Getting behind the wheel of one of the most profitable cars in the world. 

WHEN Ford owned Land Rover it reported the Mark 1 Range Rover Sport was its most profitable car in its vast empire.

The first Range Rover Sport was launched 17 years ago in 2005 and was basically a Discovery 3 with a different body on topof the same slightly shortened chassis. This was replaced 10 years later with the Mk 2 Range Rover Sport, based on its then new Range Rover big brother. The Discovery 3 quickly morphed into the fantastic Discovery 4 which itself was eventually replaced by the very slow-selling Discovery 5, once again based on Range Rover underpinnings. You may recall the first Discovery in 1989 was based on the chassis of the original Range Rover, itself launched in 1970.

Forestry Journal: A classic RRS silhouette, very similar to the previous model.A classic RRS silhouette, very similar to the previous model. (Image: FJ)

So here we are with an all-new Mk 3 Range Rover Sport based on the new, bigger Range Rover launched last year. Both were designed in tandem on new and very expensive underpinnings referred to as Flex MLA – Flexible Modular Longitudinal Architecture. So this new body architecture, 35 per cent stiffer than before, will underpin all new large Land Rovers. The smaller Evoque and Discovery Sport will get a new body architecture for transverse-mounted engines. This MLA chassis has been designed to future-proof the firm by being able to accommodate a range of power plants; namely internal combustion petrol and diesel engines (often now referred to as ICE), plug-in electric hybrids (PHEVs) and pure electric (EVs). I don’t know if it will accept hydrogen, but I expect so. 

The new Sport is much more similar to its big brother than the previous model was, even if it does not look like that from the exterior styling. Their interiors are most similar, with a slightly lower seating position by 20 mm, a raised centre console and three-spoke steering wheel the only visible differences. The front windscreen is more sloped on the Sport, too. The Sport is 4,946 mm long, 2,209 mm wide and 1,820 mm tall, whereas the big brother is 5,052 mm long, 2,209 mm wide and taller at 1,870 mm. The Sport has a bigger boot (don’t know why, must find out!) at 835 litres and 1,860 litres with seats flat, compared to 818 litres and 1,841 litres for the Vogue. Prices for the Sport start at £84,000 and £99,000 for the Vogue.

READ MORE: All of the vehicles Forestry Journal reviewed in 2022

The new Range Rovers (both Sport and big brother Vogue) are available with diesel and petrol engines, petrol hybrids, and should have a fully electric model available by 2024. Six-cylinder diesel and petrol engines are Land Rover’s own Ingenium mild hybrid 3-litre straight sixes assembled in Wolverhampton. Interestingly, the PHEVs are based on the petrol versions and not the diesels, I suppose for anti-soot legislation reasons in urban areas. Only Mercedes offers a diesel PHEV (as far as I’m aware). A more powerful 4.4-litre BMW V8 is also available for those who like to waste fuel. All Range Rovers are built at Solihull, apart from the smaller Evoque, built in Liverpool alongside the small Discovery Sport.

The model tested here, the Autobiography HSE (£104,000), is fitted with the more powerful 350D engine, but a 300D version is also available. All engines in the new Sport use the well-proven and continuously developed German ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox mated to twin-speed transmission offering low-range gears, just as has been the case for all Range Rovers and Discoveries for many years. This is linked to Land Rover’s new intelligent All-Wheel Drive (iAWD) system which decouples the front axle under certain conditions, such as cruising down a motorway, with the intention of saving fuel.

The new Sport is slightly larger than the model it replaces and a lot heavier, weighing in at 2,390 kg compared to the bigger brother at 2,505 kg. The previous Sport weighed about 2,200 kg. It has a maximum off-road ground clearance of 281 mm, down on big brother’s huge 295 mm, with a normal clearance of 200 mm compared to 219 mm. Of course, the Sport is designed for more road work, while the Vogue is very much a proper city off roader, if a rather fancy one. It is interesting to note that most new Range Rovers rarely go off road while most second-hand ones do. It comes with an 80-litre fuel tank and can tow 3,500 kg, whereas the PHEV petrol versions have 90 litres, slightly less ground clearance and can only tow 3,000 kg. They can do 70 miles on battery power alone, which is very good for a PHEV. Pity the larger tank is not fitted to the diesels. 
The new car is 15 per cent more aerodynamic than its predecessor and should average 35 mpg. I got 32 mpg, but it was awful wet weather and the car only had 200 miles on the clock. The real-world official mpg is 38 mpg, but that perhaps seems a bit adrift from everyday reality. Also, the more power one has, the faster you tend to go, using up more fuel, and these official figures are based on not exceeding 70 mph.

The 350D is a fast motor, featuring 350 hp and 700 Newton-metres torque, providing a swift 0–60 mph in 5.9 seconds. The 300D, with its 300 hp and 650 Nm of torque does it in a still-fast 6.6 seconds. Top speeds are 145 mph and 135 mph respectively, for the odd occasion that one might want to sprint across Germany. In comparison, the P400 petrol version does it in 5.4 secs, 150 mph and 28 mpg. All plenty fast enough and very enjoyable when accelerating or overtaking on steep hills, and all that power is useful for towing, too. It is not surprising so many second-hand Sports end up in the forestry world. The new 350D is almost as powerful as the old Mexican-built Ford V8 diesel, while being 17 per cent more economical. These Ingenium engines are mildly hybrid in that they have a wee battery to help flatten the torque curve, speeding up take-off. This operates by harvesting energy lost during braking or deceleration. A belt-driven integrated starter generator delivers faster responses. The engine has a pair of close-coupled series sequentially arranged turbos. The 350D certainly pulled like a train and sounds great too.

