Tough as it no doubt was to engineer the new-for-2013 Land Rover Range Rover, I'm willing to bet that the company's engineers sweated a little harder over the launch of this 2014 Range Rover Sport. After all, the Sport is Land Rover's unlikely volume leader – it accounted for nearly 38 percent of the company's US sales in 2012. But beyond that, the Sport has to embody all of the unstoppable off-road attributes of anything wearing a Range Rover badge while, at the same time, being the brand's on-road dynamics flagship.
This thing has to hug curves and rip along the finest tree-lined roads the English countryside has to offer, and then be able to power upstream in a three-foot-deep river after only the touch of a button and the turn of a dial. It should be able to hit its electronically limited top speed of 155 miles per hour on tarmac with total poise and then negotiate a narrow rock crawl at a 40-degree angle with the same sort of confidence. Oh, and it needs to be comfortable and quiet, with room for many adults and their things, wrapped in sheetmetal that looks good when it's clean and even better with a fresh coat of mud. The Range Rover Sport has to do, well, everything.
So when it came time to put its new all-star to the test, Land Rover invited me across The Pond where I drove the 2014 Range Rover Sport over pavement and rocks and through mud and water. To say it handled everything off-road with aplomb would be an understatement. And to say that it's a dynamic joy on-road wouldn't give enough credit where credit is due.
But to say that the new Range Rover Sport is the best Land Rover – and maybe the best luxury SUV – that money can buy... well, now we're onto something.
With the Big Daddy non-Sport Range Rover, Land Rover engineers had a simple task: Make it better, but don't screw it up. In other words, keep it a Range Rover, but add a bit of comfort, improve the fuel economy, and, what the hell, throw a curvy line or two into its design. The end result, we found, stays true to all of the core Range Rover values while being, you know, better. Thus, mission accomplished.
The Sport is bereft of over 800 pounds versus the old version, while riding on a wheelbase a full seven inches longer.
That's good news for the Sport, too. Unlike the previous generation, which was based on the chassis that underpins the LR4 SUV, the new Sport is the Eve to the Range Rover's Adam, benefitting from its stronger, lighter aluminum bones. In fact, while the new Range Rover is some 700 pounds lighter than the model it replaces, the Sport is bereft of over 800 pounds versus the old version, while riding on a wheelbase a full seven inches longer than before. Elsewhere, the 2014 Sport is dimensionally similar to the 2013 model – width has actually decreased slightly and the vehicle's overall height has been reduced by one-tenth of an inch – but the in-person proportions certainly do make the Sport look more well-rounded and robust than before.
Basically, it no longer looks like a Range Rover that's been left in the dryer for too long. And while it's no secret that much of the Range Rover Sport's design DNA has been inspired by the smaller Evoque, this new SUV is a handsome, rugged thing, with front and rear fascias that won't be mistaken for anything but a Land Rover. LED running lamps are found up front in the same design as the Range Rover, and out back, small, squared-off taillamps flank a very clean, short rump. From the profile, Evoque inspiration is the most apparent, with a raked roofline that can be had in either matching body color or contrasting colors like gray or the black of this test car. Combine it with the privacy glass that US-spec Range Rover Sport models will come standard with, and the black-on-whatever color scheme will no doubt be a favorite.
This new SUV is a handsome, rugged thing.
A number of wheel options are available, starting with 19-inch rollers on the low end and moving up to gigantic 22-inch alloys. My top-trim Autobiography was fitted with the attractive, 21-inch five-spoke wheels you see here, wrapped in 275/45-series Pierlli Scorpion Verde all-terrain tires. Behind them reside beefy Brembo brakes with vented rotors at all four corners – 15-inchers up front, 14s out back.
