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Range Rover Sport TDV8 HSE

Click to view picture galleryLike big cats, Range Rovers are
not all the same. If the original Range
  Rover is the ‘King of the Jungle
then the Range Rover Sport, with its
  performance-tuned chassis, can
  claim the cheetah’s territory...

SPORTING OFF-ROADER. SOUNDS LIKE THE PERFECT OXYMORON. No, we're not being offensive but as the dictionary defines it, an oxymoron is something 'pointedly foolish'. And surely 'sporting' and 'off-roading' are, automotively speaking, about as far apart as the Poles. Well, thank goodness that hasn't stopped the likes of BMW, Porsche and Land Rover from building highly-covetable, hard-charging 4x4s in the respective shapes of the X5, Cayenne and the vehicle tested here: the Range Rover Sport.

An undeniable part of the delight of driving these vehicles is the palpable satisfaction that comes from sitting high off the road and at the same time being able to charge as hard as if behind the wheel of a bona fide sports car. Add in a generous dose of luxury and you have an intoxicatingly tasty recipe for driver satisfaction.

The Range Rover Sport is more than merely a Range Rover that's been tweaked to handle with the agility of a sports car. See them side by side and you appreciate that the distinctive, rakish-looking Sport is physically a different model. For a start it's lower and shorter (by 184mm/7.25 inches) than its 'big brother'. And, even standing still on its 20-inch alloys (wearing meaty 275/40 Pirelli Scorpion Zero rubber), it looks purposeful and quick. And it is.

Of course, the big difference between the Sport from Solihull and the Teutonic competition is that the Range Rover has the all-terrain, adventure-soaked pedigree. Should you need to go off the radar — as in climb mountains, wade rivers and cross deserts — then the Range Rover Sport would be your first choice by a mile.

However — and rather unfortunately, given all of the amazing high-tech wizardry hidden beneath the Sport's smart body panels — most Range Rover Sports will be spending their entire life on smooth tarmac. Not that most owners will be aware of what they're missing because on-road is where the Sport has been designed to deliver a genuinely satisfying driving experience and you'll find it's just as confidently at home here, too.

Externally, the Sport may be lower that the Range Rover proper; but inside you still sit commandingly high. Shapely leather-upholstered sculpted seats with effective but non-intrusive bolstering hold you reassuringly; and a luxurious ambience underscored by extensive leather, wood and metallic finishes is immediately noticeable; as is the broad transmission tunnel that hints at the powerful drivetrain beneath. There's a lot of room but sitting up front it all feels, in the nicest possible way, pleasantly cosy.

Adjustable fold-down inner armrests complemented by outer armrests on the doors are positioned just right to provide further comfort and add to the 'snugness'. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach electrically, and there's a handy three-setting memory recall for the driver's seat. For hot days, the 'mini-fridge' built into the centre front armrest is brilliant. For cold days and nights there are heated front and rear seats, a heated windscreen and heated washer jets. Accommodation in the rear is good, with adequate headroom and legroom and a large centre armrest. The rear seats split and fold (60:40), while the boot is generous for four or five adults' luggage — but fold them down and load space more than doubles to 2,013 litres. The one-piece lift-up tailgate makes for easy loading and incorporates a separately-opening rear window for access in confined spaces.

As you would expect, for £55,000 the Sport TDV8 comes very well fitted out as standard and includes everything most owners will ever want: including permanent four-wheel drive, 20-inch alloy wheels, six-speed adaptive automatic transmission with CommandShift and high/low range, electronically-controlled air-suspension with Terrain Response, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control with forward alert, harman/kardon hi-fi with in-dash 6-disc CD player, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, 8-way power front seats with powered lumbar support, leather upholstery and front and rear parking sensors.

You also get SatNav, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, power windows with one-touch driver's and passenger's opening, heated and electrically-adjustable powerfold door mirrors, electric parking brake, power tailgate latching, personal telephone integration system, centre console cooler box, adaptive front lighting and metallic paint.

In addition there are front and rear split differentials, a lockable electronic centre diff, Hill Descent Control, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC monitors wheel speed and steering angle to make cornering safer and more stable), Active Roll Mitigation (ARM monitors vehicle stability), Dynamic Response (optimises body control on-road/maximises wheel travel off-road) and eight airbags, including side curtains plus ABS with powerful Brembo front brakes.

The Range Rover Sport can come with any one of three engines. Choices are a supercharged 385bhp 4.2-litre V8 petrol and two diesels: an 188bhp 2.7 V6 and a 268bhp 3.6 V8. Petrol fans tempted by the performance of the 4.2-litre powerplant will have to live with an urban fuel consumption of 12.4mpg. Those who resent the cost of filling the 84-litre (18.5 gallons) tank as frequently as that demands will be tempted by the 21.6mpg urban consumption and 34.4mpg extra-urban figures of the 2.7 TDV6. For the record, the TDV6 runs to 120mph and the V8 Supercharged to 140mph with 0-62mph taking, respectively, 12.7 and 7.6 seconds.

Fortuitously there is a peach of a compromise — the 3.6-litre V8 diesel, reviewed here. The best all-round engine choice, it features twin variable nozzle turbochargers and serves up 268bhp along with an enormous 472lb ft of torque at 2,000rpm — of which over 295lb ft is available from just 1,250rpm.

