New Range Rover Sport happy with double duty

by Andy Stonehouse :: posted in Reviews on October 22nd, 2013
Those with a desire to purchase an automobile that is, believe it or not, equally poised hauling along well above the speed limit between walls of redwood trees and careening up a loose, 60-degree gravel slope – well, we’ve found your car.

The new Range Rover Sport, a more lithesome interpretation of the equally new standard Range Rover (Land Rover is the parent company, Range Rover is its prestige label, in case you wondered), made its North American debut a few weeks back in the hills above Silicon Valley and … I must say I am quite impressed. As many fellow car writers noted during our day of unbelievably twisty and often one-lane roads through the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of San Francisco, the new Sport does the Jeckyl and Hyde thing like no other car. 

It’s well-composed and offers handling that makes it feel like a sports car, not a 4,700- to 5,000-pound-plus SUV (though more extensive use of aluminum in the new unibody has dropped the vehicle’s weight a claimed 800 pounds from the previous model). Mostly, the Sport now feels (and looks, a bit) like a full-size version of the curious and wonderful Evoque, the company’s smaller, futuristically styled offering. The new, full-blown, top-of-the-line Range Rover also shares that new space-age design ethos. At the same time, the Sport is a poised and speed-worthy cruising machine imbued with every ounce of the 65-year-old company’s legendary off-road prowess. And there’s even more advanced off-road and all-weather technology than before – including an air suspension system, and an automatic terrain response system that can sense the range of insane backcountry hill-climbing you’re doing and mix up the modes.

We started the trip with a freeway blast followed by a scoot through the redwoods that seemed like it was straight out of “Return of the Jedi,” twisting around blind corners and feeling the genuinely impressive handling.

After our highway galavanting, we were let loose on a 1,000-acre property across the valley from Neil Young’s house to put the Sport to the test. From near-vertical drops to off-camber rock crawling and a few stream crossings in the middle, the Sport did everything without breaking a sweat. And it actually got more ground clearance (11.2 inches) and a deeper wading depth than a standard Jeep Wrangler, as well.

Admittedly the Sport is aimed at a considerably different audience than the Jeep (you’re more likely to see them at a high-end outlet mall than out on a trail, as you know they’ll never do any off-road work in their entire lives). But the car is also a little less tony than the very high-end Range Rover, with the Sport available in variations that start at $63,495.

Engine choices have now been streamlined with the greater Jag/Land Rover family and if you remember fuel economy being in the mid teens on the old model, there are some more gas-friendly offerings now.

A supercharged 3.0-liter V6 makes 340 horsepower and can propel the car to 60 in 6.9 seconds, getting 30 percent better mileage in the process (17 MPG city, 23 highway). Or, go whole hog and opt for the supercharged 5-liter V-8, which makes a stupid-fast 510 HP. That gets the car to 60 in a Jaguar-like 5 seconds, with a top speed of 155 MPH, all with the same giddy gurgle and crackling as the new F-Type Jaguar. And yet it is still a giant SUV. Think about that.

Happily, some oversized Brembo brakes are there to help keep the speed in check, plus massive 22-inch wheels as the largest option. A standard eight-speed transmission is also part of the package.

Still, the vehicle (a V-6 model) I spent much of the day in was indeed $79,000, though it had nearly all the bells and whistles you can load as part of the vehicle’s four-model range. At the top of the food chain, the V-8 Autobiography edition will set you back at least $93,295.

Interior details are indeed sterling in the new vehicle, with slightly gaudy two-tone Batmobile-worthy leather as an option, plus a scalp-frying full panoramic sunroof. It’s got a clean, airplane-inspired cockpit – a la the Evoque – with a distinctive, angled shift lever, plus a range of surface materials including three different wood veneers and four different aluminum finishes.

The Sport is also designated as 5+2 seating, meaning that a small, hideaway jump seat in the very back can be used for short trips with small humans, when necessary.

Audio has also been taken to the edge of reality with the option of a 1,700-watt, 23-speaker Meridian 3-D sound system, which will make your sport sound louder (and better) than a rock ‘n’ roll theater.   
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