My dad's words hung in the air like the few stray puffs of exhaust trailing in my wake as I motored away from him following a nice dinner. His parting statement to me really summed up the experience of driving this Chile Red Range Rover Sport. This is a vehicle unlike anything else Land Rover has ever built – and it needs to be. The Sport has been the British marque's best-selling vehicle since it went on sale in 2005 – even in its predecessor's final full year of sales, 2012, it still netted a four-percent bump. That kind of staying power needs to be preserved.
Doing that would be difficult, though, as Land Rover launched a pair of particularly notable products before it was time to redesign the Sport. The Range Rover Evoque has set the design benchmark for the Land Rover brand, while the all-new, fourth-generation Range Rover was the best sport utility vehicle Land Rover has ever built, and arguably one of the very best on the road, full stop.
The task seemed clear, then: build a worthy successor to an SUV that customers have been clamoring to buy for the better part of decade, while also adding the design chutzpah of the Evoque and living up to the class-leading standards set by its big brother.
By now, you have a fair idea of how Land Rover has done. Senior Editor Steven Ewing's initial foray with a right-hand-drive Sport in Wales was overwhelmingly positive in both on and off-road testing. But I believe in double-checking, and as our only review involved driving on the wrong side of the road in a UK-spec vehicle, it seemed like a good idea to secure a Sport for a tough-sledding Michigan winter (yes, that's why the photos for this story were taken in southern California) and see what's what.
Like the previous model, Land Rover continues to offer its phenomenal 5.0-liter, supercharged V8 in the 2014 Range Rover Sport. A completely unnecessary but wholly gratifying 510 horsepower can be called up, along with 461 pound-feet of torque. Unlike the old Sport, whose engine was mated to a six-speed automatic, ZF's stellar eight-speed automatic distributes power. This paddle-shifted automatic doles out the grunt to all four wheels via a permanent four-wheel-drive system, which in my tester benefits from both an electronically locking center and rear differential.
Land Rover continues to offer its phenomenal 5.0-liter, supercharged V8 in the 2014 Range Rover Sport.
The two diffs can be locked and unlocked automagically, in turn, by Land Rover's second-generation Terrain Response system. This latter serves as the nerve center of the Rover's off-roading systems, and offers drivers seven preset modes in my Supercharged model: Auto, General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand, Rock Crawl and Dynamic (the latter setting isn't available on V6 models). The default setting, Auto, is an overarching mode that completely removes the guesswork from managing the other settings. A week with the vehicle would prove that I don't much care for it, but I'm a control freak.
I've always liked the look of the first-gen Sport, but there's little denying that there was far more LR3/LR4 design DNA in that vehicle than the Range Rover it purported to be. This new vehicle is clearly inspired by its Evoque kid brother, rather than the full-sized Range Rover, and there's none of the old LR3/LR4 left in either its appearance or beneath the skin. This is no bad thing.
As you can see, the Chile Red and black exterior theme on this tester has been thoroughly carried out. Not only is it equipped with a Santorini Black roof, but thanks to its optional Dynamic Package, the mirrors, grille and "Range Rover" badging are blacked out as well. Subtle it isn't.
There's none of the old LR3/LR4 left in either its appearance or beneath the skin. This is no bad thing.
That's kind of the idea, though, and the narrow, wraparound headlights and their LED accents help out. The profile is accented by a sleeker version of Land Rover's typically upright greenhouse, thanks to the more aggressively raked windshield, along with the dramatic belt- and rooflines of the new Sport. A small side grille and a strongly styled side sill are the other main attractions of the Range Rover Sport's profile. In back, squarish, wraparound taillights look like they've been plucked and plumped from the Evoque.
One of my primary criticisms of the old Sport was its cabin – a point of view not helped after sitting inside the spectacular new Range Rover. This new model, fortunately, is considerably better than the vehicle it replaces. Material quality is greatly improved, with a dash that's covered almost exclusively in leather, save for a strip of mesh that runs level with the instrument cluster and houses the push-button start, central air vents and glovebox release.
The center console, home to the shifter, climate control and Terrain Response system controls, is rendered in high-quality textured aluminum on my tester, though other finishes are available. Weirdly, the knobs in the cabin have a real sense of solidity and quality to them, while the buttons – particularly those below the infotainment screen – feel comparatively cheap, both in terms of appearance and in action.
