Range Rover Sport TDV6 HSE

The new Range Rover Sport looks the part, and it has the substance to back up its style. Three intrepid readers and David Wilkins went off-road, and found a car that took rough terrain in its stride

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Price: £44,500
Engine: 2.7 litre diesel
Performance: 0-60mph in 11.9 seconds, 27.6mpg
CO2: 271g/km
Worth considering: BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover

As soon as I saw the first photos of the Range Rover Sport, I was convinced that it was going to be a raging success.

That assessment was based on a single aspect of the Sport's styling - the rakish slope of its rear roof pillars. Thanks to this feature, the Sport has come much closer to recapturing the supremely handsome appearance of the original Range Rover of 1970 than either the second generation model, introduced in 1994, or the current Range Rover, which has been built since 2001 and will continue to be sold alongside the newer Sport.

Once a car has great looks on its side, buyers are, of course, happy to make all sorts of excuses for it and overlook its faults. Not that the Sport has many of those. You might perhaps ask whether the diesel model tested here really deserves the appellation "Sport", which fits the much speedier petrol versions rather better. But the diesel is so sweet and tractable that you'd have to be unreasonably mean to grumble about that.

You might complain that the Sport, for all its sleek looks, is a bit on the heavy side, but that weight undoubtedly contributes to the remarkable noise suppression and ride comfort that the car delivers.

And you might wonder about the logic of Land Rover offering three large SUVs - the Discovery, the Range Rover and the Sport - that overlap considerably in terms of size, capability and pricing. But I can't honestly find it in myself to criticise a manufacturer for offering its customers too many decent models to choose from. Personally, I'd probably plump for the Sport - and, yes, that's a judgement based entirely on its looks.

Now, while we are on the subject of pillars, perhaps I can perform a small service by clearing up the age-old question of whether there is any difference between a pillar and a column; there is, of course, as the example of "The Verdict" itself shows. It may be a pillar of The Independent's motoring section, but it is not really a column. That's because it's not just a soapbox for the opinions of a single journalist, it's also a forum for the views of our readers. This week, it is worth paying particular attention to what they have to say, because, thanks to an excellent session organised by the staff of the Land Rover Experience centre at Eastnor Castle, our readers have tested the Sport not only on tarmac but off-road - and that's where all Land Rovers, however handsome, have to succeed.

Phil Brabon, 57, commercial finance broker, from Shirenewton near Chepstow
USUAL CAR: AUDI A6 2.0 TDI SE

The interior is of a very high standard, which, combined with the automatic gearbox, created an easy, comfortable and enjoyable ride. On the main roads and country lanes I enjoyed the drive, with the car's high seating position and excellent road-holding. There is also enough power in the 2.7 diesel to allow you to overtake on motorways without much effort. The initial acceleration was not as good as in my A6, but this improved in the "sport" mode. However, where this car came into its own was off-road, where it virtually drove itself. The price of this car reflects its off-road capabilities, which is where it excels.

Nick Muir, 34, sales manager from Gloucestershire
USUAL CAR: LOTUS ESPRIT 350

I was pleasantly surprised by the on-road experience, which was faster than I had expected. The relaxed gait the car displays may be in part due to the autobox, which changes seamlessly. As a motorway tool it is excellent, with a good view of the road ahead, low noise levels and a great cabin. There's loads of grip and body roll - one becomes aware very quickly of the car's weight and centre of gravity. Sharper, lower speed cornering brings lots of understeer.

Off-road it is simply staggering - and very accessible to the novice. One simply selects the right setting - mud/rocks/ snow/hill descent - and just go. Great car, but it is very pricey.

Peter Gibbons, 59, self-employed from Oxford
USUAL CAR: VW GOLF GT TDI DSG

As I had previously owned two Range Rovers, I looked forward to this test with great curiosity. How much had they improved under Ford's ownership? Enormously: no creaks, groans, extremely solid, very little road noise and beautifully built.

Driving was effortless, very little body roll and it turned into corners very easily. The turbodiesel V6 performed well considering the weight it has to pull around, even if it was a bit sluggish on acceleration. Off road it was as you would expect - peerless. Having a DSG gearbox in my Golf, I was able to compare it against the Sport, which was nearly as smooth as my VW with no significant sign of changing gear.

THE VERDICT

If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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