The case could be made that the 2013 Range Rover is the best all-around vehicle on the market today. It's attractive, it's luxurious on the inside, it's absurdly fast, it off-roads like a beast, and it is remarkably well-engineered. So what happens when you make it smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient and cheaper?
That's exactly what Land Rover did to make the new-for-2014 Range Rover Sport. And it turns out — shockingly! — it made a great car even better.
(Full disclosure: Land Rover wanted me to drive the 2014 Range Rover Sport so bad that they flew me to California, put me up in a lovely Bay Area hotel, paid for all my food and booze, and let me take the SUV off-road. Not after I drank the booze, of course. I also demanded to wear a safari hat and be referred to only as Sir Nigel Rangerovington. That last one didn't pan out so well.)
In case you haven't noticed, Jaguar-Land Rover is in the midst of a bit of a renaissance at the moment. Tata's generous cash flow and willingness to let the brands' British engineers do what they do best with minimal interference at the top — things that never happened in the Ford era — have meant record sales, record profits, and an onslaught of exciting new models. The new Range Rover Sport is part of said onslaught, and it's one that the brand has to get right, as it is their biggest-selling vehicle.
The Sport is, like its predecessor that came out in 2005, a smaller, less expensive, more performance-oriented version of the Range Rover aimed at younger, slightly less millionaire-ish buyers. But while the old Sport was based on the old Discovery/LR3, this new one is adapted from its all-new big brother.
The result is that the two cars are remarkably similar in many, many ways. The Sport uses the same platform, lightweight aluminum unibody architecture, supercharged V8 engine, transmission, sophisticated off-roading gizmos like the Terrain Response 2 and hill descent systems, and it has a nearly identical interior.
But besides the availability of a supercharged V6 engine as the base motor on the Sport, the biggest difference between the two is size. The Sport is about 6 inches shorter and 2.17 inches lower than the Range Rover it is based on, which mainly results in a more tapered roofline and a smaller hatch. It also weighs 100 to 400 pounds less than the Range Rover, depending on which engine you get. (It's also some 800 pounds lighter than the outgoing Range Rover Sport, which is really something.)
Oh yeah — it's also $20,000 cheaper than the Range Rover, although picking the supercharged V8 and adding options can put you in the same territory as its larger sibling quite easily.
On our drive we got to sample the Range Rover Sport on the Northern California highways along the Pacific coastline as well as off road on a ranch owned by a hardcore Land Rover owner and enthusiast who volunteered his property for our test. Like the Range Rover, the Sport can handle anything and everything that is thrown its way.
Land Rover insists up and down that the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport appeal to two different potential buyers, with the former skewing older, more affluent, more apt to have the "best" of everything. But the Sport is so good in so many ways now that I wouldn't be at all surprised if it steals more than a few sales from the bigger SUV.
Exterior - 7/10
The Range Rover Sport slots in between the Evoque and the top Range Rover, so it kind of makes sense that it looks like both cars. I like to think it combines the best design attributes of both those cars to create the best-looking car in the Land Rover lineup at the moment.
Unmistakably a Land Rover, the Sport looks an awful lot like its big brother, but it is leaner and sleeker with a more steeply-tapered roofline. Overall, it looks leaner, more aggressive, more athletic, which makes sense because as a car that's exactly what it is.
Interior - 8/10
I had a serious case of deja vu when I sat inside the Sport because it's nearly identical to the Range Rover. As with the other car, it has a tasteful, minimalistic design and is full of outstandingly high-quality materials.
Changes from the Range Rover include a smaller steering wheel, a slightly different center console design, the addition of a gear shift lever instead of a gear selector knob, more heavily-bolstered seats, and… that's about it. That's a good thing, though. The Range Rover's interior was excellent, so they deserve credit for not watering it down.
It's also vastly better in terms of rear legroom than the outgoing Sport, basically on par with the Range Rover, and now it comes with an optional third row of mini-seats that spring out of the rear hatch area. You wouldn't want to spend hours in those seats, but they're great in a pinch.
Acceleration - 7/10
You have a choice of two engines for your Range Rover Sport, and both of them happen to be supercharged for your on-road and off-road pleasure. The base motor is a 3.0-liter blown V6 with 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, while the other is a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 with a whopping 510 horsepower. If these engines seem familiar, it's because they're also what you get on the Jaguar F-Type.
As it is on the F-Type, the V6 is a real peach. It delivers its substantial power immediately and makes highway passing a breeze. For most people this engine will be more than adequate, and I definitely don't mean "more than adequate" in a bad way.
Only truly hardcore power mongers will find themselves splurging for the V8. It's the same motor as the one on the top Range Rover, where it happens to be absurdly quick. Guess what happens when it's put into smaller, lighter vehicle? That's right, it gets even faster. Here, the V8 is insanely, maybe even excessively quick, with zero to 60 mph coming in under 5 seconds. It's ridiculous and wonderful.
Braking - 7/10
The brakes are very impressive. You get 13.8-inch rotors front and rear on the V6 model, while the V8 has Brembo 15 inch rotors up front and 14.7-inch rotors in the back. Needless to say, they have excellent stopping power, especially with the more powerful engine.