The cabin overall is quite well laid out, with everything in easy reach.
The cabin is quite well laid out overall, with everything in easy reach. The steering wheel is finished in high-quality leather, and like the Evoque and fullsize model, it wears a "Range Rover" badge in the center. I wouldn't have minded a slightly smaller-diameter wheel, however, as it would have lent a bit of credence to the Sport's mission as a more driver-focused offering.
Being a Range Rover, the Sport offers up quite a high seating position, which is a great aid to visibility all around. Those seats, meanwhile, are heated, cooled and offer 14-way adjustability, while being extremely supportive in nearly any situation. Ingress and egress are hampered only by the vehicle's high ride height, a factor that can be mitigated by lowering the air suspension.
Indeed, the biggest issue I had with the interior was with its navigation screen. Land Rover claims it's an eight-inch display, but it almost feels like they're talking about the total enclosure and not the screen itself. The undersized screen is made worse by the optional 12.3-inch TFT display used as the main instrument cluster – the latter is a delight to use, but kind of shows up the center stack screen. More annoying than any size issue is Land Rover (and Jaguar's) infotainment and navigation software, a touchscreen system that has been confounding users for years now. Even with incremental improvements, it still feels like a last-generation product – the touchscreen is unresponsive, the graphics are unattractive and its options limited.
Even with incremental improvements, the infotainment still feels like a last-generation product.
Now, you can get a Range Rover Sport with a supercharged V6. You should not do this. Yes, you'll save quite a lot on gas. Yes, the overall cost of your vehicle will be lower. And yes, I suppose there's an argument for environmental responsibility to be made, but you'll be missing out on so much more.
The availability of 510 hp and 461 lb-ft leads to a raucous SUV driving experience that may only be matched by the pricier turbocharged Porsche Cayenne models. The Sport goes from docile to savage with little effort, although it takes some practice to distribute all that fury smoothly. Throttle tip-in is a bit sluggish and weirdly, it almost feels like a turbocharged mill when trying to aggressively get off the line. The pedal needs to be fed in gradually, rather than just deploying a full boot from a standstill. At speed, though, the throttle feels decidedly sharper and the power is just as abundant.
Of course, acceleration is helped by the transmission. I'm sure you're sick of all the talk about ZF's excellent gearbox, but it bears repeating how good this particular calibration is, with snappier, well-timed downshifts and right-now upshifts. There's not much hunting between gears, either, which is part of what contributes to the Sport's potency when accelerating at speed. While manual mode is quite good – the immediacy of its shifts is complemented by the snappy action of the wheel-mounted paddles – I was totally content leaving the gearbox alone to make its own decisions.
The availability of 510 hp and 461 lb-ft leads to a raucous SUV driving experience.
Despite all the good things I have to say about this engine's actual performance, there's another reason you should buy it over the V6: it sounds brutal. Remember what my dad said above? Hell, it's probably everyone's reaction the first time they hear the Sport at flank speed. This large, off-road-read SUV, which can ford 33 inches of water, sounds like a Jaguar XKR. It's intoxicating.
That said, the Sport is not a sports car, and therefore, it should be rather quiet when just cruising along. It is, kind of. My tester's 21-inch wheels weren't the greatest when it came to road noise, so if it's a major concern, I'd suggest downsizing to the Supercharged model's standard 20-inch hoops, if only to curb the occasional impact harshness brought on by their thinner sidewalls.
To be fair, the affect those 21-inchers have on the Sport's ride comfort aren't massive. This is quite a smooth rider thanks to its standard air suspension, adaptive dampers and active roll control. There is some squatting and diving under hard acceleration and braking, but at this point, it seems to be an almost intentional and intrinsic Land Rover quality, a designed-in character-preserving foible. Considering the Sport is designed to plow through trails and forests that make even the roughest Detroit roads look freshly laid paths of asphalt, the potholes and imperfections provided by Old Man Winter were hardly a challenge for my big, red Rover. Nearly every impact is nicely smothered, barely registering in the cabin beyond a dull thunk.
