Tarmac gobbler

Isn't it ironic that when luxury car makers are busy making their SUVs more offroad-capable, Land Rover is ensuring that its latest vehicle has better on-road driving dynamics? The new Range Rover Sport is all about making a city lover out of a beast. The concept behind the original Sport was an SUV that would compete against Land Rover's German rivals - the BMW X6, Mercedes-Benz ML-Class and the sporty Porsche Cayenne. With this aim, Land Rover launched the Sport in 2006 and it was a runaway success. By the time it hit Indian shores, the Sport had become a must-have for the rich, especially the celebs of Bollywood. However, it was not the best SUV when it came to the concrete jungle. The ladder-frame chassis carried over from the Land Rover Discovery added extra kilos to the vehicle and made the Sport nervous at corners. No wonder the Tata company had to get back to the drawing board. The result: the 2013 version of Sport.

More than nip and tuck
The new Sport has got the much needed tantalising curves. The Evoque design DNA is quite obvious in the wraparound front nose. The old edgy corners have been smoothed out to make the Sport look more youthful. It has lost a lot of bulk too, 420 kg to be exact, making it leaner and more agile. As a matter of fact it is the most responsive Land Rover ever made. The secret behind this drastic weight loss is the modified version of the Range Rover's aluminium platform

Bedazzling the countryside
Who would have thought the winding, narrow English country roads would be the ideal stretches to experience a Land Rover's capability? The picturesque roads outside Cheltenham taunted the Sport to prove its handling capability. The Sport, with its chunky 21-inch wheels, was more than eager to show-off its new agility. While taking my first sharp corner, I was nervous and doubted the over-2-tonne SUV's handling powers. But I needn't have worried. Not only did the Sport feel like it was glued to the tarmac, but the response of the perfectly balanced steering wheel was pleasing as well. Switching to the Dynamic mode made the Sport's all new lightweight suspensions stiffen up as it comfortably anchored itself to the road while careening around curves. If you were expecting body roll to ruin the driving experience, then it was a welcome surprise to feel no extra burden. Most SUVs have a tendency to wallow on tarmac, but the Sport is rock steady and feels more like a luxury sedan. Push the Sport hard on undulating bends and it amazes you with the ability to maintain the line. The handling was easily the best among the Land Rover clansmen, but the icing on the cake was the Sport's braking capability. Slam the pedals when you are cruising at over 100 kmph and the Sport refuses to lose poise or hurl forward the passengers sitting in the rear. It slows down quickly and comfortably without making an unpleasant scene.

Time to get dirty
No Land Rover test is complete without going off-road, and the Sport proved that it has not lost its edge despite being domesticated for urban macadams. The standard Terrain Response System, again a new addition, automatically uses its Spider senses and decides which off-road settings are ideal for the SUV on that track. The Sport made light of the slushy, muddy test track near Eastnor Castle, taking on the steep ascent and steeper forest decent in stride. With 850 mm of wading depth, it made a mockery of small rivers, and all this was easily possible on regular road tyres. The Sport also comes with new wade-sensing technology that uses ultrasonic sensors tucked in the ORVMS to measure the water below.

Like a new smartphone, you will initially dislike the Sport's extra-smart console. But as it grows on you, you start swearing by it. The brilliant thing about the Sport's Star Trek spaceship-like command centre is that it shows in graphic colours what the wheels are doing or which differential locks are engaged.

As good as it gets
Land Rover has been able to bring out its most road-focused SUV in the Sport, which represents a fine balance of an on- and off-road vehicle. It conquers the tarmac with ease as much it loves getting dirty in the mud. Germans beware, this SUV is ready to take on anything thrown at it. The new Sport comes with two additional, optional seats for the third row. As confusing and fascinating the display monitor is, it takes an annoying while to warm up to the commands. The other thing as annoying is the wind noise in the cabin. But remember no other SUV will be able to give you a limo-comfort ride on harsh terrain and pamper you with all the latest tech as the Sport does. When it debuts in India by Diwali, it will comes in two options - the speed demon 5.0-litre Supercharged V8 with 503bhp and the smooth operator 288bhp, 3.0-litre V6 diesel. The price is expected to be in the region of Rs 90 lakh-Rs 1 crore.