Those stoppers are important, given the fact that the Autobiography model also comes with the most potent Range Rover engine available: a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 that pumps out 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. I spent some time with this engine in the Jaguar XFR sedan last year and pretty much fell in love. Here, with an additional 700 pounds to lug around versus that shapely four-door, the engine still provides more than enough power with all the punch and pizzazz you'd expect. Seriously, this supercharged V8 is a bombshell of an engine, able to move the nearly 5,100-pound, all-wheel-drive Range Rover Sport to 60 mph in five seconds flat. That's a decrease of nearly one full second versus the heavier 2013 model, which uses this same engine in its Supercharged trim. Leaner is indeed meaner – and more efficient, too. According to Land Rover, the supercharged V8's fuel economy has improved, though our friends at AutoblogGreen will still balk at its 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway, 16 mpg combined rating. At least that's better than the 14 mpg combined number from last year.
0-60 mph times fall by nearly one full second versus the heavier 2013 model.
Gone is the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 from the Range Rover lineup, replaced instead by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that also finds a home under the hood of the Jaguar XF, XJ and F-Type, good for 19 mpg combined here. I never managed to get the keys to a V6-powered Range Rover during my time in the UK, but other folks who drove it described it as being perfectly pleasant, though not nearly as engaging as the larger V8. Makes sense to me, and while the six-cylinder engine may end up being the volume choice when the Range Rover Sport goes on sale in the US later this summer, there's a whole lot of sweetness to be had with that supercharged V8.
Beyond the straight-line acceleration, this thing was absolutely on-point at all times during my drive, largely thanks to the smooth and precise operator that is the new, ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. Unless you're really hammering the Range Rover Sport, you won't even know that the transmission is doing its job – shifts are imperceptibly smooth. And should you choose to plunk the gear selector into Sport mode and play with the steering wheel-mounted paddles – and you should – you'll be rewarded with quick, crisp shifts that are almost dual-clutch-like in their responsiveness while going both up and down through the gears. In terms of transmission engagement, the Range Rover Sport is far better than what I had expected, and more enjoyable to use than other vehicles in its class, save perhaps a BMW X5 M. And while blasting along the backroads of England and Wales, I eagerly opted for the paddle setup during long stretches of back-and-forth curves. But even when left to its own devices, the eight-speed unit is a trusty friend that will always have you exactly where you need to be in the rev range, every time.
You're rewarded with quick, crisp shifts that are almost dual-clutch-like in their responsiveness.
The body is now 25-percent stiffer, which aids in reducing roll during cornering, though there's still noticeable fore-aft pitch during takeoff and hard stops, and the air suspension will still flex a bit when you're really cornering. (You can stiffen a body all you want, but with a high center of gravity, roll is still going to happen.) Supercharged and Autobiography models come standard with Land Rover's Terrain Response 2 system and a 50/50 torque split, and in addition to all of the off-road capability that lies within, there's a new Dynamic mode with active torque vectoring. Base-level SE and HSE models with the 3.0-liter V6 make do with a standard 42/58 front/rear torque split in Terrain Response 1, with no active vectoring, though the more robust Terrain Response system is available as a $1,300 option.
But don't think that the Sport is just a slightly better handling version of the larger Range Rover. It may use many of the same mechanicals, but the suspension and chassis components have been specifically tuned for Sport application. In fact, the Range Rover Sport perhaps does the whole ride/handling balance better than its classmates, even the Porsche Cayenne. Sporting SUVs are usually great only on smooth surfaces, but the adaptive air suspension of the Range Rover is well set up to make instant adjustments over coarse road surfaces. I'm willing to bet it'll be just as nice to drive back home in Detroit as it was across The Pond.
The vast majority of Range Rover Sport buyers will never see anything but smooth pavement and maybe – maybe – the occasional dirt road leading up to a weekend getaway home. But there are people who actually use these things for their full range of capability, and in scenarios where your wheels are being placed on dirt, mud, sand, snow, or even underwater, the Sport delivers the same off-road capability as the larger Range Rover, in a smaller, easier to maneuver package.
