Range Rover Sport prototype driven

* Near production-ready Range Rover Sport driven * We get behind the wheel of SDV6 model * Expected to be biggest seller in UK...

Range Rover Sport prototype driven

The new Range Rover Sport is still a few months away, but What Car? has been given the chance to get behind the wheel of a development car for an early indication of what the new model is like to drive.

The SDV6 diesel model we tried is expected to be the biggest seller in the UK, with its 288bhp output placing it between the entry-level 255bhp TDV6 diesel and the range-topping 503bhp supercharged V8 petrol.

In TDV6 and SDV6 guises, the new Range Rover Sport is 420kg lighter than the outgoing car. This saving is largely down to the extensive use of aluminium and composites in its construction, although these models still weigh 2115kg. Land Rover says the figure would be less than two tonnes if the car were fitted with a four-cylinder engine - this motor is likely to join the range later.

Once on the move, the SDV6 delivers its power smoothly and progressively. It propels the car from 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 130mph, while even at high speeds the engine remains quiet and refined.

The steering also impresses, feeling well weighted. Land Rover claims its steering is 10% faster than the regular Range Rover's, and it certainly responds quickly enough to inputs.

Our brief drive revealed that the new Sport's suspension helps it stay flatter in fast corners than its predecessor; our car was helped by the fact it was fitted with active anti-roll bars, which are reserved for HSE Dynamic models and above. It also felt tauter than its bigger brother, the Range Rover, although the trade-off is a slightly less dignified ride over patched-up road surfaces.

The other noticeable characteristic revealed by our drive was the effect of the Sport's trick torque vectoring system. This brakes the inside wheel during hard cornering to stop the front-end washing wide, and it works well, keeping the car on the correct line when you enter a corner with too much speed.

All Range Rover Sport versions come with Terrain Response, which lets you set up the car for different surfaces simply by twisting a dial on the centre console. However, the more sophisticated Terrain Response 2 which has an automatic mode that detects the terrain conditions and adapts accordingly is available only on the HSE Dynamic trim and above. This version is priced from £64,995, and is also the entry point for a Sport with a low-range gearbox.

We didn't drive the supercharged V8 petrol model, but our experience of the same engine in the regular Range Rover suggests that it won't be our pick of the range when the car is launched in June. Its 0-60mph time is a sports car-rivalling 5.0 seconds, but purchase price and running costs will be massive.

Land Rover has confirmed that a diesel hybrid with CO2 emissions of just 169g/km will appear in 2014, and it is also planning to introduce a 334bhp SDV8 diesel.

Inside, the new Range Rover Sport has a dashboard that's virtually identical to the new Range Rover's, although the smaller, chunkier steering wheel and conventional gear selector in place of the regular Range Rover's puck-like design make it clear that this car has more sporting intent than its big brother.

The front seats are 20mm lower than the previous car's, too, which Land Rover hopes will make the driver feel more cocooned without compromising the 'command' driving position.

Beyond the overall design, the extra seven inches in the wheelbase are the most noticeable external change over the previous car. The rear wheelarches still encroach into the passenger doors more than some of its competitors', but entry and exit from the car is easier than it used to be.

The new Sport is a more practical car than its predecessor, then, and it will even be available with an optional third row of seats; these are designed to accommodate children and teenagers rather than adults.

Pricing for the new Range Rover Sport was confirmed last week; it starts at £51,500 for the entry-level TDV6 SE. Standard equipment across the range includes automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a powered tailgate and intelligent stop-start. You also get a DAB radio, HD navigation, dual-zone climate control and heated and cooled seats in the first and second rows.

Interior options include a full-length panoramic sunroof, a 23-speaker 1700W Meridian sound system and a laser head-up display a first for any Land Rover product which displays key vehicle information as well as traffic sign readouts and turn-by-turn sat-nav instructions.