7 Oct 2013

Range Rover Sport Supercharged 5.0 V8 Autobiography Dynamic review

Colin Hubbard reviews the daddy of the Range Rover Sport range - the 5 litre V8 supercharged

The old Range Rover Sport and BMW X5 are driven generally by angry egotistical men or tracksuit clad women who think other drivers should get out of their way.  This is reflected in their phobia of leaving a sensible gap in front of their vehicle and also their mimed words ‘GET OUT OF MY WAY!’

Well now there’s a new kid in town with a much closer relationship to the wonderful new Range Rover ,which is driven more by people who want to relax in life, have some pleasure in driving or being driven and maybe have a play in the woods to let their hair down. The new RRS is a completely new car being based on the new RR, with it’s more rigid and lighter all aluminium body.

Where the old RRS was based on the Discovery 3 but given some sharper clothes, dynamically it was identical and the Sport name made a mockery of the whole affair.  Maybe if it was named the Disco Sleekline it may have attracted better behaved drivers, but then again it would not have sold in the volumes that it did behind that Range Rover badge.

So leaving my past prejudices behind I come to review the most powerful version of the new RRS with an open mind and find out whether this really is Beelzebub’s new wheels.

Initial impressions from the outside are that it retains the Range Rover family look, which is a good thing.  It looks to me like the lovechild of an Evoque and the RR, taking styling cues from both but with its own individual character. It is a very tall car and when I first saw the spy shots without the black rubber trim at the base of the doors it looked comical, but as a complete and finished car it’s very handsome.

When compared directly to the RR it is more squat, and more aggressive, like it wants to be a better road car to the RR’s majestic demeanour. This is reflected in the size as, whilst they share the same wheelbase and width, the Sport is shorter by 150mm and lower by 100mm.

The mass of the body has been hidden by some low level black plastics as mentioned above and it has some intentional touches to distinguish it from the full size RR such as different vents in the front wings and a one piece tailgate. It’s a shame the latter was utilised as RR buyers expect a split tailgate in order to associate it as a proper RR and if I was designing the car and had instructions from the Board on the matter would have included a fold out flap from the boot floor to sit on when parked up for picnics or just to put on your wellies.

You don’t get in this car instead you step up into it and onto the seat, perching you some 3 foot above the ground -  giving away its serious off road potential and seeingoverthehedgery. Initial thoughts are that it’s very much like the RR but with a cosier feel due its lower roof height.

The cabin's very well put together and a very nice place to be, a tidy dashboard with seemingly hundreds of buttons that won’t get used and a spacious front and rear seat layout. The RRS is available as a 7 seater with some small fold out forward facing seats in the boot area accessed from the rear doors. They are fine as emergency chairs for adults or daily use for kids but are a little claustrophobic for a long journey with high surfaces all around you. Funnily enough the full size RR can’t be ordered with a 7 seat option, which cements the Sport's usefulness suggesting it as a Swiss Army Knife of cars.

The driving position is very commanding meaning you can see over hedges and what’s coming down those country lanes so you have the opportunity to gas it a little more than in a lower car. With Sport in the title it was always going to have sports seats in the front and I love them.  They are really comfortable without being over intrusive on your hips and thighs and hold you in place when you hustle the beast along. I didn’t get on with the same look headrest in the RR but in this application they work well.

In the rear and there’s 2 comfy chairs with individual heating controls and a central seat that isn’t half as pleasant or good looking. In the middle row you do though get a view of the lovely Alcantara headlining and find yourself looking down on the minions in their ‘normal’ cars.

The interior design and quality is everything you would expect from a Range Rover.  Merc S-Class customers would be at home in here, a lovely choice, colour and quality of materials provide a lavish aura. Take the leather covered dashboard for example, a clutterfree affair with a large central screen for satnav, outside camera view and computer readouts with the majority of buttons being located on the steering wheel and centre console. The seat facings are quilted in the centres and the leather is of the highest quality as it should be in this £80k car.

Prod the start button to the left of the instrument binnacle and the blown high capacity V8 stirs into life, with a growl more akin to a muscle car than a limo, and the instruments come to life. The panel where the instruments are is entirely digital showing a large Rev Counter and Speedo and the centre section is used as a computer display but flashes up colour Sat Nav instructions when instructions are imminent. After a few seconds the engine note slurs to a low undertone.

I select drive release the brake and give the throttle a tickle and it literally glides off on a magic carpet.  The 461 torques pull effortlessly from pretty much no revs and the air suspension providing a smooth ride. The RRS features active suspension so at lower smoother speeds its pure Rolls ride quality but as it senses a more aggressive driving style with an increase in straight line and cornering speed it adds pressure to the dampers and balances the car out on it’s air springs.

This is a large car in every dimension and highlighted by the size of the door mirrors which are the size of a human head, but the suspension’s so capable it it tends to shrink around you so the only times its size will be highlighted is when you catch one of those mirrors on a parked car or hedgerow.

