Wallpaper* test drives the new Range Rover Sport
Other car-makers must be looking enviously at Jaguar Land Rover. With buoyant sales, a rising premium image and an ever-increasing global reach, the company is currently riding high in both the business pages and the automotive press. Land Rover in particular has much to shout about. Ever since the Range Rover Evoque gave the brand a much-needed shot of design credibility, the company's factories have been working triple shifts to satisfy demand. Now the all-new Range Rover Sport has arrived, with high expectations that it'll boost sales even further.
The envy is partly due to JLR's reach. When a new car is unleashed, it's typically shown to the press in a sunny part of the world, with empty roads, azure skies and all the other elements required to show off both its technical chops and the rarefied lifestyles of the intended customer. Yet Land Rover has always been able to go one further, thanks to the insanely broad capabilities of their products. Having given the new Range Rover a thorough workout in the Atlas Mountains last winter, the company stayed local for the slightly smaller, slightly less luxurious Sport, hosting an event in Wales and the Cotswolds to showcase the car revealed back at the start of the year.
It worked to perfection. Whether sweeping across the Brecon Beacons, diving nose-first into muddy rivers or - in a set piece dreamt up by Land Rover's enterprising Special Vehicle Operations team - clambering up a steep ramp and squeezing through the gutted fuselage of a decommissioned 747, the Sport proved itself to be almost beyond reproach. The company admits that most owners rarely forge anything deeper than a puddle, but emphasises that they like to know the car's capabilities are there, perhaps in the event of some unforeseen cataclysm.
Inside, survivalism is very much not the name of the game. The steady march ever further upmarket has been accelerated by the Sport's plush 7-seater cabin, given a slightly 'less is more' treatment by the deliberate omission of as many extraneous buttons as possible. The company's pioneering terrain selector dial sits just below the gear stick, with each click offering up a stylised pictogram of the terrain you'll be traversing; it's sufficiently exotic to know your steed can plough unhindered through thick snow, desert sand or a rocky landscape, even if you're sat in a multi-storey car park in Miami. In practice, off-roading is a cinch, with only judicious dabs of the throttle needed to take this machine up practically any incline (it also helps to have a weathered member of the SVO team telling you where to point the wheels). It's incongruous to be sitting in leather-lined luxury while the dashboard gives you a graphic representation of the water level rising around you.
The original Sport was a financial home run for the company. Reputedly the most profitable vehicle in then owners Ford's entire global line-up, it broadened the appeal of the brand without doing a great deal for its design credibility. Solid, squareish and pugnacious, the Sport rapidly garnered a rather thuggish image, becoming associated with urban grit rather than Gloucestershire mud. The new car is a classier act, taking its cues from both the big Range Rover and the smaller Evoque, sharing the latter's slightly squished stance and the former's granite-hewn facades. The result is very successful: a handsome, four-square machine with a purposeful sense of function and a welcome absence of aggression.
Range Rover is now all about design. The Evoque's success effectively gave the car's creator Gerry McGovern a seat on the board, as well as the Jony Ive-esque title of Chief Creative Officer and virtual carte blanche to whip the firm's formidable engineering department into shape and dictate precisely how its products appear. As McGovern himself admits, getting Range Rover sorted into three distinct and desirable products is just the start of the company's journey. Next up comes a reworking of the formidable Land-Rover Discovery, to be followed by the toughest nut of all, the new Defender, a car that has to hint at sixty-five years of history without being crushed by weight of tradition. Investment, however, won't be a problem. With predicted sales curves so steep that even the Sport itself would struggle to ascend them, JLR should continue to forge ahead.