A couple of years ago I remember describing the Land Rover Evoque as one of the most enjoyable SUVs I had driven. From its super-retro design to the performance of the 2-litre engine and slick gearbox. And let’s not forget its surprising off-road capabilities — which I discovered in the bush of Botswana — and the top-notch interior. If not mistaken, I scored it nine out of 10 and asked: “Does it get much better than this?”
Well, the simple answer is: “Yes, it does.” And it’s called the Range Rover Sport. Tricked out with 22-inch rims, lowered suspension and black-tinted windows, the Sport has become standard in the parking bays of Premier League footballers and rappers around the globe. Come to think of it, even members of the British royal family have been known to arrive in one at the odd polo event. And after a few days behind the wheel of this wonderful piece of machinery, it’s easy to see why it is so often the vehicle of choice for those who have plenty of money in their bank accounts.
On test we had the V6 diesel that comes in at a cool R1 290 000. Yep, that’s a lot of zeros, but, believe me, this is a lot of vehicle. Positioned between the Evoque and Range Rover, even in standard form the Sport oozes attitude — but not in a crass way. Strong body lines, definitive angles, side air-intake panels, smoking-gun exhausts, sliding panoramic roof . They all add up to understated Class — with a capital C. Again we see a manufacturer going the aluminium route for its body structure, and one enormous benefit is that the Range Rover Sport of today weighs an impressive 420kg less than the generation it replaces. This saving in weight translates to an extremely agile vehicle for its size (just under 5m long and a kerb weight of just more than two tons).
In addition, the Sport’s weight loss definitely goes a long way towards helping it achieve exceptional fuel consumption — 10.7l/100km over seven days of largely urban driving. But where the Range Rover Sport really beats the rest of the premium SUV market is with its interior. I love the minimalist route they have taken, with a dashboard that stretches forever. Plenty of soft-touch materials, just the right number of dials and buttons, convenient storage spaces. And then there are the seats finished in Oxford (what else would you expect?) perforated leather. Seats so comfortable that I had no problem retreating to the garage one evening to watch a short DVD — there are also rear- seat screens — while the lounge TV was “otherwise occupied”.
You can actually feel the attention that has gone into the detail — from the stitching to how the chunky steering wheel feels in your hands. Now the fun part: the 3-litre diesel powerplant. Trundling along on the school run, the Range Rover Sport is as civilised and respectable as an English scholar. But show some intent with your right foot and you quickly awaken the beast that lies within: the speedometer and rev counter needles start rocking while the symphony piped through its twin tailpipes is music to the ears. Fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox (along with paddle shifts), the Sport slices smoothly through the range while with the push of a button that rises from the central console you can easily select driving modes that include various off-road conditions.
Quick as the Sport is — a claimed 0- 100km/h sprint of 7.2 seconds — it is more at home on the open road, where it eats up the kilometres with ease. Air suspension is activated just as easily as the drive mode, and quickly raises the vehicle by an extra 85mm to help you handle obstacles. The Range Rover Sport is one of those vehicles I simply didn’t want to return to its rightful owner. A week was too short to enjoy all its trappings — that fusion of technology, comfort, class and ruggedness. It’s a magical mix. So when someone asked me how I would score the Range Rover Sport out of 10, I had no hesitation in giving it an 11.
Engine: 2993cc, six-cylinder V6
Top speed: 210km/h
Fuel Consumption: 10.7l/ 100km (achieved)
Price: R1 290 000