Pressing on and giving chase to an XFR-S reveals how accomplished the chassis is, the combination of the 400 odd kilo weight reduction and sorted airspring/electronic damper set up and it’s keeping with the highly indiscrete XF. The Supercharged 5 litre engine proving a match for the chassis and occasionally proving a little too much as I manage to get this 2 tonne car into a 4 wheel drift, but it feels totally predictable and kind of rear biased like an Audi R8 but carrying twice the mass. Not once did I feel the car or me was overwhelmed and out of control but it did highlight a little wind noise by the A pillars at 70 mph. There’s no escaping physics - this is a huge motor car, some 6 feet tall.

The noise is fun, a kind of dirty growl when the revs rise like a distant earthquake at medium revs and a further prod on the (very) loud pedal and the earthquake gets a whole lot closer. At one stage I drove close to a high wall and the exhaust reverberated off the large reflective surface with a bassy echo, giving me rather than pedestrians the chance to sample its voice at full chat.

The engine’s the shared Jaguar/Landrover Supercharged 5 litre V8 with its standard 502bhp output but in it’s latest guise it benefits from being coupled to the new 8 speed ZF automatic gearbox. The JLR family preferring the supercharged route over a turbo, and with impressive results.

You can feel the mass in the height of the car when driving it but the electrical wizardry in conjunction with the air springs do an amazing job of keeping the car flat.  There’s the intial ‘lag’ where you throw the car about and it takes maybe half a second to settle then it’s just focused. Amazingly it feels as agile as my Audi TT aided no doubt by the active suspension constantly reading the road and adjusting height, damping and traction.

Theres some twisty sections on the B4102 in Meridian which slow up normal cars but when straights appear you can take advantage of the 510 horses and the 8 speed gearbox shines as it drops from its higher gears for economy to an appropriate gear for maximum attack and the car launches forward to pass one, two or three cars depending on the section of clear road and approaching corner. As you go through the corner at speed the seats grip, the car composes itself and just gets through with minimum fuss and I’m glad I’m not in the full RR as it has an annoying decorative feature near the drivers left leg which catches your knee and which thankfully doesn’t appear on the Sport.

Through the corner with a clear road and it picks up again, showing a little rear bias in the drive and the stability control damping power to any overwhelmed wheels and it accelerates very smoothly making very quick progress. Land Rover quote a 0 to 60 time of 5 seconds flat which is thoroughly believable after my experience with the car, and I’m advised it’ll top out at 155mph.

The brakes are large steel discs with huge Brembo calipers and are effective on the road but take it to the Nurburgring and they will fade after half a hard lap - 2 tonnes and 500bhp would push even carbon brakes to their limits. Currently there’s no carbon option but Jaguar are experimenting with these which will filter to the performance car range in time.

Theres no doubt the RRS will be a sales success and already there’s a 9 month waiting list (just 6 for the RR) partly contributed by it’s bargain price compared to the full size RR, although in my eyes it’s every bit as good. The RRS with V8 Supercharger starts from £81,550 or as tested in Fuji White with Super Premium Hifi at £5k, rear seat DVD monitors, cooled and heated front and rear seats it’s some £90,200 - which is still cheaper than the RR equivalent without options.

Here’s how I see Competition:

Mercedes GL63 AMG – the ML doesn’t have 7 seats so it’s over to its bigger brother and starting at £92k, it has performance on par with the RRS but can’t compete with it’s looks and handling.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo - Ignoring the fact it’s only a 5 seater it starts at exactly the same price as the RRS at £82k and whilst it is faster and dynamically superior (to be fair it is a Porsche!) it’s not a looker and doesn’t have the same charm.

BMW X6M – Again this has only 5 seats and the price is slightly up on the RRS, starting at £86k, but has an almighty engine to blow the competition into the weeds and dynamically it is very accomplished but, and this is a big butt (literally!) this has to be one of the most obscene and offensive shapes on the roads and its engine note is synthesised through the hifi.

So when bearing in mind the competition you have to take into account this car can still do everything a normal RR can do as seen in this article, and as evidenced by it’s 5 external cameras, yet still has the heart and performance of a super saloon. In V8 petrol guise it’s a monster, the noise it makes when revved is a guilty pleasure and makes you glad they stuck with a vocal supercharger over a pair of noise sapping turbochargers. Add 7 seat practicality and ignore the running costs and it’s the only car you may need or want for!

Have Land Rover just invented the SSUV (Super Sports Utility vehicle)?

There’s only two downsides to this car, the first being it’s price.  At £82,000 it’s a lot of money for mere mortals but then to be fair it is a premium product with frantic performance. The second is that my wife likes it and I can’t afford it.

If I had £82k lying around I would buy her one and I suppose that’s my way of admitting I like it so, going back to my initial paragraph, that’s a thumbs up from me.  I just hope new buyers are a more restrained and courteous bunch.

Review by Colin Hubbard