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Form comes FIRST
Luxury SUVs are all about image, desirability and looks. And the Range Rover Sport seems to have it all

Richard Leu

It usually comes as a delight when a specialist carmaker announces a plan to offer a new "entry-level" model for customers who don't have millions of green bucks in their pockets to spend.

Good examples are the Lamborghini Gallardo sitting under the mighty Murcielago and Bentley Continental positioned below the ultra-luxurious Arnage.

Lower down the price spectrum is the Boxster sports car from Porsche to attract buyers who aren't too anxious about spending a fortune on a 911.

Some five years ago, Land Rover - the ultimate British 4x4 icon - said it would build a new "baby" sport-ute placed under the Range Rover flagship model.
At that time, off-road enthusiasts were rather thrilled by such news. Of course, there were the more "mass-market" Land Rover models like the Discovery and Freelander to choose from.

But imagine a more "affordable Rangie" that would have been priced around a third cheaper than the Range Rover. That's the approximate price difference between the Lambos, Porsches and Bentleys.

But when the Range Rover Stormer - the concept car that was supposedly set to preview the junior Range Rover - was unveiled in 2003, things weren't as expected.
What happened instead was this Range Rover Sport you see on these pages this week. The Sport isn't the sub-B5m Range Rover car buffs of those times would have come to expect.

What the Sport merely seems to be is the sportier version of the Range Rover - just how its name suggests. And the Sport's prices are only fractionally cheaper than the Range Rover's.

Which explains why the Sport's retail prices kick out at an already astonishing 6.28 million baht for the TDV6 version, 8.45 million for the 4.4 V8 and 9.65 million for the 4.2 Supercharged as driven here.

Such prices can still fetch you the V8-powered Range Rover. In other words, the Sport wasn't intended to sit under the Land Rover Discovery that fills the B5m price range in Thailand.

Perhaps, Land Rover didn't want to dilute the Range Rover nameplate - the same precaution that many luxury brands have taken when considering "more affordable" models.

That may also mean that Land Rover is planning to take the Range Rover even higher up the market when an all-new replacement is due within three years.
Such a strategy will keep the Sport doing the unduly task of attempting to steal customers from the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne. That also includes the pending Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz ML.

So while the Range Rover Sport can never be considered as competitive in the eyes of new-generation SUV buyers, it is so when it is put head to head with the competition.

In Supercharged form, the Sport costs just as much as the X5 and Cayenne. But the Sport boasts a 390hp when compared to the similarly priced 340hp Cayenne S and 333hp X5 4.4.

Of course, there's the 450hp Cayenne Turbo to boast by Porsche. But with today's taxes and exchange rates, the Turbo's price hits at least 13 million baht.
And the good part about the Range Rover Sport is the specification. There seems to be absolutely no attempt to contain costs in it.

The Sport is packed with all safety features the brand has, an array of comfort-related items and an audio to keep American-style catwalkers entertained: a great-sounding 13-speaker sound system from Harman Kardon.
The Sport is a great place to be in. The cabin uses high-grade trimmings, boasts top-notch build quality, estate practicality and is typically airy and spacious just like in the Range Rover.

But the interior isn't close to being perfect yet. Unlike the comfortable front seats, the rear chairs aren't that shapely to keep occupants from swaying sideways, especially during off-roading.

At first glance, the driving position feels snug. The gearbox and controls are just by your side. But after some while driving, you'll be operating the gearlever, off-road buttons and other controls like a person suffering from arthritis.

Which is quite a pity, given Land Rover's attempt to give the driver a comfortable position and commanding view up front. Actually, the driving environment is very much like the Discovery, the main donor of parts to the Sport.

But outside, the Sport is still a Range Rover, a truncated Range Rover, to be more precise. The traditional silhouette remains including the headlamps and grille trademarks.

But in the Sport, such elements have been emphasised with more modernity. As well, the front end is not that upright and the rear windscreen is slanted more.
If you don't park the Sport and Range Rover side-by-side, you could have mistaken the Sport as a Range Rover, especially if you're not a Range Rover aficionado.

Despite the statistics on paper indicating that the Sport's a smaller vehicle, you don't feel this on the road. You can feel the sheer size and weight of the Sport - it tips the scales at already 2.5 tonnes.
So, don't expect all those 390 horses to deliver a scintillating acceleration in a straight line. The 0-100kph time of a claimed 7.6sec justifies this impression on the move.

In city driving, the Sport goes around effortlessly and you need to provoke the six-speed auto 'box to really feel the forced induction, unless you're in sport mode.
Where the Jaguar-derived 4.2-litre V8 really works is in the mid-ranges. The amount of grunt available from medium to high speeds is impressive. You don't only get to make others eat your dust, but are treated with the refined, evocative tunes of the V8 and supercharger.

Driven on the right road conditions, the Sport is quite a performer including the brakes from Brembo that does a fine job in keeping those berserk horses at bay.
Naturally, the downside is fuel consumption. We averaged 3.5-4.0kpl in town-driving, while the figures rose to 6.5-7kpl outside the city. Get enthusiastic with the engine and the numbers immediately plummet.

The Sport is based on the Discovery's T5 integrated body-on-frame platform designed to yield a good mix between on- and off-road ability, despite the car being promoted as a "sporty SUV" for real-life users.

You'll note some jiggling of the body when driving at low speeds. Also, the suspension is on the plush side, considering the amount of pitch and dive during hard acceleration and braking.

Those fantastic-looking 20-inch wheels and thin tyres don't backfire on ride comfort. Yes, you can feel the low-profiled rubbers over sharp bumps, but they're unusually quiet. It appears Land Rover has a done a good job in NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) suppression.

It's easy to veer the Sport at low speeds, yet via a feelsome and not overly light steering. It's a another fine touch by Land Rover's engineers.

The ride and amount of body control improves as speeds rise, thanks to an electronically controlled roll system in the Sport. At high speeds, the Sport is commendably stable, convincing to drive and reasonably quiet - even at 200kph.
The handling balance in corners is equally as good. The steering remains crisp, although overall driving sharpness and responsiveness may not be able to match the X5 or Cayenne. Nevertheless, dynamics isn't an issue in the Sport.

But when you consider the Sport's ability to get itself smeared with mud too, Land Rover has struck a remarkable balance in road manners. But will you go off-road with those shimmy tyres?

Once again, Land Rover has left the market with another head-scratcher. The Sport is supposed to the brand's ultimate on-road SUV, yet leaves a long list of muddy credentials in its pocket.

Perhaps, Land Rover should have gone flat out to make the Sport a more athletic, lighter SUV to really match its competitors. But would they afford to ditch the brand's renown 4x4 abilities?

But the point here is that function doesn't seem to come first. It's all about image, desirability, looks, that upmarket feel and top-notch specification. And the Range Rover Sport has got it all.

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