Range Rover Sport: Design & Materials

Unless you’re referring to it’s preferred habitat, you’re unlikely to be using the word ‘green’ and the name ‘Land Rover’ in the same sentence. Land Rovers are large, heavy machines that look after the needs of their occupants before anything else. The brand is built on this quality.

Even ten years ago a car’s environmental credentials were discussed little in the grand scheme of things. Now, how much a carbon dioxide a vehicle fires out of its double-barreled exhaust and its end-of-life recyclability are the things we talk about most, so Land Rover – in the interests of that all-important brand integrity if nothing else – has had to address various issues.

Despite hybrid and low-capacity engine vehicles in development, the obvious environmental path for Land Rover to tread concerns weight saving and material selection rather than powertrain modifications. The new Sport model raises the bar in both respects.

As it happens, most Land Rover Defenders – each one often having been used for decades and only out of necessity – have a vastly smaller carbon footprint than ultra-modern but oft-replaced eco-friendly cars. What happened to owning a car for more than a decade?

Building the wrong car in the right way

Like the full-bore Range Rover, the Sport is built around an all-aluminium chassis, reducing weight over the old model by hundreds of kilos. The new body is almost half as light as the old partially steel structure and the 75 percent of the metal itself is recycled; some is even sourced via closed loop recycling (requiring just 5 percent of the energy required to process ‘fresh’ aluminium) from earlier in the manufacturing process.  The Sport’s trick new suspension is mostly constructed of aluminium, too.

Using aluminium has beneficial knock-on effects on the production line. Joints are riveted and bonded together rather than welded. It’s a small detail, but if Land Rover sells anything like the 415,000 units they have of the outgoing Sport, it’s something that will make a considerable difference to energy consumption. And it will be surprising if the new Sport doesn’t considerably outsell its predecessor.

In kitted-out Sport models laden with options the potential for recycled materials inside is greater. At most, Land Rover can use 26.7kg of recycled plastics in a single car. That equates, they say, to keeping nearly twelve tonnes of plastic out of landfills during the car’s production lifetime, whilst renewable materials such as Bridge of Weir’s low-carbon leather, contribute 28kg to the car’s overall weight.

For Land Rover aluminium is the worth every penny in the battle against fuel consumption and carbon dioxide. While parts of the chassis and suspension remain steel made, the car's monocoque, bodywork and the remainder of the suspension are now wrought of aluminium.

In addition to replacing steel with aluminium and using plastic for the tailgate, Range Rover believe that putting a four-cylinder diesel into the Sport in the future could mean a car that weighs less than 2,000kg. The Sport would then enter the realm of normal cars.

Aerodynamic efficiency, as well as weight, counts when it comes to fuel consumption. It’s why the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion has a closed grille and the upcoming BMW i3 has tall but very narrow tires. With a car that has a frontal area more akin to a house than most cars, however, you could forgive Land Rover for leaving the office early when it came to streamlining the new Sport.

They didn’t. A super-smooth undertray and active vanes that close off the grille (VW BlueMotion?) when cooling isn’t required mean that the Sport has a drag coefficient of 0.34, although a more steeply raked windscreen is chiefly responsible for this. The Hybrid Sport due next year will feature aero-optimized alloys, too.

Land Rover say that the new Sport is 8 percent more aerodynamically efficient than the previous car. Softer creases, wraparound head- and rear-lights, and a higher, Evoque-inspired beltline mean it looks like it could easily be more.

2014 may well bring a Range Rover that emits just 140g/km carbon dioxide. A decade ago this was unthinkable, but thanks to downsizing and/or diesel hybrid technology it's now a reality, with no compromise to the overall Range Rover appeal.

For the time being, the cleanest Range Rover Sport money can buy comes with a three-litre diesel V6. The TDV6 emits 194g/km of carbon dioxide, a 15 percent improvement over the old car, but next year’s diesel-electric hybrid should achieve 169g/km. A four-cylinder diesel Sport would see that figure drop to as low as 140g/km, at which point the gas-guzzler argument becomes largely meaningless. Whether Land Rover will come good on those impressive figures, like most things in the automotive world, remains to be seen. It is a plan the company is keen to see through, however.

Regenerative braking and the reduction of mechanical friction will boost the Sport’s efficiency, as well, and Land Rover suggests that the Stop/Start system that’s now standard across the range will reduce fuel consumption by between five and seven percent.

What does a lighter, more aerodynamically and mechanically efficient design actually mean? How does it translate onto the road, into the real world?

Noticeably. After driving the Sport hard through the Welsh Brecon Beacons and on a demanding off-road course, we managed 27.9mpg in a TDV6 Sport over 250 miles. Less boisterous driving might yield economy greater than 35mpg, which is remarkable for an unashamed luxury vehicle fitted with all-terrain equipment that weighs wells over two tonnes. 

The Sport is clearly inspired by the Evoque and is all the better for it. A high and rising beltline compliments the steeply raked windscreen and wraparound lights lend composure.

Land Rover reckon that less than 10% of Range Rover Sports will ever get close to their technical capabilities, something that’s easy to believe having driven 146mph after completing a demanding off-road course in the same car on the same day.  This, unsurprisingly, means that a lot rides on the new car’s design.

Land Rover, and Gerry McGovern himself, has admitted that the original Sport has far too hard, awkward even. Those edges have dissipated into more curvaceous forms and, although the new car is longer, there’s much less visual weight. The new car is heavily influenced by the most junior vehicle in Land Rover’s lineup, the Evoque, but at the same time is far closer to the proper Range Rover than before. The result is a mature but sporting aesthetic and, apart from the pinched rear graphic, the Sport looks superb in the metal. Short overhangs doubles up to give it improved approach and departure angles when off-road.


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