Connected off-road performance in the new Range Rover Sport

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The original Range Rover Sport broke new ground for the company in 2005. It was the first self-aware ‘urban’ Range Rover, shedding the veneer of an association of upper class and money of the county, and also the first time that the valuable Range Rover DNA had been exported to another model. In short, it was a bet.

The plug-in hybrid version of the new Range Rover Sport

The launch paid off, triggering the expansion of the Range Rover lineup (which currently includes the Evoque and Velar as well), and inflating the company’s status and valuation. This is the new Range Rover Sport, the third iteration of the model. It is also the sister car of the recently renewed Range Rover. More elegant, (slightly) smaller and “more sporty”, it is aimed at a very different type of clientele.

The Range Rover Sport has a more dynamic side profile

One delineation – which might flatter Range Rover – is that between owner and driver. The larger, more stately Range Rover is for those who like to be driven, particularly in tip-top long-wheelbase specification with twin ‘Executive Class’ rear seats. The bolder, bolder Range Rover Sport is for the owner who prefers to drive themselves.

It’s a similar setup to Rolls-Royce, which has the flagship Phantom for plutocrats in the rear, and the slightly more “democratic” Ghost, which tends to be preferred by owner-drivers. JLR’s own stats show a crossover of just 5% between Sport and Range Rover owners.

The detailed design is minimalist in the extreme

Visually, the Sport is differentiated by a few signature elements that have evolved over the years since the launch of the first model. It’s more linear and less upright, with a multi-layered grille and lights that blend into the corners to form part of the handsome side profile. The taillight cluster is a break from classic Range Rover cues, with a horizontal stripe that (to these eyes) is vaguely reminiscent of Porsche’s 928 from the 1970s.

Although the two machines share a wheelbase, the Sport is 5cm lower, a difference accentuated by the flush black greenhouse, more angled screen and rear spoiler. It is also slightly shorter. The square bluff and sharp creases of the original models have been replaced with a more diamond-like smoothness – the angle of the windscreen also means the Sport generates less wind noise than the more upright Range Rover.

Autobiography Edition offers higher quality trim and details

The feeling behind the wheel is also different, even if the cabin architecture is remarkably similar. While the big Range Rover tends to float and brace itself for quick forward propulsion when you plant your foot, the Sport has quicker steering and quicker throttle response.

In flagship V8 form, it’s almost anti-socially loud; the more socially conscious might prefer the plug-in hybrid. You can also buy one with an inline six-cylinder diesel engine, which is ideal for some markets and for the frugal, but not a particularly long-lasting choice.

The cozy interior offers an unobstructed view of the road

Off-road the Sport is superb, as have all Land Rover and Range Rover products since time immemorial. It’s even better if you have an experienced instructor in front of you to signal which way to turn the wheels, but even without them the Sport comes with a full suite of electronic aids to help you get down the steepest grade. .

There’s even new off-road cruise control that lets you adjust speed and comfort levels and manage the throttle to suit the terrain. The Sport’s camera suite helps you keep track of the wide flanks and what’s happening under the hood.

A mix of touchscreen and rotary controls are offered

Purists might decry the levels of automation available, but as it’s customary to point out, the toughest time in life for most Range Rover models is during their testing and marketing phase; the percentage of owners exploring bank angle limits and maximum wading depth is extremely low.

The big reveal is off-road serenity in EV mode; exhaust and engine noises banished, all you can hear is the squeak of the suspension and the squeal of the tires on the gravel.

On the road, the Sport also offers an incredibly refined driving experience. The car’s scale and volume provide effective isolation from the outside world, enhanced by active noise cancellation technology that reduces engine noise to a whisper.

The V8 provides the obligatory throaty growl under acceleration, but it’s a divisive noise that you could choose to keep to a minimum.

It’s not the hybrid model, but the flagship V8

PHEV models do a smart job of balancing the battery and motor and can be encouraged to reserve electric power for the end of a trip – when entering a geo-fenced low emission zone like downtown Madrid, for example. This complexity is something of an Achilles’ heel for JLR; plug-in hybrid models contain around 5,000 semiconductors, powering 63 personal computers (ECUs). Range Rovers may seem tough, but there’s an underlying fragility that begins with the vagaries of the global supply chain and continues through to day-to-day reliability.

The plug-in hybrid model of the new Range Rover

Right now, companies that build big, heavy cars are in a bit of a bind. Until batteries get lighter, getting performance on par with an equivalent ICE model means carrying more weight. For a company like Range Rover with off-road capability at its core, that excess weight brings a trade-off.

The Range Rover and Range Rover Sport PHEV models both weigh around 2.8 tonnes; heavier, and no amount of electronic magic will keep them from sliding down a muddy slope. JLR now has its own dedicated battery contractor and is presumably working frantically on future solutions to allow its unique blend of scale, power and capability to survive into the electric future. However, it is worth asking whether all these qualities should continue.

The plug-in hybrid model of the New Range Rover in all its majesty

The Range Rover and Range Rover Sport are almost out of the European town; sensors, cameras and four-wheel steering systems are essential for peace of mind. The company sets great store by its purist approach to design, equating its models with the clean lines and meticulous detailing of modernist architecture.

Range Rovers are the Eames chain of automobiles, beautiful, in a rather macho way, but also over-engineered and overweight. A Range Rover Hybrid will give you up to 80km of emission-free driving (if you’re careful), and JLR estimates that figure will cover 75% of the daily driving needs of all Range Rover owners. Rather, it begs the question: are the remaining 25% of trips worth the massive resources devoted to them? §

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