Unless you really, really know your cars spotting the difference between the original Range Rover Sport and a Range Rover proper was a damnably difficult task. Even when the two were parked side-by-side it wasn't easy. Second time around though and it's a different story. In large part that's down to the Range Rover Evoque which is selling like hot cakes and clearly shows that a Range Rover-badged motor with a touch of style is an attractive offer even if the price is a bit on the high side. So it's perhaps not too surprising what what we have in the Mk. 2 Range Rover Sport is a car based on the Range Rover and sharing more than passing visual similarity to the funky Evoque. As a recipe that certainly works for me.

As well are looking more distinct the new car is lighter (not a hard task, the original Sport as based on the Discovery's chassis and weighed more than some cruise liners), more economical and offers a more engaging on-road driving experience than the one it replaces. But despite being destined for the tarmac streets of London and LA rather than the Highlands of Scotland or the Rocky Mountains Land Rover’s cherished off-road credentials are still largely intact. Perhaps more importantly to its target market the Sport also boasts more cabin space and the option of a family-friendly third row of seats.

Reflecting its new on-road and lifestyle bias there's no high-low transfer box as standard which will have purists screaming though Land Rover is keen to stress that even without it the Sport's off-road ability still easily exceeds the abilities or ambitions of most drivers and any the competition. You can always tick the appropriate options box and have the real deal but frankly I can see most people who want to actually drive in the rough stuff buying a Disco or an Range Rover proper.

Like the Evoke the Sport uses the latest generation of Land Rover's Terrain Response system which includes an automatic mode clever enough to sense changes in terrain and change the engine, gearbox and suspension settings accordingly. Manual control remains though so you are only ever a button press away from being able to confidently scale mountains, wade through rivers or charge across deserts.

The Range Rover Sport's engine line-up has something to suite all tastes. For maximum power and terrifying speed there's an oilfield-draining 5.0L supercharged V8 while for those of us who live in he real world there are two diesel options -  the high power 3.0-litre SDV6 variant boasting 292bhp and the lower power TDV6 version producing 258bhp. If you want the best of both worlds a V8 diesel is in the works for 2014.

Now if economy is what you are after then the Range Rover Sport is arguably the wrong car to be looking at in the first place but the TDV6 still manages to return over 38mpg on the combined cycle and that's really not bad for a large motor that can hit 130mph and get to 62mph in only a shade over 7 seconds. 

On the road the TDV6 diesel is a great all-rounder. With plenty of low down torque it is very east to drive and and throttle sensitivity is excellent making it ideal not just for inching over treacherous obstacles but also sneaking into supermarket car par spaces (the Sport is now what you would call small vehicle). As a high-rise long distance express the Sport excels at both motorway journeys and spirited A-road sprints. Bodyroll is kept to a minimum no matter how hard you throw it about while ride comfort is top notch.

The cabin bears a strong similarity to that of both the Evoke and the Range Rover in that it's very well made and stylish but a bit too open-plan for my taste. Still there is plenty of wood and leather on show and the atmosphere - and comfort - is quite the equal of any top end saloon with the possible exception of the truly sumptuous Jaguar XJ.

Two features that will probably get far more use made of them than all the off-road gubbins are the excellent Meridian-developed 3D sound system which produces a genuinely impressive noise and the two clever fold-away rear seats. When not is use these vanish into the boot floor but can easily be yanked up to provide extra seating for a couple of children or small teenagers.

Verdict: With all the usual safety and comfort equipment you’d expect to see from a Range Rover at this price point plus the Sport’s impressive driving dynamics, economy, performance and cabin ambiance Land Rover has really upped its game with the second generation car. It now actually is a sporting Range Rover, or to put it another way, a larger, more powerful, more luxurious Evoque, both of which descriptions can only be regarded as pretty strong recommendations in my book.

Price: From £51,500 to £81,550

Info: Land Rover UK's Range Rover Sport page.

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