Good Sport - New Range Rover in high demand

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Just days after the media launch for the Range Rover Sport, some bad news arrived for potential buyers here: the global demand for Jaguar Land Rover product continues to explode.

How can that be considered a negative? It's not for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) owner Tata Motors, obviously; a huge loss-maker when divested by Ford back in 2008, JLR has been turned around under Indian ownership. It's now making a bundle and accounts for 88% of Tata's profit.

Though JLR doesn't want to become a volume manufacturer, it is nonetheless heading that way. In 2012, Jaguar and Land Rover sold 358,000 vehicles. To date this year Jaguar sales have climbed 38% and Land Rover's are up 12%.

The challenge is keeping up; even though the company's United Kingdom plants are operating around the clock, seven days a week, JLR and Ford - still the engine supplier for most models - cannot meet demand.

A new Land Rover factory opening in China next year might not be much of a panacea either, for China is widely expected to surpass the United States as the world's biggest premium car market by the end of the decade.

What this means is that the biggest markets get priority and minnows - New Zealand included - fight for every car above and beyond their set allocation.

For Land Rover New Zealand (LRNZ), it's a vexing situation. It believes the Sport should be as successful as the current top seller, the Evoque.

Should, but might not. LRNZ is holding 100 pre-release orders for Sports. Every one you will see for the next year will have already been spoken for so any order taken now is unlikely to be fulfilled for ... well, it depends on the powerplant. The six-cylinder diesels seem easiest to secure, less so the V8s, notably that magnificent 4.4-litre eight-pot turbo-diesel. Not good news for anyone who buys on a whim.

Any frustration about this will be reinforced when seeing this model. The Sport is the Range Rover that comes perilously close to wholly stealing the spotlight from its bigger brother. The two rigs share so much: the powertrains are the same, the platform is common, and so is much of the technology and the overall luxury feel.

Yet the Sport, while lower-roofed and not as substantial in feel, makes better use of its size: so much so that it offers something the largest model cannot: seating for seven.

LRNZ boss Helen Sunley, with refreshing candour, prefers the optional third-row seats being seen as a ''plus two'' opportunity, insisting it's not a true seven-seater. (We couldn't test this, as the optional pew, which niftily tucks into the floor and is electrically driven, won't be available until January).

More stylistically aligned with the Evoque, the Sport is a real looker, too, and is beautifully appointed within. What this all adds up to is an ability to provide as much of a ''true'' Range Rover experience as its bigger brother, but at a substantially cheaper price.

Comparing the TDV6s that share the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 is a jaw-dropper; the Sport is cheaper by $70,000, almost the price of an Evoque. The most expensive Sport, an ''Autobiography'' with a supercharged V8 petrol and a lot of high-end trimmings, is still $5000 cheaper than that entry full-sized Range Rover.

Sunley concedes she has priced ''hard'' with the Sport to not just look good against obvious brand-new rivals but also to signal those who dabble with grey imports that she is not prepared to make their lives easy. Thus all the new prices are in line with or below the old retails.

Driving time at the launch was split between the TDV6 and $45k-dearer Supercharged HSE. The first is the sole cloth-trimmed example and lacks a dual-range gearbox, the second has astounding stonk and the full gambit of drivetrain assists, more tuned for on-road performance (a priority with this model) than off, though it is very adept in the muck, with an especially good water-wading rating and adoption of big brother's Terrain Response 2 smarts.

Which is better? Well, I'd always favour diesel and that entry edition seems pretty smart to me. It still doesn't look or feel ''budget'', with a good turn of pace, cosseting ride and plenty of kit: electrically adjustable front seats, rear-parking sensors with a camera display, climate control air-conditioning, a touchscreen with satellite navigation, 19-inch alloys and a full-size spare.

Either way, while the Sport still feels brawny and big, it also obviously loses bulk. It doesn't drive like a car but is definitely more nimble than before, and fuel burn drops, too.

The core ingredients of its driver-assistance technology - automatic damping, an active rear differential and torque vectoring - are for spirited on-seal running. It does this very well indeed, providing an assured cornering stance and very sharp, precise steering, albeit by trading some of the glorious imperiousness in seating position and ride that comes in the big fella. More road noise is generated here, too.

The specific target vehicle was the Porsche Cayenne; Land Rover aimed to match it in dynamic appeal and performance but clearly there's also fashion appeal going on. In New Zealand, at least, most of those who have bought into the Sport sight unseen have been trading out of Cayennes.

Other stats of interest bandied about at the launch were that diesel is the favoured fuel by a factor of nine to one and while there is more interest in the six-cylinder than the super-brawny V8, most buyers have nonetheless opted for an optimum muscle look by optioning a 22-inch wheel, the largest the factory has made available.

We can assume those buyers are putting flair ahead of family, as you can't get this rim with the third-row seat, because the combined effect exceeds a factory weight limit.

A sportier Sport is coming some time, in the form of an RS edition, and LRNZ is considering the four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo-petrol coming into production next year. But the fascinating hybrid that marries the TDV6 to robust electrics is not being considered for the Sport or the Range Rover due to cost - they'd be as expensive as the supercharged V8s - and a lack of government assistance for this type.

Other Range Rover developments confirmed for here are the long-wheelbase Vogue and the updated Evoque, with a nine-speed automatic. The last is an early year arrival, so best get your order in now.


Good Sport - New Range Rover in high demand
At a Glance

Prices: $125,000 to $185,000.

Engines: 2993cc six-cylinder turbo-diesel, max power 190kW@4000rpm, max torque 600Nm@2000rpm; 2993cc six-cylinder turbo-diesel, max power 215kW@4000rpm, max torque 600Nm@2000rpm; 4999cc supercharged V8 petrol, max power 375kW@6000-6500rpm, max torque 625Nm@2500-5500rpm; 4367cc eight-cylinder turbo-diesel, max power 250kW@3500rpm, max torque 700Nm@1750-3000rpm.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.

Brakes and stability systems: ABS, CBC, DSC, EBD, EBA, ETC, HDC.

Wheels, tyres: 235/65 R19 to 275/45 R21.

Fuel and economy: 7.3 (TDV6) to 13.8 litres per 100km on EU combined cycle, capacity 77 (sixes) and 105 (V8s) litres.

Dimensions: Length 4850mm, width 2220mm, height 1780mm.