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It only takes 10 minutes to get an impressive taste of the all-new Range Rover Sport. That's perfect, because we only have 10 minutes of drive time during the fact-packed press preview of the SUV sporty at Land Rover's test track at Gaydon in the British midlands.
The Sport has just been cut away from the mid-level Discovery and twinned with the all-new Range Rover, a move that has created non-identical twins at the top end of the Land Rover family.
The luxury Range Rover is already up and running in Australia and the Sport comes in November, with pricing still to be revealed but an impressive set of standard luxury and driving equipment.
Apart from the switch to an all-alloy body, the new Sport becomes the first Range Rover with a seven-seater cabin - thanks to a third row of "secret seating" intended for youngsters - and other innovations run from a laser-driven heads-up instrument display to a torque-vectoring transmission system to improve the car's on-road dynamics.
If there is one thing that points to the transformation of the Sport, it's the gear lever in the centre console. The luxury RR has a rotary control that ensures it's always a full automatic, but the Sport is a car that is intended to be driven.
That also includes front seats that are set 20 millimetres lower, with a console raised by 9 millimetres, to give a more driver-focused cabin.
It's easier to compare the Sport with the Range Rover than the previous Discovery-based model, because it reflects a new approach to the top end at Land Rover.
"We're about taking quantum leaps forward with every new model we do," says Nick Rogers, the vehicle line director for Rang Rover programs.
"Range Rover Sport has helped us transform our business. It's new people. They are 80-85 per cent conquest customers."
The new Sport is part of the 65th anniversary celebration for Land Rover and it's about as far removed from the British off-road original as it's possible to get.
"It's Land Rover's take on the dynamic SUV. It's a sports tourer. The key aspect is long-range comfort," says Rogers.
The unveiling of the Sport is a 'soft' launch that is big on facts and figures, but short on driving. Carsguide will have a full driving review later in the year, most likely from the off-road tracks and winding country roads of Wales, before the first deliveries - and the all-importing bottom line - in the final quarter.
"Pricing will be revealed in June, and it's on sale in November," says Tim Krieger, brand manager for Land Rover Australia.
The new Sport is still pitched up against the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes-Benz ML, but also picks up extra points from its twin-brother role with the Range Rover.
That means a choice of engines from a four-cylinder unit almost identical to the EcoBoost motor in the Ford Falcon through to a supercharged V8, a weigh loss program that's stripped more than 400 kilos - 500 with the baby four - active anti-roll suspension, an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, the ability to wade through water up to 850 millimetres deep, and true off-road capability.
But the Sport turns sharply away from the Range Rover in one way.
"It really is re-focused to emphasise its dynamic ability. It's lower than the Range Rover, it's more agile with improved ride comfort," says Stuart Frith, chief program manager. "We wanted to transform the on-road dynamics, with impeccable composure." The bottom line is that 75 per cent of the parts in the Sport are new and different from the Range Rover.
Once the technology workshops are out of the way, we get out 10 minutes of play time. Land Rover says this is not the first drive, but we're driving and we're first.
But first there is time to consider the car's WiFi hotspot, the soft-close doors and electric tailgate, and a cooler compartment in the centre console that's big enough for a bottle of champagne.
But that all zaps into the background as I fire the supercharged V8 for a romp around Land Rover's high-speed test track and a couple of quick laps over a ride-and-handling course.
The first impression is very good, as I'm sitting in the car and not perched on top - like riding an elephant, as my colleague Stuart Martin calls it - Range Rover style.
The Sport is very quick with the top-end engine, it responds enthusiastically to manual use of the transmission - with a race-style layout that means you push forward on the lever for downshifts and pull back to go up a gear - and it is quiet and brilliantly built.
But it's the cornering and ride control that is most impressive.
I've driven some quick SUVs, and the Cayenne GTS is my current driving favourite, but the big Brit is incredible in all types of turns. It sits flat on its adaptive dampers, responds eagerly to the wheel, and can be hustled through all types of turns without complaining.
The rock-and-roll behaviour of most SUVs, even BMW's M-tweaked X5 and X6, is defeated and it runs through curves at more than 160km/h on the test track while also defeating cobblestone bumps at just 60km/h.
I find myself wondering about fuel economy, and the performance of the four-cylinder starter car, and how it goes without the adaptive suspension, and just how badly it's going to hit the hip pockets of people who want one in Australia.
But then I rush through another corner and the torque-vectoring driveline makes me look like a high-speed hero.
It is the most impressive heavyweight SUV I have driven, even if it's only for a few minutes and only within the limited area of an artificial test track.
The Sport looks terrific and the little details are great, right down to air vents for the third-row seats and a V8 performance model that will crack to 100km/h in less than five seconds.
It will also lap the Nurburgring test course in just over eight minutes, a reflection of the driver focus that even includes the positioning and shape of the steering wheel.
We still have to see how it goes in the real world, and at home down under, but after the first 10 minutes the new Sport is looking good. In fact, it's looking great.
|3.0 SDV6||3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$39,888 – 39,990||2013 Land Rover Range Rover Sport 2013 3.0 SDV6 Pricing and Specs|
|3.0 SDV6 Autobiography||3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$47,990 – 54,988||2013 Land Rover Range Rover Sport 2013 3.0 SDV6 Autobiography Pricing and Specs|
|3.0 SDV6 HSE||3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$63,490 – 88,992||2013 Land Rover Range Rover Sport 2013 3.0 SDV6 HSE Pricing and Specs|
|3.0 SDV6 Luxury||3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$39,990 – 54,888||2013 Land Rover Range Rover Sport 2013 3.0 SDV6 Luxury Pricing and Specs|