The Verdict: Range Rover Sport HSE TDV8

With the power of a rhino and the grace of a ballerina, the Range Rover Sport is some car. And the diesel's suprisingly green, says David Wilkins
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The Independent Online

Price: £53,120
Engine: 3.6-litre diesel
Performance: 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds, 25.5 mpg
CO2: 294g/km:
Worth considering: BMW X5, Mercedes ML Class, Range Rover

We've featured the Range Rover Sport on The Verdict before. Last time, just like this time, our test car was a diesel. That first car was very impressive and so is this, but there is one important difference. On our original test car, the "Sport" badge looked out of place. On this one, it doesn't.

So what's changed? Well, the original diesel-powered Range Rover Sport was fitted with a 2.7-litre V6 that it shares with Jaguar's XJ. The 2.7 is a great engine in every way; modern, smooth, quiet and powerful for its size, it provides the XJ with a terrific turn of speed – but that's partly because the Jaguar, with its advanced aluminium structure, weighs just 1,659kg, a remarkably low figure for a competitor to the Mercedes S-Class.

The problem here is that the Range Rover Sport, when fitted with the V6, tips the scales at 2,455kg, a whopping 48 per cent more. The result is that while the V6 is just as sweet in the Range Rover Sport as it is in the Jaguar, it delivers a lot less go.

The 2.7 is still on sale but it has been joined by a 3.6-litre V8 diesel, the engine fitted to this week's test car. This provides 43 per cent more power and 45 per cent more torque, which is nothing short of a transformation; only when starting up is there a – very muted – hint of the sort of clatter that usually characterises diesels, and apart from the occasional brief initial hesitation, a poke on the gas pedal is rewarded with a surge of smooth, sustained acceleration that will see off most other cars on the road.

There isn't much to grumble about when it comes to the rest of the Range Rover Sport, either. I've always thought that the Sport is by far the most stylish of the large Land-Rover models, and the interior fits the bill, too.

And while the Sport has on-road performance to match most other luxurious SUVs on the market, let's not forget that unlike some of those competitors, it's a serious off-road machine as well. Under the skin, the Sport shares a lot with the Discovery 3, which means that it has the full battery of Land-Rover off-road tricks, including air suspension, a low-range gearbox, Hill Descent Control and Terrain Response, a means of collectively switching all of these systems to their optimum settings for different ground conditions.

Growing environmental concerns threaten to make the large SUV an endangered species, but I suspect that this car's impressive ability and comparative economy will help it to ward off extinction for a good few years yet.

Richard Evans, 48, Company director, Birmingham
Usual car: BMW 320D Touring

The Range Rover has a kind of arrogance that cannot fail to impress. Whether in the town or country, the bulk of the car is compensated for by the high driving position and excellent visibility. In this spec, Land Rover have struck a balance between powering such a large vehicle and reasonable economy. Power is delivered smoothly through an exemplary auto-box, which also conjures up class-leading all-terrain tricks. With soft leather and electronics in abundance, the Sport does everything you would want from a luxury saloon, and yet has the bonus of some awesome off-road technology. I'd have one , and plant a small wood to overcome my guilt.

Neil Hatt, 28, Company director, Birmingham
Usual cars: Alfa Romeo 145 Cloverleaf, Land-Rover Discovery

I expected this huge beast to wallow around corners like a speeding Weeble. But no. This mass of metal has impeccable road manners; that sweet V8 (and those huge Brembos) make the RR Sport feel about a third of its actual size and weight, and it handles corners with such aplomb that I can't see a reason to ever have a "normal" car again. It looks fantastic, there are huge amounts of room, it really shifts when you stomp the gas, and yet fuel economy from that big V8 is still bearable. With suspension settings for road, ice, desert, boulders, it will always get you home. And if you're like me, you'll take the long way round.

Paul Dandy, 39, Software developer, London
Usual car: Seat Leon

Not being a great admirer of 4x4s, I was interested to see whether the Range Rover Sport could win me over. I was pleased with how easy it was to find a comfortable position and how all the luxuries make your lofted throne a serene place to be. The design was nice but didn't scream luxury – they reserved a touch of decadence for the engine, a V8 diesel! It purrs sweetly, and giving the accelerator a dig breaks the closeted cabin with sounds of swift acceleration. It also proved a nimble machine, and clocking the fuel consumption, it's nice to know it doesn't have a drink problem. Rehab works for 4x4s – I went in a sceptic and came back an quiet admirer!