From launch, you can choose from two engines: a 288bhp 3.0 SDV6 diesel and a supercharged 503bhp 5.0 V8 petrol. We tried the diesel, which doesn't have the outright performance of similarly priced rivals – such as the Porsche Cayenne S diesel and BMW X5 M50d – but is super-smooth and effortlessly flexible from low revs. A 255bhp TDV6 model will join the line-up in early 2014, while a diesel hybrid version (with CO2 emissions of just 169g/km) and a 334bhp SDV8 will also follow.
If you’re hoping the 'Sport' badge hints at this Range Rover’s driving manners, then prepare to be disappointed; it feels heavier and more cumbersome through corners than a Cayenne. However, most SUV buyers see comfort as more important, and it’s here that the Sport excels. Even on 21-inch alloys it does a remarkable job of smothering urban bumps and potholes. Meanwhile, things are even better on the motorway, where the Sport lopes along relaxingly and feels incredibly stable.
Aside from a bit of wind noise from its chunky door mirrors, the Range Rover Sport is a hushed cruiser. It’s much better at shutting out road noise than the X5 or Cayenne, while the diesel engine never becomes coarse. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is generally smooth, too, although it'll sometimes get caught out when you need a sudden burst of acceleration.
The Range Rover Sport sits at the more expensive end of the SUV market, but it should hold its value well and running costs are comparable with rivals’. Our True MPG test shows that the SDV6 should average 31.5mpg in real-world driving – almost exactly the same as the V8 diesel version of the Porsche Cayenne.
Cabin quality has long been one of Range Rover's strongest suits, and the Sport delivers convincingly here. Every surface and switch feels classy, while electronic instrument dials – borrowed from the regular Range Rover – lend a modern twist to an otherwise stately driver environment. Land Rover has traditionally performed poorly in reliability surveys, but it showed a marked improvement in the 2013 JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
Every Range Rover Sport comes with a stability control system that incorporates roll stability control and trailer stability control. However, it’s a little disappointing that there are just six airbags. Deadlocks, locking wheel nuts and an alarm are all included.
The driving environment is pretty much perfect. Not only are the seats incredibly comfortable, but the pedals line up nicely with the steering wheel and all-round visibility is excellent. The one disappointment is the touch-screen infotainment system. It looks smart but is frustrating to use, partly because it takes a while to respond to commands, but mainly because the menus are confusingly laid out.
The Sport has no more rear leg- or headroom than rivals such as the Porsche Cayenne, but its wider cabin means five people can travel more comfortably. Better still, Land Rover will let you specify a third row of seats enabling you to carry up to seven people. These fold down into the boot floor electrically when not needed. However, the Sport does miss out on the regular Range Rover’s handy split tailgate.
Entry-level SE trim will be available only with the forthcoming TDV6 engine, but even this model comes with a leather interior, laminated side windows, xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, climate control, rear parking sensors, sat-nav and a DAB radio. Step up to HSE (the starting point for the SDV6 engine) and you'll also get keyless entry, a reversing camera, front parking sensors, an electrically adjustable steering wheel and heated rear seats.
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The Range Rover Sport 3.0 SDV6 HSE combines good performance with competitive running costs and generous standard kit, making it the pick of the range.