The Sport delivers the same off-road capability as the larger Range Rover, in a smaller, easier to maneuver package.
Conveniently, my test route included a stint at the Land Rover Experience, where the company has built a full range of off-road courses to showcase its vehicles' capabilities. I happily pointed the Range Rover Sport's nose down two-track mud trails, up steep grades and through deep, muddy water, with not a single gripe or unwillingness to move forward from the vehicle. The coolest feature we won't get in the States is the company's wade depth sensors, which uses sensors placed around the vehicle to tell you if you're getting too close to the three-foot wading maximum. But no matter, if you do decide to caulk the wagon and ford the river, the Range Rover will be just fine. Do what I did, and instead of crossing the river, make a right turn and drive upstream for a little while. It can handle it. I promise.
And while you're wading in muddy waters, notice that you're still sitting inside a comfortable, well-appointed interior. There's something oddly fascinating about trudging through mud and muck and being able to adjust the level of your seat heater at the same time, but this is exactly what makes the whole Range Rover package so special. It is at once an impeccable off-road machine and a superb luxury cruiser, full of the latest tech and high-quality materials.
That said, we still have qualms with a few of the Range Rover Sport's interior points, though they're largely housed behind the touchscreen infotainment interface. Simply put, Land Rover – and Jaguar, for that matter – is still too far behind the competition in terms of infotainment technology. It's not that the functionality isn't there, it's just that the whole system isn't very driver-intuitive, and even with the improved response times of the touchscreen, it still lags in a MyFord Touch-like manner. Land Rover admits to being behind the times in this department, and considering the fact that its engineers have created a vehicle that's capable of climbing mountains one minute and then hugging curves on canyon roads the next, I'm willing to cut them some slack.
Land Rover is still too far behind the competition in terms of onboard technology.
But otherwise, the Range Rover Sport's cabin is a warm, inviting place, with plenty of different color combinations for the seats (including this brothel-spec red and black), dashboard and center console panels. Leather is standard all around, with nice woods and other trim surfaces (aluminum or piano black) accenting the doors and control stack.
Nothing inside is really substantially better than the prior Range Rover Sport, and that's fine – everything is still comfortable and stylish, like it always was. Where massive improvements have been made, however, are in the back. Because of the longer wheelbase, rear seat ingress and egress has been improved substantially, as has rear legroom. What's more, Land Rover is now offering an optional third row of seats in the Sport – something my test car wasn't fitted with, and something I didn't have a chance to experience this time around. I don't anticipate it getting much use, but it's nice to know it's available. Curiously, Land Rover still doesn't offer a third row on the larger Range Rover, but spy shots suggest a long-wheelbase model is coming soon, and it may remedy the issue.
Land Rover is now offering an optional third row of seats in the Sport.
Pricing for the 2014 Sport starts at $63,495 for the base SE with a 3.0-liter V6, and goes as high as $93,295 for the Autobiography with the supercharged 5.0-liter V8. Decked out with nearly all the trimmings, the test car you see here stickers for just over $100,000, all in.
Considering that the full-strength Range Rover Supercharged starts at $100,000 and the Autobiography model commands an additional $30,000 on top of that, I'm hard pressed to find a single reason why you'd actually want to own the bigger of the two. In fact, these days, Land Rover tells us that proper Range Rover owners don't turn their noses up at Sport buyers, and that many owners have one of each in their garage. (If you have the means, then by all means.)
It does everything the larger Range Rover can do with a better focus on handling and dynamics at a lower price point.
But really, you only need one, and for my money, it'd be the Range Rover Sport, without question. It does everything the larger Range Rover can do with a better focus on handling and dynamics at a lower price point. You really don't lose anything by buying the Sport, except maybe a little bit of interior room and some very, very slight off-road capability. And what you gain is a whole new level of on-road dynamic prowess that the Land Rover brand has not seen before. This isn't just the best Range Rover Sport yet – it's the best Range Rover. Period.