The Range Rover Sport shares nearly all its structure and powertrains with the bigger Range Rover, and it shows--on the scale, on the way it keeps an even keel when it's sunk knee-deep in mud.
That's created its own problem: how to make the Sport distinctive when the Range Rover's so supple and powerful?
Power to weight
The same gut-wrenching changes that were applied to the Range Rover's body are in force in the Sport. Switching from a body-on-frame design stamped in steel, to an aluminum unibody that's bonded and riveted into a whole has shorn about 800 pounds from the Sport's curb weight. It's still above 4,700 lbs in base form, more than 5,100 lbs all dolled up, about a hundred pounds less than the bigger Rangie.
The magnitude of change pulls some exciting numbers out of either of the Sport's drivetrains. The new 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 is rated at 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque; it's an assertive-sounding engine at full throttle, with a hearty snarl that subdues quickly as the Sport flicks into higher gears, back into a more relaxed part of the powerband. Zero to 60 mph happens in about 7 seconds, and top speed's rated at 130 mph.
But it's really the 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 you want, if only for the NASCAR intake and exhaust riffs that were frankly the inspiration for its soundtrack. It's scored at 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque, and ripping off a 60-mph run in 5 seconds is in the realm of Cayenne Turbos and Grand Cherokee SRTs. Top speed is 140 mph, unless the Dynamic pack's specified--it's lifted to 155 mph. Either way, the Sport's stick shifter is in control--it's not a rotary like the control in the Range Rover or Evoque--unless you flick the paddle shift controls, letting the ZF automatic do what it does best, click off clean shifts without any drama.
The Range Rover Sport's more obviously, and vastly, better on pavement than it was in its first lifetime. A procession of electronic assistants get tuned for more focus and more grip than they do in the bigger Range Rover. If you don't see as much daylight between the bigger ute and the Sport, you'll feel it, particularly in the V-8 versions.
The Sport's stock and trade are some of the same air suspension and electric-steering bits as in the Range Rover, but that flagship's setup is deliberately set for a more relaxed feel. The Sport's most neutral state, when its ride height is set to normal via a console-mounted switch, and its Terrain Response system dialed into street driving, still yields quicker steering responses with more deliberate counterweight and a much calmer ride than the first-gen Sport.
The V-8 Sport goes a few electromechanical steps further to close the gap between its SUV side and its sport-sedan intentions. The Terrain Response system has continuously adjustable dampers and an active anti-lean system. It also tops off the Terrain Response system with a Dynamic mode that speeds up shifts, throttle response, removes most of the slack from the adjustable dampers, and lets the stability control system take a little bit of a break. There's also an active locking rear differential and simulated torque vectoring that increases its braking input by 15 percent, to draw the Sport's cornering lines tighter. All told, the pieces craft a handling personality for the V-8 Sport that's strikingly different from the base Sport, from the Range Rover, and about as deft as the other ultra-powerful SUVs (even if the SRT Jeeps and Cayenne Turbos are still ultimately, slightly, quicker).
Muck it up
If it's not quite the thunderclap that is the Cayenne Turbo or the SRT Jeep, the Range Rover Sport makes up for the tenth or two of acceleration with unbelievable off-road talent. The basic, lighter-duty setup this year is a new four-wheel-drive system with a Torsen limited-slip differential and anti-lock brakes limiting wheelspin, and a 42:58 torque split that can shift to 62 percent front, or up to 78 percent to the rear. It's offered only on the V-6, and wasn't ready in time for our first drives.
The more rugged version, standard on the V-8 and available on the V-6, has a low range and locking differentials, with a torque split of 50:50 that can switch to 100 percent, front or rear wheels, as traction suffers. We spent the better part of two days in Welsh hills and English river beds, letting Terrain Response's Auto mode do all of the work some of the time, and opting for its individual modes (Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl) as we trudged through the countryside without the benefit of pavement.The Sport's slight size benefit versus the Range Rover isn't so noticeable, but the increased ground clearance over its last-generation edition is. It's up to 11.2 inches, and the air suspension can extend itself another inch and some change when it needs to extract itself from especially difficult off-road scenarios. With 21.5 inches of cross-wheel articulation, that doesn't happen too often--but when it does, the Sport can isolate its roll bars, and make the most of its wheel travel. It can even deploy that additional reserve of ground clearance when it's wading close to its 33.5-inch maximum, and seconds later, lower itself almost silently down a steep grade thanks to a much quieter hill-descent control system.