The latest Range Rover Sport SDV8 offers even more muscle and a greater degree of customer choice. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
With the SDV8 4.4-litre turbodiesel under its bonnet, the Range Rover Sport has finally become the vehicle we knew it had the potential to become. With the latest update, engine power stays at 339PS but torque rises to a massive 740Nm, transforming in-gear acceleration. Off-road ability remains suitably burly and owners now get a whole host more personalisation options to choose from.
The shortcomings of the original Range Rover Sport were easy to identify. You couldn't get one with seven seats, and the car was so heavy that the vaguely economical one was agonisingly slow and the quicker one consumed fuel like an F-111 on afterburner. As a sporty SUV it was roundly bettered by the likes of the BMW X5 and the Porsche Cayenne but all that changed with the launch of the second generation model. Built around a lightweight aluminium chassis, the Range Rover Sport can not only seat seven but now has the reflexes and the efficiency to trade punches with the class best. The SDV8 model represents the top of the tree as far as diesel engines go and it's recently been treated to a shot in the arm, giving it even more urge.
As much as we talk about the lightweight nature of the Range Rover Sport, climb into one and you'll realise that this is still a 2.4-tonne hunk of automotive real estate. The 4.4-litre twin-turbo diesel V8 therefore does a sterling job shifting it from its inert state to 62mph in just 6.7 seconds. That's a couple of tenths quicker than before, which might not sound much but comes courtesy of engine tweaks that keep peak power at 339PS but plump up the torque figure by 40Nm to a voluptuous 740Nm. This has improved in-gear acceleration, ensuring effortless overtaking ability and enhanced towing capability. The ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox has been re-engineered with a revised torque converter incorporating a twin-spring damper to cope with the increased muscle. The Sport's standard fit air suspension provides up to 115mm of regular movement, from the lowest 50mm setting to the standard off-road height. The +35mm intermediate setting means that the off-road mode can remain available at much higher speeds (80km/h up from 50km/h) than was possible before, which is valuable in terrain with long, rutted dirt roads. The electric power steering offers a lighter feel and a choice of two full-time 4WD systems is offered. One system provides a two-speed transfer case with low-range option, for the most demanding off-road conditions with a front-rear 50/50 percent default torque split, and 100 percent locking capability. The other is 18kg lighter and features a single-speed transfer case with a Torsen differential and features a default front-rear torque split of 42/58 percent designed to provide a rear-wheel drive bias for optimum road driving dynamics.
Design and Build
There's nothing too surprising about the Range Rover Sport's appearance. It's good looking, neatly detailed and very eye-catching. It's some 62mm longer than its predecessor, yet at 4850mm, it is shorter than most other 7-seater SUVs. A significantly longer wheelbase than before (up by 178mm) provides much more room inside. The wheelbase isn't that far off a full-fat Range Rover but shorter overhangs at the front and rear, a more sharply raked windscreen and a sloping roofline distinguish this model. Buyers can choose from 19, 20, 21 or 22-inch alloy wheels. The Sport's interior features typically Land Rover strong, architectural shapes, this time mixed with even cleaner surface treatments, finished with soft-touch surfaces in key touch points around the cabin. The sporting cues come courtesy of a smaller, thicker-rimmed steering wheel, and deeply bolstered seats with a lower hip point than you might expect. Interior packaging is optimised to create a more spacious rear cabin with 24mm more knee room, while occupants also benefit from the wider cabin. A neatly integrated third row, occasional 5+2 seating can be specified. These powered seats leave a flat floor with no loss of boot space and are split 50/50.
Market and Model
Prices open at £82,650 before you start wading into Land Rover's ridiculously tempting options list. In case you were wondering, that's exactly the same sum that Land Rover charges for both the Range Rover Sport Hybrid and the 5.0-litre supercharged petrol model. The SDV8 seems the sensible choice out of the three options, offering the best on/off road compromise as well as the most predictable residual values. It's certainly well equipped, and the latest model garnishes the sole Autobiography trim level with some lovely refinements such as updated puddle lamps which project a stylised Range Rover Sport silhouette onto the ground at night to light the way for occupants. Fixed panoramic roofs with power blinds are also available and bring an additional sense of space and light to the interior. No premium car can do without an integrated connectivity package these days and Land Rover's 'Connected car' technology allows the driver to check the status of the vehicle via an App installed on their smartphone and also provides support features such as Stolen Vehicle Tracking, Emergency Call and Land Rover Assist Call. A high bandwidth Wi-Fi Hotspot can be installed in the vehicle so that passengers can use the internet and get the best data connection for their smartphones or tablets. Other technical highlights include an optional colour Head-Up Display, a digital camera system which supports Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition and Automatic High Beam Assist. A unique innovation on the Sport is the Wade Sensing feature that provides 'depth' information when driving through water. The Autobiography Dynamic features special colour schemes, an 825w Meridian Surround Sound Audio System with no fewer than 19 speakers, and there's also a full length panoramic sunroof with power blinds.
Cost of Ownership
How many miles per gallon is reasonable here for the amount of performance and practicality you're getting? How many other seven-seat SUVs can pack over 300PS, beat their way through virtually any terrain imaginable and still get better than 30mpg? That list is pretty exclusive yet the Sport SDV8 manages a combined fuel economy figure of 32.5mpg. While that's bettered by BMW's mighty xDriveM50d, these feel very different cars and will be bought by different buyers. The Sport SDV8 records emissions figures of 229g/km which remains some way off the class best. So despite the weight loss plan, the SDV8 powerplant can't compete with the most advanced engines in the SUV class. That's a bit of a shame, because the rest of the package is world class. Even with this slight caveat, the Sport SDV8 is a formidable package.
The Range Rover Sport SDV8 is finally living up to its undoubted potential. The Sport has been a frustrating car to witness, Land Rover's development team seeming to attend to one aspect of its dynamics as another falls off the pace. Its economy and emissions are still one area where it lags behind the class best, but in virtually every other regard the latest Sport SDV8 is a genuine force to be reckoned with. Building more torque into the mighty V8 diesel without impacting fuel economy is a welcome bonus for new customers but those with an eye for objective comparisons will doubtless point to the fact that the Porsche Cayenne S diesel offers significantly more torque, is quicker, more economical and costs over £20,000 less. That's quite the challenge for Land Rover to overcome. Nobody ever said building world class cars was easy and Land Rover have grown to understand the subtleties of the market. Customers here want to be able to personalise cars to their own tastes, and many still wouldn't contemplate a Porsche, an Audi, a BMW or a Mercedes product. There's still work to be done here, but the Range Rover Sport SDV8 is a class act.