It’s Saturday night — after midnight, in fact, so technically Sunday morning — and Wellington’s infamous strip, otherwise known as Courtenay Place, is pumping. Teens and 20-somethings bounce off each other on the packed pavements; taxi drivers play dodgems with drunken youths as they weave through slow-moving traffic seemingly without pause for thought; and for once it’s a warm evening, which adds to the revelry and party atmosphere.
Amongst the mêlée, the Range Rover Sport, striking in deep charcoal hues and killer 22in rims, makes quite an impact. Surprising? You might reasonably expect that the natural habitat of such a large and capable off-roader would be the vast Canterbury Plains, or rarely explored tracks deep in the South Island, rather than Wellington’s urban nightspot. But thanks to the influence of hip hop and other popular culture, the Rangie is just as synonymous with glamour and bling.
The Sport sits on the same wheelbase as its big brother, the Range Rover Vogue, launched back in 2012 to critical acclaim. But the Sport sits lower, and its roofline has a marked rake that makes it appear — at least in my mind — quite a bit smaller and more dynamic than its high-riding sibling.
The SDV6 Autobiography test vehicle retails for around $155k, and sits about middle of the pack in terms of the diesel range, but still carries a reasonable premium over the entry-level TDV6 Vogue SE, which starts at $125k. The extra investment secures 215kW (25kW more than the TDV6) and a genuinely impressive 600Nm of torque. It’s also significantly lighter than its predecessor, shedding several hundred kilos in its new guise.
When you sit behind the wheel, there’s no denying the Sport is still a big vehicle, seemingly dwarfing virtually everything else on the road. But it doesn’t take long for it simply to shrink around the driver, and it feels remarkably agile. It’s frankly incredible how composed the Range Rover feels even when tackling tight corners and poor cambers, and it’s a sheer testament to both the sophisticated dynamics of the car and the success of all the electronic aids that it works so well.
And it’s quick. From standstill, the big Rangie will get off the line with surprising haste, efficiently working through the truly excellent eight-speed gearbox and maximising every bit of the torque on tap. The 0–100km/h dash is dispatched in just 7.2 seconds — no mean feat considering that even in its new slimmed-down guise, the Sport weighs 2,115kg.
Inside, the Range Rover is as luxurious and sumptuous as ever. The fully adjustable front seats are akin to those you might find on the bridge of a super yacht, while the interior layout is second to none. It’s one of the best interiors I have encountered recently, and stands out for its usable ‘smart’ interface, which is more than can be said for some. The Sport can be optioned for seven seats if required, but regardless, it offers plenty of space for five adult passengers, and provides 784 litres of load space with all seats upright. In Autobiography guise, expect such creature comforts as the 19-speaker, 825w Meridian sound system, heated and cooled front seats, and a cooler compartment.
If you’re worried the Sport is a case of style over substance, rest assured. If you can live with the odd scratch on the paintwork, the Sport will take you (within reason) wherever your off-road heart desires, with its multiple terrain settings and a twin-speed transfer box to keep you on the move.
And the verdict from the Courtenay crowd? A couple of thumbs up from excited lads and overt stares from girls in party mode would suggest the new Sport has definitely hit the mark when it comes to its refreshed styling. In other words, it’s a clear case of covering all your bases.[warning]
Model reviewed: Range Rover Sport SDV6 Autobiography
Fuel economy: 7.5 litres/100km (manufacturer’s figures)
0–100km/h: 7.2 seconds
Overall: It’s big for sure, and probably not for everyone, but there is a reason the Range Rover remains the king of the SUV – it really is that good.[/warning]