With more than its fair share of 'grunt', the driving characteristics are decidedly un-diesel: it sounds purposeful (a sports tuned exhaust is standard on the TDV8), revs freely and, thanks to the impressive torque, feels as eager on the road as the faster supercharged 4.2 V8 petrol. At any time, a sharp dab on the throttle pedal is all it takes to call up a smooth sustained surge of acceleration from the TDV8. For the record, several passengers insisted on checking beneath the clamshell bonnet before they were convinced it wasn't a petrol engine under there!

The V8 diesel runs to 130mph and takes 9.2 seconds to hit 62mph from standstill. Urban consumption is a liveable 19.3mpg; Effortless motorway cruising should see as much as 31.4mpg. The combined figure is officially 25.5mpg — during a week's driving over a variety of roads including quite a bit of town driving, our TDV8 recorded a combined figure of 23.7mpg. Even at the real-life average figure, that means a usable range of well over 400 miles between forecourt fill-ups.

Land Rover refers to the Sport as a 'sports tourer'. It's a truthful description — the Sport definitely gets the adrenaline flowing. Especially if you snick the selector lever from D to the left to select Sport mode. This keeps the V8 on the boil and the transmission in the most appropriate gear to optimise performance by keeping in lower gears for longer with downshifts taking place more readily. A manual mode is also available: from Sport mode, simply tap the selector forwards or backwards to select a higher or lower gear.

Pressing on along a demanding and sparsely traffic-ed ribbon of road spiced with some tricky zigzags that might give even a biker some cause for second thoughts, the TDV8 feels amazingly fluent and stable; traction and grip are more than reassuring, the steering provides good (particularly for a weighty 4x4) feedback with tidy responses and, courtesy of the Dynamic Response anti-roll system, body roll is impressively reined-in. From inside the cabin, all your instincts keep telling you that no car this tall and with this much mass can be flung around so predictably and safely. But oh, yes it can…

With 4-piston Brembo front brakes and ventilated discs front and rear, the Sport possesses strong, no-fuss stopping power. Naturally they are backed-up by anti-lock braking with Emergency Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Talking of brakes, the conveniently-to-hand electronic parking brake automatically deactivates when moving off. And talking of parking, the Sport's 3.1 turns lock-to-lock steering and 11.6m turning circle make manoeuvring in tight spots easy work.

Helped by its electronically-controlled air springs, the Range Rover Sport delivers the goods both on tarmac and off. These springs firm up at high speed and during cornering but automatically become more compliant at lower speeds or on poor roads and maintain a well-judged balance between comfort and responsive handling. And off-road they provide far more flexibility and height adjustment than regular steel springs.

Off-road the Sport is eye-openingly awesome: it wades 700mm (picture water over the tops of the tyres — that's scary deep when the water's lapping halfway up the side of your door), has 227mm of off-road ground clearance and axle articulation that allows good approach, ramp (break-over) and departure angles. At the heart of its almost nonchalant ability to cope with just about any terrain is Land Rover's intelligent Terrain Response system.

The rotary control for the Terrain Response system is sited on the centre console behind the selector lever, along with switches for the Hill Descent Control, High/Low transfer 'box and the four-mode ride height air suspension. While it's worth familiarising yourself with all of these functions, all you really have to do is to let the Terrain Response system oversee it all for you.

To do this, press the centre of the rotary knob and it automatically rises up an inch ready to set 'n' forget. Twist the knob to select one of the five terrain programs (general; grass-gravel-snow; mud-ruts; sand; rock crawl) appropriate for the conditions. Push the control back down out of the way and that's it. It then automatically selects the most appropriate settings for the Range Rover Sport's battery of advanced electronic controls and traction aids. And leaves you free to enjoy the drive!

Another clever resource, and one that contributes to the Range Rover Sport's high-degree of dual-terrain sure-footedness, is Dynamic Response. On-road it optimises body control by stiffening the anti-roll bars at the onset of roll to ensure flat cornering and a decent degree of driver feedback while maintaining suppleness and ride comfort; off-road it maximises wheel travel by automatically 'decoupling' the anti-roll bars.

Back on ordinary roads, long journeys are a pleasure. The cabin is refined with mechanical and road noise well suppressed — the only sounds you do hear are the right 'sporty' sounds from the 3.6 V8. Or the quality music coming from that harman/kardon audio system. Adding an additional layer of reassurance is the Adaptive Cruise Control. Forward-looking radar scans the road ahead ten times a second, ensuring that the Sport maintains a set speed and distance from the vehicle in front. An audio and visual alarm alerts you when you are closing in on a vehicle ahead. At night, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights change beam direction to follow the curve of the road as the vehicle turns.

Some people might see the Sport as a 'cut-price' Range Rover. A mistake. With prices ranging from £38,495 to £63,895, the term 'cut price' doesn't cut it. And it's not a lesser Range Rover. It's a different Range Rover, one with a unique self-defining purpose. It's practical and luxurious and its on-road performance matches most other high-end SUVs. But it goes one better than most by having a highly-accomplished all-terrain alter-ego. An excellent all-round package then and one that, in TDV8 guise, provides the kind of driver satisfaction that only a big 4x4 powered by a potent and punchy V8 diesel can. Wherever you are in one of these, in the buzz of the city or far from civilisation, the Sport makes that landscape its own. —

Range Rover Sport TDV8 HSE
| £55,095
Maximum speed: 130mph | 0-62mph: 9.2 seconds | Overall test MPG: 23.7mpg
Power: 268bhp | Torque: 472lb ft | CO2
294g/km | Insurance group 16