SOME lofty expectations were set before climbing inside the last incarnation of the Range Rover Sport.
The big plush four-wheel drive was launched late last year, and since then has made the three-car shortlist for world luxury car of the year. It's up against the Bentley Flying Spur and Mercedes-Benz's technology trailblazer, the S-Class.
Esteemed company for the Sport that's built to be equally at home in Burke Street or the bush.
But the athletic Rangie is completely worthy. This new suave SUV is nothing short of sensational.
We boarded the $125,800 version which has a V6 diesel under the bonnet.
There is a sense of welcoming once inside. The hushed cabin is wonderfully appointed in all directions…with soft leather, aluminium inserts and refined materials.
It makes you want to talk with a royal English accent.
Perforated leather pews are the perfect companion for long journeys with 14-way electric adjustment, aided by the powered telescopic abilities of the steering wheel.
Fold-down arm rests for those up front complement the luxurious feel.
The driver has a good view of the road, along with sharp and coherent digital displays.
Operation of the central 20.3cm touch-screen is easy and made faster by the permanently positioned buttons which feature shortcuts to the most used functions on either side of the display.
On the road
Take no notice of the rear badges and you'd swear there was a petrol donk beneath the skin.
Diesel clatter is virtually banished and there is actually a nice exhaust note when you stretch its legs.
When you do, the Rangie is remarkably lithe for its dimensions.
That's partly due to the all-aluminium frame and suspension with double front wishbones and rear multi-links, which together with a swag of weight saving technology add up to a 420kg weight reduction. Not even Michelle Bridges could work such magic.
While there are two 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel engines, our test car had the uprated version which gains 25 more kilowatts - and costs about the equivalent in extra coin (thousands that is).
It's a lovely a smooth powerplant, working seamlessly with eight-speed self-shifter.
Electronic power steering still manages to provide ample confidence when you attack a bend, and the Rangie stays relatively flat when you get enthusiastic in the twisties despite the high riding position.
So deceiving is its ability and bulk, you have to be careful when parking
as Sport takes up a fair portion of spaces with little room to spare.
But it's not only on the bitumen that it impresses.
It can't be forgotten that Range Rover cut is teeth as a hardcore off-roader, and there is more than 260mm of wheel travel front and back for tackling tough stuff. Air suspension enables clearance to be cranked up to 278mm and the car automatically selects between ride heights to suit the terrain.
What do you get?
There really isn't a stock standard Range Rover Sport. The way of the well-heeled is to have something different, and there is a long list of options for a bespoke vehicle, with a swag of alloy wheel designs, colour themes and accessories.
But without ticking any boxes, you do get a sweet eight-speaker Meridian sound system, two zone air con (you can option three or four zones), power tailgate, 14-way electric seat adjustment, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, cruise, full size spare, steering wheel paddle shifters, aluminium treadplates, front and rear parking sensors with rear view camera, keyless entry with push button start and a five-star safety rating.
Also worth a look are the BMW X6 40d ($125,545), Audi Q7 4.2 TDI ($129,300), and Porsche Cayenne V6 Diesel ($101,100).
There is actually space for seven…but the rear two seats which pop up from under the floor are occasional use only and best left to kids.
Five adults can find comfort, with leg and knee room generous in the second row.
Despite being a luxury machine, the Range Rover Sport is brimming with common sense. It offers an excellent space, with twin cup holders front and back and ample storage options.
While big in stature, the Range Rover Sport still manages to be beautiful.
It possesses borrowed design cues from the popular smaller Evoque SUV… and that's a good thing. Wheels are pushed closer to the corners for a look which lives up to the moniker.
Easy to live with, easy to drive and easy on the eye.
There is no wonder the Range Rover Sport has been winning new fans the world over.
Even more remarkable than its on-road prowess is its ability to get into the beaten track…but it's almost too pretty to get it dirty.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
What we liked: Cosseting interior, lovely to drive, cabin space, beautiful styling.
What we'd like to see: Door runners for easier access (especially for the ladies), someone actually take it off-road.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year, 100,000km warranty. Servicing is annually or every 26,000km.
Model: Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE.
Details: Five or seven-seat large luxury four-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 3.0-litre supercharged diesel V6 generating maximum power of 215kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 600Nm @ 2000rpm.
Transmission: Eight-speed ZF automatic.
Consumption: 7.5 litres/100km.
Performance: 0-100kph in 7.2 seconds.
Towing: 3500kg (braked).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $125,800.