Range Rover Sport UK 1

The opener at the checkpoint was memorable, simply because of its uniqueness.

“Morning, gentlemen. Ever driven a large SUV through the length of a 747, entering from economy and emerging from first-class?”

Well, never, actually, but there’s always a first time for everything – the thought that resonated at that point was the amazement at the manner automakers were coming up with in showing off their creations and to go one-up over the competition.

It’s not surprising in this day and age though. The world has become a more crowded – and competitive – place, even for large luxury SUVs. The second-generation Range Rover Sport, which is the vehicle doing said plane act, has to show why you’d want one over a BMW X5 or a Porsche Cayenne, or a Mercedes-Benz ML and Audi Q7, for that matter.

It does, and rumbling along a specially set-up interior of a decommissioned Jumbo has nothing to do with it. Well, not all of it anyway.

Range Rover Sport UK 2

The first RRS, the L320, was Land Rover’s attempt at sporting up things in the face of sporty competition. It, however, wasn’t quite befitting of something with a Sport suffix, if you really want to get into the context and spirit of the term.

Driving the facelift four years ago, the old Sport came across as brutish, but in a heavy-set way. No denying that its off-road qualities were impressive, and its turn of speed in its 4.2 litre supercharged form rapid enough, but it wasn’t terribly athletic when faced with twists – simply put, the likes of an X5 made short shrift of it.

Going back to the drawing board for round two has resulted in a far more agile creature, replete with new chassis, refocused on-road dynamics and new levels of ride refinement. Land Rover says that the new RRS is its fastest, most agile and most responsive vehicle ever, one with class-leading all-terrain capability.

The second-gen permanent four wheel-drive offering measures in at 4,850 mm long, 2,073 mm wide and 1,780 mm tall, making it 62 mm longer and 55 mm wider than before. The wheelbase has been increased by 178 mm, now measuring in at 2,923 mm. To sight, the new RRS – which breaks new ground by having optional seven seats for the very first time – has a lower stance, and looks a lot sleeker.

It’s also significantly lighter – the old Sport weighed up to a hefty 2,535 kg, and the new one has reduced the mass by up to 420 kg, with the lightest L494 tipping the scales at 2,115 kg. Comparatively, the new RRS’s body and chassis is 33% lighter than its predecessor, but is 25% stiffer.

The L494 also gets an all-new suspension system, with arms and bushes, knuckles, hubs, links and anti-roll bar all revised or new. The lightweight chassis architecture is combined with a new four-corner air suspension, now with variable ride height (+35mm and +65mm, rather than a single +55mm position on the old RRS). New too, an electric power assisted steering system.

Meanwhile, the Terrain Response system now gets a 2 suffix, and the new system is able to switch completely automatically between the five settings (General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Rock Crawl) on call.

The new Sport also features Dynamic Response active lean control, Dynamic Active Rear Locking Differential and Torque Vectoring by Braking in addition to Adaptive Dynamics in its kitbag. There’s also DSC, traction control, hill descent control, gradient release control, hill start assist and roll stability control, in case anyone’s taking note of the TLAs.

As for the interior, it’s plush and well-appointed, as you’d expect, with no less than 11 interior colour themes plus additional choice of seat colours, four aluminium interior finishes, three real wood veneers and three headliner colours to pick from, but it’s not just a trim and material game. Things are far more organised now – the presentation is cleaner, the layout better integrated and more organic in feel.

The high series models feature a 12.3-inch high-resolution display technology for the main instrument pack, and this is accompanied by an eight-inch touchscreen display on the centre console for infotainment and secondary functions, with optional Dual View.

Elsewhere, a host of new and enhanced features find their way on, among them a soft door-closing option, remote-operated powered tailgate and additional stowage space in the cabin. Also on the kit list is a 1,700 watt, 23-speaker Meridian Premium Audio system.

When it was introduced, five engine options were announced for the RRS, two petrol units and three oil burners. Sitting at the top of the heap is the 5.0 litre supercharged V8, offering 510 PS and 625 Nm – the other petrol engine is the 340 hp and 450 Nm 3.0 litre supercharged V6.

