I’ve just realised that I have made a massive oversight in all my under-the-microscope reviews of the cars I want to replace my Astra. Here I was gearing up to analyse the differences between a ‘full fat’ Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport, when I noticed that I have not even written a post focusing on the Range Rover Sport itself! As it has swiftly become a firm front runner it only seems fit that I write a (probably lengthy) post about a car I am hoping to test drive within coming weeks.
It is ironic that my last Sport-related post was titled ‘Middle Child Syndrome‘ given my oversight, but the reasoning behind it is likely that I never thought I would be looking to buy one. The Sport itself is a rather divisive vehicle and one that has had a bit of a muddled upbringing all things told. For many years Land Rover had had just 2 models; the Land Rover Series I/II/III (later called the Defender) and the Range Rover. With the introduction of the Discovery in 1989 the brand’s potential market opened up massively and the Freelander’s appearance in 1997 rounded out the range for buyers at varying price points and looking for different capabilities, yet given the massive rise in popularity of SUV’s in the 1990’s and 2000’s there was still potential for more models to be added to the line up.
When BMW selling Land Rover to Ford in 2000 it really gave engineers a chance to let their imaginations run riot, and the first fruit of these loins was the Range Rover Sport, a vehicle which had likely been discouraged under BMW’s reign because of the development of the X5. In 2004, a mere year before the production Sport was revealed, the Range Stormer concept was revealed to much praise and admiration. Bright orange and with 3 doors, many of the styling cues of the Stormer made it through to the production Sport – even the colour! Inside was clearly a bit more experimental but a more cockpit-like design than the palatial Range Rover was heavily hinted at. However when the production vehicle was unveiled, some were disappointed that the car had lost some of the more extreme design details; namely the lowered ride height and 3 door layout – rather ironic considering that every single Land Rover nameplate had originally had a 3 door option before a 5 door (a trend which has continued with the Evoque!).
What were we left with then? Well undeniably it’s a very aggressive and ‘sporty’ design…well as sporty as a 2.7 tonne 4×4 can be; up front there is the traditional Range Rover grill decked out in silver with grates in (akin to an electric shaver head) and a clamshell bonnet. The side profile of the vehicle shows off glitzy air intakes and sometimes the wide side steps which apparently aide entrance and exit of the admittedly tall vehicle. Round back is a bit less cohesive, with the raked floating roof being at odds with the flat tailgate, I’m also not a massive fan of the fact the spare wheel is slung underneath the car for all and sundry to see (or even steal). Overall though it is a good looking car which still looks intimidating on the motorway and the M&S car park, although cars in lower S or SE spec can suffer from smaller wheels; the standard 19’s or optional 20’s on the HSE fit better with the size of car. The car’s colour is another aspect which can dictate the look (and indeed value), with ubiquitous black more or less a requirement to pull off the look, partly thanks to the abundance of black plastic trim. Silver or dark grey cars also look nice but seeing examples in bright red or blue gives them a more budget appearance, as does the lack of darkened windows.
Inside the car lets it down a little bit, much like the Discovery it shares it’s platform with (but more of that later). The cockpit design of the concept car remains with a high centre console and slanted control panel, whilst there is the typical ‘Command Driving Position’ that marks out LR products from lesser SUVs, but some of the plastics and buttons used hark back to a cost-cutting era that Ford was notorious for in the mid 00’s. Let’s start with the positives though…that driving position gives a fantastic view of the road and the chairs are more like thrones, complete with individual arm rests. Upper dash materials are very plush and soft touch, and the optional cherry wood trim looks the business; rear accommodations look pretty plush too although there isn’t quite as much space for passengers as you’d think given the size of the vehicle. However back in front it’s the radio and ventilation controls which look really dated, thanks to a green LCD display and cheapo plastic used in this highly used area. A double glove box is nice but from what I’ve seen online it is one of a few areas which can develop an annoying rattle. In terms of equipment it largely depends on which spec level you choose; S cars are pretty basic but equally are not very common. SE models add a few niceties and leather but it’s a HSE model I’d really be after – and thankfully these are the most common on the market! HSE brings standard navigation (although it isn’t an amazing system), rear heated seats and a small fridge between the front seats…it may also be the only way to get an aux input, although annoyingly one that is located at the back of the centre console (effectively in the rear cabin). The Rover does at least do well in terms of practicality; in addition to that double glovebox there is also a large boot with a separately opening bit of glass, although not the same excellent split tailgate that graces it’s bigger brothers.
