Jack of all trades, master of none. That’s usually what happens when you try to do too many things at once.
It’s an adage Range Rover has successfully ignored for decades.
The iconic British SUV, that practically invented the category in the 1970s – has always managed to be part luxury limo, part go-anywhere machine – and somehow always delivered on both counts. The advent of the Range Rover Sport a few years back added a third string to its bow – that of sports car – with performance and handling that belied its 4WD heritage.
Now this Jekyll-and-Hyde machine has a fourth identity – people mover.
For the first time, the latest version of the Range Rover Sport can be had with the option of seven seats – giving it perhaps a broader range of capability than any other vehicle on the planet.
Completely redesigned, this all-new Range Rover Sport is bigger yet lighter, faster yet more frugal, sportier on the tarmac yet more capable in the mud, more practical yet even more desirable than ever before.
It truly is four cars in one. Perhaps that’s how they justify its equally impressive price tag – tipping $200-grand for the flagship high-performance version we tested.
Even if the Range Rover did just one or two tasks as well as it does, you’d probably be satisfied. Instead, this latest Rangie Sport is almost arrogant in its excesses.
Its performance is extraordinary for a machine standing so tall, so wide and so imposingly on the road. It will scamper to the speed limit in just over five seconds – quicker than many purebred sports machines.
Yet it crawls over rocks and mud and will wade through water almost a metre deep while keeping its occupants in the height of luxury – perched on plump leather seats with chilled air and concert-quality music piped into its bespoke cabin. Now it even extends that privilege to seven occupants.
Talk about a bag of tricks.
The Range Rover’s range doesn’t end there. It can be had with any of four engines – six-cylinder or eight-cylinder turbo-diesels or six-cylinder or eight-cylinder supercharged petrol. A diesel hybrid is also on the way – and the company is even contemplating a four-cylinder lightweight model.
We drove the flagship supercharged five-litre V8 – known as the Autobiography Dynamic – whose engine punches out an impressive 375 kilowatts, driven through an eight-speed automatic and sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.
As a luxury car, it delivers as much refinement as any high-end European competitor – except, of course, that you have to climb a little higher to perch your posterior onto one of those beautifully upholstered seats. (It does have a button you can push to lower the air suspension for ease of entry, mind you).
That suspension system can be lowered by as much 50mm – or jacked up by as much as 35mm – giving the Sport a full 185mm of variable ground clearance.
That suspension, when tuned to “Dynamic” mode, delivers astonishingly poised handling and razor-sharp steering – making light of the car’s substantial bulk.
That bulk, mind you, has been massively reduced by a weight-loss program that has stripped 420kg from the previous Sport model.
That, in turn, underpins its much-improved fuel efficiency (down by 24 per cent in some models) and its spirited performance and handling (this car is almost one full second quicker in the 0-100km/h sprint). Those are quantum advances in anyone’s language. Unlike previous Sport models, this car is based on the underpinnings of its Range Rover Vogue sibling – rather than the Land Rover Discovery as was previously the case. However, Range Rover says up to 75 per cent of the Sport’s components are unique to this model.
The car is also 63mm longer than its predecessor – affording increased rear-seat knee-room and those two “occasional” fold-down rear seats – yet because of shortened overhangs and wider stance, it appears more athletic and aerodynamic.
Driver aids include lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, automatic high beam assist and, when heading off-road, even a “wade sensing” feature to tell you the depth of water you’re driving through.
While unmistakably still cut from the familiar Range Rover cloth, it’s a thoroughly modern expression of those traditional, squared-off lines.
Massive wheels (up to 22 inches) add to its sporty appearance – which mirrors the futuristic design of its little brother Evoque.
While lower-spec models miss out on a dual-range transfer case (offering high-range only), both V8 models get the company’s comprehensive suite of off-road settings, which range from rock-crawling to dynamic on-road modes. Suffice to say, its off-road credentials are likely to outstrip the needs of all but the most adventurous owners.
Around town, the Rangie’s sheer size can’t be completely disguised – although the makers argue it’s no longer, or less nimble, than a typical executive sedan. It’s thirsty in city traffic, though – we averaged 17.2L/100km for most of our week-long test.
It’s on the open road that this car is seen to best advantage. At the 100km/h speed limit the engine is barely above idle at 1500rpm – it’s sipping fuel at a surprisingly frugal rate and, sitting high above the surrounding traffic, you feel as if you could easily drive for hours at a time.
Range Rover even has a name for this – Command Driving Position – and it certainly emphasises the brand’s “above and beyond” motto.
Of course, that serenity can be shattered in an instant with a prod of your right foot. A whirr from the supercharger is followed in short order by the burble from the big tailpipes as the 5-litre V8 goes to work. The vehicle’s claimed top speed is 225km/h and we have no reason to doubt that’s attained comfortably – in every sense of the word.
The rear seats provide not only a spacious environment for heads, shoulders and knees but a sculpted bucket to perch your behind. Cargo space, as you’d expect from a vehicle of this size, is substantial and the electric rear hatch can be both opened and closed with the push of a button on the dash, key-fob or the hatch itself.
The only drawback is that, by choosing the seven-seat model, you’ll have to forego the reassurance of spare wheel in the back. A can of tyre sealant will have to suffice – fine for city driving, not so convenient when you get off the beaten track.
See, there’s some things even a Range Rover can’t do.
RANGE ROVER SPORT AUTOBIOGRAPHY DYNAMIC:
Details: Five-door, five- or seven-seat full-sized luxury 4WD with supercharged V8 engine, eight-speed automatic transmission and dual-range all-wheel-drive system.
Tech stuff: 5-litre supercharged V8 engine produces 375kW@6000-6500rpm, 625Nm@2500-5500rpm; eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and sports mode, permanent all-wheel-drive with dual-range transfer case and selectable off-road modes.
Features: Driver and passenger front, side, thorax and extended curtain airbags; dynamic stability control, roll control, electronic traction control with trailer stability assist; ABS with brake assist and brakeforce distribution; 8-inch touch-screen with satellite navigation and reversing camera; park assist, leather trim, electric seats, windows and mirrors, premium audio system with Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming; lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, high beam assist, electric rear tailgate.
Performance: 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds; top speed 225km/h.
Thirst: 13.8L/100km (combined figure).
Verdict: Staggeringly capable, fabulous fun, seriously expensive.
Bottom Line: $182,400 plus on road costs; as tested $216,040,including Meridian Signature Reference Audio 1700w/23 speakers – ($10,700); Adaptive Cruise Control (w/- Queue Assist, Intelligent Emergency Braking & active seat belts $4700); sliding panoramic roof ($4000); four-zone air conditioning ($3200); 22-inch alloys ($2400); blind spot monitoring & ade sensing ($2220); park assist ($1490); soft door close ($1100); adaptive Xenon headlamps ($1000); privacy glass ($900); digital audio DAB+ ($900); grand black veneer finisher ($880); twin blade sunvisor ($150).