The new Range Rover is sporty, but not that nice, says Michael Booth

Would suit: Celebrity Big Brother's Maggot
Price: £34,995 to £58,995
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Combined fuel economy: 27.9mpg
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It's a classic: Range Rover

There's a thin line between chav and bling, and I'm not sure on which side we'd place the Range Rover Sport. Actually, I'm not sure it matters. It is all things to all Boyz and, quite probably, their Hoods. I could imagine that both Wayne and Waynetta Rooney and 50 Cent will have perused the Range Rover Sport brochure and, while this might be good for raising the brand's profile in the kind of magazines that accord Jennifer Lopez's cellulite the status of urgent public interest, I can't help feeling that the Sport is something of a corporate tragedy.

The current standard Range Rover is not only the most beautiful four-by-four ever, it is one of the most beautiful cars ever, full stop. It is a neo-Palladian colossus; monumentally chic, Riva speed-boat style, and all that. In comparison, the Sport is a cross between a Barratt home and an RNLI vessel. It looks as if it were designed by a committee of Arndale Centre hoodies as an offering to their gods (Peter and Jordan). Being too young to drive, they will heave it to the top of a hill outside Chester and set fire to it.

If you live a rich, rounded life - which, by definition, means you spend none of it reading car magazines, as I do - you won't be aware of what the Sport might have been: the second tragic aspect of this sorry tale. It evolved, or rather, devolved, from the Range Stormer show car which was an original, well-proportioned, cohesive and striking two-door attack wagon from the Judge Dredd school of design. Childish, but very cool nonetheless. Land Rover either lacked the nerve or the nous to put it into production so what we got was a cut-and-shut Discovery chassis with a shrunken Range Rover body plus some silly vestigial running boards and various other Halfords add-ons. It was like doodling a Groucho Marx moustache-and-glasses combo on the Venus de'Medici. What a shame.

Land Rover has had its quality issues over the years - if we're honest, it's never not had quality issues - but there were signs at the launch of the standard Range Rover that Ford's oft-promised improvements were finally materialising. Inside, it felt like a quality car; perhaps felt is not quite the right word - it was still a bit Hyundai to the touch in places - but it sure did look good inside, and that vaguely Scandinavian style and prominent central command tower dashboard have been copied by several other manufacturers. But the Sport, though essentially the same inside, seems to have taken a step backwards in terms of fit and feel. There are some horrid bits of plastic in there, and the exterior is no better with its clumsy air vents in the front wings (you can almost see the jagged hacksaw edges that hastily fashioned a hole for them).

Forget all the political brouhaha about large, thirsty off-roaders. And don't worry about whether this is a capable off-roader - I'm sure that "rock crawl" mode (for driving over slippery riverbeds), adjustable air suspension (for tip-toeing across rutted fields), and "hill descent" mode, make it an absolute whiz in the countryside. On the road it's about as sporty as the cast of Dad's Army, but forget that too. Remember only this: should you feel your wallet twitch in a Land Rover showroom: this is precisely the kind of car Maggot might buy to celebrate coming third in Celebrity Big Brother.

Back in 1970, when the original Range Rover was launched, the idea of a "sporty" version would have seemed risibly far-fetched. That Land Rover felt there might be a market for a luxury farm vehicle was enough of an imaginative leap as it was.

The Range Rover forged the way for perhaps the most loathed of all motor-vehicle species: the luxury off-roader. It was designed by Spen King, Gordon Bashford and Phil Jackson for a company facing a financial crisis due to military spending cutbacks.

The idea was to create a car that could cross rough terrain but offer saloon-car refinement on the road. With four-wheel-drive and a 3.5-litre V8, the Range Rover managed this magnificently and was a great success from the off. So successful was it, in fact, that the company didn't even bother to introduce a four-door version until over a decade later, and the simple design lasted until 1984.

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