Range Rovers are dime-a-dozen in northeastern United States. People just can’t seem to get enough of them; the status, the looks, and the comfort. Therefore when it came time to redesign the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport, Land Rover had to be very careful about not changing them too much, while making them modern and improved in every way.
The Sport in its previous rendition was LR3-based, but Range Rover-looking, while being smaller than the big Rover in all dimensions. The 2014 version is still Range Rover-looking but this time it is based on the same aluminum chassis as the 2013 L405 Range Rover. They share a lot more than that, too, which is both interesting and somewhat confusing, as the two seem very similar to one another.
I have sampled the big supercharged (V8) Range Rover in an off-road environment (part 1,2,3) and was impressed by what it could do right out of the box. Now I sampled the new Sport HSE with the new supercharged V6 on the highway and on snow covered secondary roads.
Still impressed? Keep reading…
On road the Range Rover Sport behaves a lot like a BMW X5, which should be taken as a compliment. It drives like a tall sporty wagon; no one will autocross it but highway on- and off-ramps are enjoyable. Brakes are great as well, with the smoothest, almost transparent, ABS activation/foot-massage ever, as observed on snow covered roads. The overall ride is smooth but the sporty suspension does transmit larger road irregularities into the cabin, whereas the big Range Rover is buttery smooth everywhere.
The new base engine, a 3.0-liter, 340hp, supercharged V6, is more powerful and efficient than the outgoing naturally aspirated V8. More power in a lighter vehicle means that the Sport lives up to its name; never short on power, and it sounds good too, especially at start-up. That said, when comparing the new S/C V6 to the old naturally aspired V8, the V8 felt less stressed in casual driving.
Either engine choice connects to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which has normal and sport shifting modes. Normal is slightly conservative with regards to fuel efficiency and the sport is just perfect with quick shifts yet doesn’t keep the engine in lower gears for too long. The Sport has a conventional looking shifter, unlike the Jaguar-esqe knob on the big Range Rover, but it is the new kind of electric shifter which takes some getting used to, much like on the new Chryslers and BMWs.
On the outside, both Range Rovers have the same wheelbase, but the Sport is shorter overall. The styling on the Sport features a more swooped down hood and grill, which also appears wider despite the two vehicles being the same width. Much like the front, the rear of the Sport is lower and narrowed down, further underscoring the sporty appearance.
This sporty styling, along with new roof safety standards contribute to reduced visibility due to smaller windows. Where once all Range Rovers had tall windows, low dash and beltlines, the window height on all new cars has been reduced. While still great, the new Range Rovers don’t have the commanding sitting positions and visibility of their forefathers, but are still much better than most of the competition.
The distinction between the conventional Range Rover and the Sport is further muddied inside; the dash, the seats, the steering wheel, are all almost exactly the same as on the big Rover. Rear seat is almost exactly the same, too, with fractionally less rear head and leg room. The interesting thing is that despite smaller cargo area, the Sport is available with a third-row seat, making it a seven-passenger vehicle, but my test vehicle was not equipped with it. It did have a full-size spare tire, however, which is nice.
Upon first look, Land Rover seemed to have done a fantastic minimalist job of the dash layout. It’s clean, it’s modern, and yet the high quality leather and wood give it a touch of old school rich, with aluminum trim providing a nice contrast between the two other materials. The metal knobs for climate control setting are intuitive to use, and there are two big cup-holders hidden by the slider tray. Unfortunately, these cup-holders also serve as the only place to keep one’s phone accessible. There is 12V receptacle near the cup-holders, and another one in the center console, along with a USB and aux-in connections.
Unfortunately that clean dash layout means that a lot of functions need to be accessed through the touch screen. There are eight hard buttons surrounding the screen, but even that does not help the fact that the whole thing is just slow and outdated. For instance; it takes three touches and screen changes to change from SAT1 to SAT2 band of presets. Despite a hard button, the heated/cooled seats are still screen operated, and slowly. The navigational system is good, looks Garmin-like, but the graphics are dated. Land Rover engineers should spend more time in BMWs and Audis.
This Range Rover was in my possession at the end of January. While I had it, I took a drive up to Vermont where ambient temperatures ranged from -3F to 10F, and the ground was covered with three inches of fresh snow. Some observations:
- The heated seats get super hot, super quickly. So much that even my wife had to lower hers from her usual setting of “lava hot” to the middle setting of “frying pan”. I kept mine in the middle setting for about three minutes before switching to the lowest setting of “sand beach hot”
- Land Rovers have always had auxiliary electronic windshield defrosters. This worked great on a very cold morning when the windshield was covered with a pretty thick layer of ice; nothing but an ice-scraper would have done a better job. There are two side effects to this, however: thin hardly visible lines in the windshield and the fact that electronic toll paying devices won’t recognized – something I learned the hard way.
- The interior got warm very quickly after the initial start up. Double-pane windows keep the interior warmer and quieter.
- The large 255/55-20 the all-season tires provided surprisingly plenty of get-up-and-go traction in the snow, unlike some other 4x4s. Braking and turning were good too, but would have been much more reassuring with proper snow tires.
- When the Terrain Response2® system is placed into the Grass/Gravel/Snow, the system works its magic providing even more traction, somehow. The driver can instantly feel the increased forward momentum in the snow; it’s really surprisingly good, unlike some so-called snow modes on other vehicles.
- Unfortunately, that Terrain Response2® system, along with a two-speed transfer case is a $1300 option. At first that sounds ludicrous; something like that should be standard on a Range Rover. Then you realize that 90% of buyers will never use it and would rather use that money toward an upgraded audio system.
The Range Rover Sport starts at $63,495, which seems like a lot until you realize that a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT has a higher starting price, never mind its German competition. Vehicle pictured had a lot of options, bringing the total MSRP to $76,820. A loaded Sport Autobiography can crack the six figure mark. For reference, the bigger Range Rover starts at $84,195 and can go over $140,000.
Land Rover has done exactly what it set out to do with the new Range Rover Sport; it looks slick and modern while remaining unmistakably Range Rover, it’s been improved in every way without any visible reduction in utility (it can tow over 7700 lbs). Currently Land Rover cannot keep up with demand, which is quite telling: an appealing product will always find customers.
Disclaimer: Land Rover provided me the vehicle for three days for the purpose of this review. They maybe getting a ticket in the mail with my picture on it for unpaid toll due to the EZPass not being read through the heated windshield – I’ll happily take care of that.
[Images: Copyright 2014 Redusernab/Kamil Kaluski]