As for the diesels, there’s a 4.4 litre V8 as well two 3.0 litre V6 units, a 292 PS SDV6 and a 258 PS TDV6, both offering 600 Nm of twist. All the RRS models use the same transmission, in this case a ZF 8HP70 eight-speed auto ‘box. Since then, a 340 PS and 700 Nm hybrid – combining the 3.0 SDV6 and an electric motor integrated into the ZF eight-speeder – has been shown in Frankfurt, and there’s a planned four-cylinder option down the road.

Malaysia is set to introduce three engine variants when the SUV is launched here soon, the 3.0 litre V6 petrol and SDV6 being two of the three. It was with these that the RRS was sampled in the UK, with a longish 350 km first day route taking us from Cheltenham into the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales and back, with first dibs being taken in the diesel.

It’s the heart of LR country, the Cotswolds. The place is filled with LRs, so no one blinks when one goes by, not even the new RRS. Despite the surroundings, which curbed the ability to speed, the new Sport felt sprightly, even at low to intermediate speeds.

There’s lightness to the balance the old Sport could only dream about, and this feeling was cemented as the roads opened up. The less-policed Welsh roads offered ample opportunity to check out the new RRS’s pace and, more importantly, agility.

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Bulk notwithstanding, this is one chuckable SUV, with plenty of mechanical grip. If the old one was distended and somewhat troubled doing corners, the new Sport revels in it, responding to input in surprisingly keen fashion, with turn-in being exceptionally crisp for a two-tonne offering.

The high-output SDV6 pulls things along nicely, with the usual allure of an oil burner’s low-level poke evident, though in terms of refinement and overall drivability, I’d pick the 3.0 V6 Supercharged over it.

The petrol, driven on the second day, didn’t just offer a smoother take in delivery across the entire speed range, but it also rode more comfortably – both variants were shod with similar 21-inch alloys and Pirelli Scorpion 275/45 rubbers, but the diesel felt firmer to the point of hardness, and never quite shook off a skittier feel about it at up to intermediate speeds.

Otherwise, and based on the petrol variant, ride comfort is eminently high – not having been in the new Range Rover, I’d like to find how much more comfortable it is, because the Sport turned out to be very compliant indeed.

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A quick aside on the 5.0 V8 Supercharged – we didn’t manage to try it out, but it goes like stonk, as the Australians showed when they gunned it off from a stopover point. The exhaust note and engine rumble sounds terrific to boot.

No real surprises about what the new Sport could do during the two off-road sections, one of which was at Eastnor, which LR has used for the testing and development of all its models since 1962. In total, about 70 km of off-road track are on offer, with a variety of different terrains and inclines, everything from low friction surfaces to large ruts, open ground and deep water.

The Sport went about it all like a happy pig revelling in mud, pardon the expression, handling the slide slopes, humps, rock crawls and watercourses as you’d expect it to, even when treated with no mechanical sympathy. The driver ahead of us was belting his Sport along some stretches of rough terrain at speeds bordering on reckless, and the vehicle didn’t look – or feel, according to him later – the worse for wear.

There was also the chance to try out the increased maximum wading depth of the RRS, which is now 850 mm, or 150 mm more than before, over a stretch of stream nearly as deep as that wade depth (there are wade sensors on the door mirror, which reads the water’s depth and indicates the level on the dash display). Not traversing across it, but rather along a 50 metre-long spine of the stream before turning out. QED.

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By the time we get to Cotswold Airport in Kemble, there’s a tarmac speed run ahead of the waiting 747 for the final trick, but I’m already sold. Which, if you know me, is probably a surprising thing – Land Rovers, Range Rovers, whatever Rover, they haven’t worked for me, but this one finally strikes a chord.

Sure, it does the off-road bits as it should, and it’s plush and comfy everywhere else, but it’s the lightness of being and newfound on-road ability that makes for the allure – it drives impressively, far better and sharper than its predecessor. If anything, it can at last wear its Sports suffix with pride.

I sometimes bring up a two-garage theme with fellow motoring hacks, if only to find out how they tick. One sports car, one whatever else that has four wheels strapped on it. Years ago, one particular editor picked the previous RRS, validating his choice by saying it was all the vehicle one needed – it had style, comfort and pace, a do-anything and go-anywhere vehicle.

I certainly wouldn’t agree about the old one in its entirely, because of its ponderous nature, but by the time the Sport has made it through the man-made maze within the Boeing, I see what he was getting at. Heck, in a one-car garage, the new RRS might even be the pick for me. Yeah, I’m surprised at that too.