set up that way. The combination of air springs, electronically controlled damping and active anti-roll bars produce exceptional primary body control. There’s little roll in corners and enough grip and steering feel to just about stand up its ambitious Sport aspirations.

Despite its 2.5-tonnes, the Sport has immaculate handling manners; your Nan could drive one

Yes, a BMW X5 handles better, but we suspect the tables would turn off-road. Extensive experience of the Sport in difficult conditions reveals the road-spec tyres to be the only obstacle standing between it and truly exceptional off-road performance – and the same is true of both petrol and diesel models. The 20-inch alloys should be the absolute biggest wheels you choose if you don’t want to overly compromise ride quality in the name of extravagant bling. 


Range Rover Sport

The Range Rover Sport is never going to be a cheap car, but it is made to look an expensive one by most rivals, none more so than the BMW X5. Still one of the best SUVs dynamically, the X5 XDrive50i and XDrive30d models beat the Range Rover in every way – performance, purchase price and running costs. And the Porsche Cayenne makes similarly easy work of the Sport. 

Range Rover Sport Diesel models are available in SE, HSE or Autobiography, the V8 being available only in the two higher trims. Think carefully before opting for the Autobiography trim.

Lavishly specced as they are, they command an eye-watering premium over the already heavily equipped HSE – a massive £11k on the SDV6 and £7k on the V8. 

Still, at least there is small consolation in that the Range Rover is as good on insurance and residuals as its rivals.


4 star Range Rover Sport

Here’s the thing. A BMW 530d SE Touring is, in real terms, nearly as spacious as a Range Rover Sport. The badge is at least as prestigious, it’s quite a lot quicker and has handling from another world. 

It will use less than half the fuel of the Sport and warm the planet at half the speed. Experience of both suggests it is rather better built yet it costs more than £23,000 less and is probably no less likely to be driven off road. Viewed like this, you can perhaps see why the environmentalists are getting upset. 

What they cannot be expected to appreciate is the sheer sense of occasion offered by the Sport or the character of the engine. They will not see that, because children sit high and can see out, it makes for a peaceful journey. And they’ll miss the fact that the Sport is a car of rare and real charm

But the greatest achievement is not just meeting the likes of the X5 and Porsche Cayenne head-on in terms of dynamics, but it does so while remaining true to everything Land Rover stands for.

It would have been much easier to make a car that merely looked the part, and the result may even have been more capable for most users, most of the time. But it wouldn’t have been a proper Land Rover and, for Land Rover, that’s very important.

For all its flaws, this is a true Land Rover and a fine one at that.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport 2005-2013 First drives