Slightly Smaller, Cheaper; Fantastically Capable
Thank Goodness They Ditched The Stormer Concept
Sport Sits Between Discovery, Range Rover; Cannibalisation Beckons
Concept cars wet the appetite, then inevitably disappoint. The designers are given their heads and produce a beautiful new state-of-the-art car. Then the bean-counters and suits have their say, and almost always find a reason to tone it back down to ordinary. Its too difficult to make; its too expensive to make; it will put off some buyers; it will frighten the children.
Just recently, to ram home the point, VW gave us its new Passat saloon. The early designs had given the impression that this would be a breathtaking car to look at. But guess what; the bean-counting suits flexed their muscles. Dull, worthy and derivative was the result.
But the new Range Rover Sport had a different fence to jump. In 2004, Land Rover unveiled the concept, the Range Rover Stormer, at the Detroit Car Show, and this time the impression was rather different. Surely they wont be dumb enough to make that? It was a racy-looking sporting version of the Land Rover Range Rover to be sure. But it had two doors. Was Range Rover going down the ill-fated Renault Avantime coupe MPV route and give us a two-door SUV? Sometimes the be-suited bean-counters have their uses, and you will see from the pictures that sanity prevailed.
Thank-The-Lord; Its Got 4 Doors
The new Ranger Rover Sport looks terrific. With a tapered roof, more steeply raked windscreen, flush fitting glass and shorter wheel base, it looks a bit sleeker than the luxury Range Rover, although must people will probably think it looks pretty much the same, and, thank-the-lord, its got four doors. The Sport is 162 mm shorter, 46 mm lower, and 81 mm narrower than its bigger sibling. Its also got plastic bits hanging off the lower doors, and a plastic bumper.
There are 3 engines available from launch a 4.2 litre supercharged 390 bhp Jaguar derived V8, a 4.4 litre 300 bhp normally aspirated V8, and a 190 bhp 2.7 litre diesel. All use a six-speed automatic gearbox. Unfortunately, on the launch which took place on the highways and mountain roads between Gerona, and Perpignan, France, no diesels were available. Land Rover says that 60 per cent of Sport sales will be diesel. Needless to say, both V8s provided superlative punch when required, and effortless, quiet cruising on the highways. The downside will of course come when you fill up the fuel tank. The Dynamic Response technology reduces roll and improves handling, although not surprisingly, this big, high SUV does feel a bit disconcerting on fast corners compared with regular saloons.
Off-road, the Range Rover Sport was as tenacious and sure-footed as youd expect from a Land Rover. Not only is the Sport built on the Discovery chassis, it inherits the Terrain Response system which made its debut on the Disco. This allows the driver to choose one of five settings using a pop-up rotary control on the centre console when venturing off road. If you cant figure out the hieroglyphics, theres a set of prompts on the sat-nav screen to help you out.
The settings general driving, grass/gravel/snow, mud and ruts, sand, and rock crawl adjust things like ride height, engine torque, hill descent control, electronic traction control and transmission settings. In short, most of the skills involved in traversing alien off- road conditions are taken care of by the computer. The Range Rover Sport handles all this with aplomb. In the hills around Gerona, the Sport scaled sandy dunes, crept down scary inclines, forded rivers, and picked its way over alarming-looking rock formations. No one could doubt the supreme capability of the vehicle. Cynics might wonder just how often this capability, gained with some very expensive, and heavy, technology would be required.
Consult The Manual
But the Sport isnt just for playing in the mud. In the real road world the vehicle performs very well, and offers some interesting extras like the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). This radar based system will detect a lower moving vehicle in front and slow down. When you pull out to overtake, the previous speed will be restored as you accelerate away. Ive never been keen on Cruise Control because of the potential danger of slower moving traffic on busy roads, and this system would seem to offer an intelligent and useful solution. I say would because when I attempted to engage ACC I failed miserably. I should have consulted the user manual first.
Inside the cabin is top class. The driving position is high and commanding. The seats are luxurious and cosseting. The dash board and controls fit conveniently around the driver. The quality of the materials, with wood, leather and metal trim are to the manor born.
Land Rover calls the car a sports tourer and says it is a more compact, more agile and more performance orientated SUV than its more staid flagship elder relatives. It is also cheaper, with prices starting at £34,995 (51,500 euros), although with all the must-have bits and pieces in this category, this is likely to end up meaning £40,000 (58,800 euros). It does make you wonder just why anyone would want to spend more on the slight bigger, more staid, less nimble versions. Will the Sport cannibalise sales of the more expensive traditional version? Will it do the same for top-of-the-range Discoverys?
Neil Winton April 25, 2005
Range Rover Sport to southern France - August 2005
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