For many people that is precisely the issue with the Range Rover Sport; it is a vehicle based on the platform of the (cheaper) Discovery, yet with less practicality and a price tag/styling aping the (admittedly much more luxurious) full size Range Rover. I guess this is because BMW designed the Range Rover platform and given the similar development period as the Discovery it was easier/cheaper to stick with it’s platform…itself no poor relation. Whichever platform the Sport used it would have been a heavy car and at 2.7 tonnes it is only slightly lighter than it’s siblings, however somehow engineers have instilled the car with road manners that are significantly better than the Disco or FFRR and on a good day can rival the likes of the X5 and Cayenne…ok a very good day! But it does handle well for it’s size, and rides pretty well too despite some models getting 21″ ‘Stormer’ alloy wheels similar to the original concept. In terms of engine choices the Sport again straddles the line between Range and Disco; original engine options were a 2.7 TDV6 and 4.4 V8 petrol shared with the the Discovery 3…a year or so later a 3.6 TDV8 and 4.2 V8 Supercharged engines shared with the full size engine gave a bit more performance to the line up. A facelift in 2009 switched things up a bit but I’ll get to that in a minute. The V8 petrols are out of the window straight away because of their rarity and horrific mpg, and whilst the TDV8 is a fantastic engine and a great fit for the car it is also signficantly more expensive than the more common TDV6. The TDV6 is not a bad engine by any means and manages to get a relatively decent 28mpg combined, but it struggles to cope with the sheer bulk of the vehicle and as such can only muster 60 in a slow 12.8 seconds!
From a cost perspective it is quite interesting to explore the contrasts between certain aspects of owning a Range Rover Sport. I originally ruled it out because even the earliest cars have held their values remarkably well and to an extent this is still true; an early high mileage ‘S’ can be found for around £12k but my £15k budget will only really stretch to one of the earlier TDV6 HSE’s (2005 ish)…if you look at full size Range Rovers for that price you would be getting a late 2006 TDV8 Vogue with similar miles, which might not get as many miles out of a gallon but is a higher quality vehicle with an even more premium image. Looking past the purchase price and we have a similarly mixed story when it comes to ownership costs; insurance is staggeringly under £700 per annum and road tax for pre March 2006 cars is a reasonable £280…as a comparison a FFRR would be £800 to insure and a massive £490 to tax. That difference of £300 is not exactly a massive amount but might go some way to compensating for any reliability issues which might come up (after all these are both Land Rover products), plus a couple of mpg difference is another potentially important cost factor to distinguish the two. Servicing costs should not be too horrific on the car though, and because next door own a Discovery 4 I’m hoping that they have some advice regarding where to go etc.
The compromise that the Range Rover Sport presents buyers with is the thing that most people take an issue with…whether it be an environmental argument (Greenpeace invaded the production lines) or a more moral one (paying more for a tarted up/less practical Discovery) there are always people who are going to dislike the Range Rover Sport, but going by the numbers I see on the roads there are many more fans than haters. In 2009 a facelift gave people a lot less to moan about and improved the car a great deal. Subtle tweaks on the exterior combined with a thoroughly overhauled cabin mean the car is much nicer to use, and the upgraded engines under the bonnet (a 3.0 TDV6, 3.0 SDV6, 5.0 V8 and 5.0 V8 Supercharged) are all cleaner and faster than their predecessors. One of these cars would be a surefire winner for me but ultimately they start at over £10k more than I can afford to spend.
Whether I get a Range Rover Sport or not will majorly depend on how my test drive goes whenever I have it; if I can get along with the 2.7 TDV6 engine and the creaky plastics then I might well chose one over the more mainstream ML and luxurious-if-expensive full size Range Rover, but if I do then I pray that it is as reliable as some buyers attest to.