There is some squatting and diving under hard acceleration and braking, but at this point, it seems to be an almost intentional and intrinsic Land Rover quality.
Where the Sport really impresses, though, is how it feels in the bends. For a 5,100-pound SUV, its handling is both sharp and neutral. Throw the Range Rover Sport into a bend, and it takes a set and claws through the turn. Switch to Dynamic mode, and the suspension hunkers down and the torque vectoring kicks in, switching up the 50/50 split and allowing even more power to be put down upon corner exit. What's surprising is that even the feedback remains fairly impressive. You don't know exactly what the grip levels are like, but you have a pretty fair idea of how hard you can push before things get expensive.
Normally, at this point, I'd mention the off-road prowess of the Sport. Unfortunately, being December, I didn't have a chance to go off road (Ewing's review has a great recap of the Sport's off-road chops). I did, however, test the Sport out in some slick, icy, white stuff and found it more than up to the task. This was a seriously sure-footed steed on Michigan's icy roads, whether manually switched to Grass/Gravel/Snow or left in Auto.
While the steering remains light on center, it's not easily swayed by potholes or imperfections, lending nicely to the chassis' overall sense of stability.
The Sport's newfound sense of agility is provided not just by this generation's aluminum-intensive chassis and body construction, it's also aided by its steering. The electric power-assisted rack feels rather natural in its weighting, building progressively from its somewhat light on-center effort and into something with some degree of heft behind it. You'll still know you're driving a 5,100-pound vehicle when working the Sport's tiller, but it never feels like a real hindrance. While the steering remains light on center, it's not easily swayed by potholes or imperfections, lending nicely to the chassis' overall sense of stability. Feedback isn't quite as good as a Porsche Cayenne, but there's sufficient chatter from the steering to know what the front wheels are doing – you can tell enough about the road surface to make really informed steering inputs.
Opt for the Supercharged V8 Sport, and you'll get the most aggressive braking package on offer – 15-inch front rotors and 14.3-inch rears with red-painted Brembo calipers. Braking was, not surprisingly, very confident.
As I said above, there are a number of very good arguments in favor of the six-cylinder. I discovered one of them, the V8's fuel economy, first hand. It's possible to return the V8's 14-mile-per-gallon city EPA estimate, but I'm not wholly certain how anyone might net the 19-mpg highway figure. My average sat around 15 mpg, thanks in no small part to my heavy right foot and the big engine's ear-pleasing racket. I suspect if driven civilly, 16 or even 17 mpg is possible. At 17 mpg city and 23 highway, the V6 is rated significantly better, but either way, this is a vehicle for OPEC magnates, not Greenpeace supporters.
The Range Rover Sport offers an incredible amount of versatility in a decidedly handsome wrapper.
Pricing is the other argument against the supercharged V8. The bottom line on the Supercharged model starts at $79,100. Of course, that figure can climb rapidly, thanks to options like larger wheels, a healthy array of premium paints and some optional extras and packages. Extra-cost goodies for my tester included adaptive cruise control ($1,295), Santorini Black roof ($650), black headliner ($350), 19-speaker Meridian audio ($1,950), rear-seat entertainment ($2,000) and that gorgeous Chile Red paint ($1,800). Land Rover also was nice enough to add a pair of packages. The $2,500 Dynamic package (TFT gauge cluster, 21-inch wheels, red brake calipers, black exterior accents) and $3,545 Luxury Climate Comfort and Visibility Pack (including the aforementioned 16-way power seats, cooler box, adaptive headlights and heated windshield) led to an as-tested price of $94,085 including a $925 destination charge. Expensive, to be sure, but considering that the equivalent Cayenne Turbo has a base price of $110,400, the Sport is almost something of a value play.
It's this bizarre bargain that would put me behind the wheel of one of these Solihull SUVs were I doing the shopping. The Range Rover Sport offers an incredible amount of versatility in a decidedly handsome wrapper – it's a luxury car of the highest order, yet paradoxically, it's a vehicle fully capable of delighting your inner driver while also possessing the ability to dispatch any terrain thrown its way. It may not be cheap, but it's the complete package.
As it turns out, my dad was wrong – this Range Rover Sport has every right to bellow about how good it is.