Forestry Journal: Clear instrumentation.Clear instrumentation. (Image: FJ)

The air suspension is useful in raising the vehicle for off-road work and the new, larger boot is a bonus. Unlike the Vogue, the Sport has switchable-volume air springs with twin-valve active dampers for better agility, control and composure.  The AWD system ensures permanent 4WD is in place when off-roading by selecting the correct mode on the dashboard-located pop-up rotary controller. 4WD is also in place automatically when pulling away from a standstill, in cold weather and at speeds above 100 mph. The AWD system uses the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics system to effectively distribute power to the wheels with the most grip. It monitors grip levels and inputs from the driver 100 times a second to predict and distribute torque between the front and rear axles, as well as across the rear axle, for optimum traction in all conditions. A centre clutch handles the all-wheel-drive delivery to the front wheels and prop shafts when required, seamlessly engaging when necessary. It is a lovely car to punt along a twisty B road.

Gone is the circular gear selector, replaced by a handle which is a bit small for easy use.

Towing is made easier with Advanced Tow Assist to aid reversing manoeuvres. The driver is able to steer a trailer into a space just using the rotary controller on the centre console, guided by trajectory lines displayed on the Pivi Pro screen via the rear camera. Hitch Assist and Trailer Stability control make it easier to hitch a trailer and get driving with confidence, while the electrically deployable tow bar neatly stows out of sight at the touch of a button. In the past, the reliability of such devices on the Disco 5 was often poor.

Handling on and off road is aided by various systems including Terrain Response 2, dynamic air suspension, Dynamic Response Pro, brake torque vectoring, decoupling roll bars, electronic active differential and adaptive off-road cruise control. The interior is super quiet, aided by active noise cancellation through the speakers and plenty of insulation. Cabin air has a Purification Pro system and the seats are beautifully sculpted.

You can recharge your phone just by leaving it on a wee shelf on the dashboard. The headlights are fancy LEDs and very powerful. Braking has front flaps that allow cooling air when required, but stay closed otherwise to save fuel. Wade Mode locks the driveline, sets ride height at maximum and closes all cabin vents, to allow wading in up to 900 mm, the same for the Defender, Discovery 5 and RR Vogue.

PHEV models come with standard rear-wheel steering. This system, standard on all Vogue models but optional on other Sport variants, means the rear wheels turn by up to 7.3 degrees in the opposite direction to the front wheels to effortlessly deliver a turning circle of under 11 m, assisted by a faster steering rack that also provides more agile responses in low-speed changes of direction. At above 31 mph, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels, providing stability and enhanced agility for better handling. It all sounds great, but I do wonder how reliable the system will be.

The styling of the new Range Rover Sport is a natural progression of the previous model, with a silhouette that’s very familiar. The front is a bit mixed up. The grille and lights look great, while the below bumper seems a but fussy, with too many horizontal features. The rear design is a major departure for the Sport with its Range Rover Velar and smaller Evoque thin horizontal lights and writing. Most folk are not that impressed with the rear styling and I agree. The Mk 1 and Mk 2 Sports had really well-designed rear ends and nice, small light clusters. I always admire the Sport design, but this new one is perhaps not so special. Land Rover carried out a masterful reinterpretation of the bigger Range Rover’s styling, but somewhat lost their way here. However, the interior is a very nice place to be. It is a little understated, but works well, apart from that annoying Land Rover light stalk with its spring-load action making it very hard just to turn on the side lights. After a while you just give up and leave the lights in auto.

Forestry Journal: Note two fins on the roof.Note two fins on the roof. (Image: FJ)

The other features I dislike are those silly pop-out door handles which announce to the world your car has been left unlocked. They also get in the way as they stick out too much, catching you if you get too close. And, when popped out, they display a keyhole beneath, which looks cheap – not what you want to see every time you open your £100,000 car. The handles look neat when moving, but clumsy when parked before you lock up, so a real a design flaw. I see the new Volvo eV90 uses them too. Silly Volvo!

So what it is like to drive? It is fantastic, quiet, fast and sounds great, with tight handling and superb visibility (though I did not get a chance to drive it off road). The stereo is great and my wife enjoyed the massage seats. The bigger boot is welcome and it is well lit too. It feels a big car as you look over to the passenger door – bigger than its predecessor. The dash is easy to use and the instrumentation very clear and concise. I still reckon the Discovery 4 dials are the best ones out there.

People often ask me to name the best car I ever tested. The answer for a long time has always been the Mk 2 Range Rover Sport. On a number of occasions I have nearly bought one, opting instead for a Discovery 4 with its huge boot, ideal for carrying mountain bikes and trees. I also don’t want to scare the clients off, but that is probably more my mental take on the situation than theirs. I know a number of contractors who really enjoy their Sports for work and leisure.

Forestry Journal: An unusual small side window with audio speaker - a similar design to the Subaru Outback.An unusual small side window with audio speaker - a similar design to the Subaru Outback. (Image: FJ)

So will the new Range  Rover Sport be my favourite car tested to date? Probably not. It is a little too big and you sort of drive it hoping for the best as you feel a little disconnected. I don’t like the rear end or those pop-out door handles. It is a fantastic car to drive and the order book is now over 12 months long, micro chips notwithstanding. It costs a lot of dosh too, and it will take a few years before you get to buy a second-hand one for £40k. For now the Discovery 4 remains the best 4x4 by far. However, I fear the new Range Rover Vogue may well steal the accolade with its superb styling alone.

The new Range Rover Sport is a great car with a few minor drawbacks that will put some folk off, but plenty of people are queuing up to buy one and I don’t blame them. Another cash cow the for Land Rover? I guess so, if they can just make enough of them.

Thanks to Pentland Land Rover Perth for providing the test-drive vehicle.

Happy motoring in 2023!