In fact, my co-tester and I decided that they may be even a bit too grabby at low speeds during off-roading exercises like hill descents when a little more nuanced brake modulation can be a good thing. But that's just a minor quibble, though, and the generally-excellent brakes don't impede the off-roading in any way. They're a great tool to have on the pavement or non-pavement.
Ride - 7/10
The ride on the Sport definitely feels firmer than the ride on the Range Rover, which is owed to its more performance-oriented suspension. Things get even stiffer on the V8 model, but with either engine, the ride never feels uncomfortable. In fact, it's kind of amazing how comfortable this car feels when it goes off the road. Going up and down steep grades and climbing rocks never makes you feel like your tooth fillings are being jarred loose, and that's an impressive feat.
Handling - 6/10
Besides the power, the differences between the V6 and V8 Range Rover Sports become most evident in the handling department. When I drove the Range Rover, I didn't care for its too-light, too-boosted electric steering. This car uses the same system, but the assistance has been turned down here for a heavier, more sporting feel. The Sport deserves credit for being a nimble and adept handler, one that never feels quite as big as it is. The V6 model displays a reasonable amount of body roll, but it's capable enough.
The V8, on the other hand, is a whole other animal in the handling department. It is much stiffer, much flatter in corners, and manages to be genuinely fun to drive on back roads. Is it on par with a sports car? No, but it's not supposed to be, and it displays handling prowess that will surprise most people. With either engine, it is a more agile, more fun handler than the Range Rover thanks to its slimmer weight and size.
Gearbox - 8/10
ZF's latest 8-speed automatic is one of the best conventional torque converter-based automatics currently on the market. It performed admirably when I tested it on the Range Rover, and does not disappoint on the Sport.
Shifts up and down are remarkably quick, and gears are held when you need them to be held. This is great for both backroad shenanigans and off road driving, when sometimes you need a car to stay in first or you have to start in second. And when you leave it in automatic mode, it always seems to be in the gear you want, whether you're blasting past someone on the freeway or climbing a muddy hill at a 45-degree angle. Kudos to Land Rover for giving the Sport the proper "down for up, up for down" shift layout as well as a great set of paddles.
So why doesn't it get a perfect score? Because I had the same issue with the unintuitive BMW-style gear lever that Jason had on the F-Type. I kept putting into reverse instead of park because the stick doesn't actually move, it just wiggles back and forth. I almost accidentally backed over a dude who was walking behind me because I moved it forward, into reverse, instead of hitting the tiny "P" button on the lever to engage park. Some things don't need reinvention.
Audio - 8/10
Land Rover gave this car some great engines, and to their credit they did a fine job of letting the driver hear them. The V6 is relatively quiet during cruising, but when you get on it it emits a satisfying growl with just the faintest hint of supercharger whine. The auditory money shot comes with the V8, though. That car has an angry, rumbly sound to it which, when coupled with a similarly beefy exhaust note, will have you on the throttle probably more than you should be. The sound alone in that V8 will probably be the reason behind more than a few speeding tickets.
Like its big brother, the Range Rover Sport has a variety of Meridian sound systems, the top of which is a 1700-watt 23-speaker setup. It sounds incredible, and while it's obviously not as potent as the bonkers 29-speaker Meridian 3D system you can get on the Range Rover, it's still good enough that you won't ever want to listen to your music on anything else again.
Toys - 10/10
It scores a perfect 10 in the toys department because it has all the same goodies as the Range Rover. The 8-inch touch screen packs an infotainment system that is responsive and requires minimal effort to figure out and operate. It's one of the easiest and best out there.
But the best toys are put to use when you decide to take your Range Rover Sport off the asphalt. Terrain Response 2 lets you adjust ride height, set the car to 4-Low or 4-High, and put the car in five different modes for different types of terrain and weather conditions. The touch screen also displays the angle of the axles, the amount of torque getting sent to each wheel, and how much the differentials are locking. And then there's the hill descent system, which continues to be the best in the business. It's really quite amazing when you learn to trust it.
I like the toys on the Range Rover cars because they aren't just superfluous afterthoughts like apps that post Facebook status updates from your car. They serve a purpose here and they all work extremely well.
Value - 8/10
Oh snap! The Range Rover Sport scored higher in the value department than its bigger brother. Why is this? Because it's every bit as good, it's more fun to drive, it isn't even really all that much smaller, and it's less expensive. It wins in my book.
That doesn't mean any of this excellence will come cheap. The Sport SE with the V6 starts at $63,495. Opting for the Sport Supercharged, which has a V8 (and is kind of a funny name because they're all supercharged) climbs to $79,995. The V8 tester I spent most of my time in came in at $88,585. The range goes all the way up to the Autobiography model, which will put you out $93,295.
Let's be real here: most Range Rover Sport customers, at least when these cars are new, will never take them off-road. But as I said in my Range Rover review, most Porsche 911 and Ferrari owners don't track their cars either. That's no reason to discount what it can do, and its abilities on and off road are worthy of the utmost respect. You get comfort, style, speed and off-roading ability should you want or need it.
If there was ever some stigma attached to buying the Sport over the Range Rover, there won't be one anymore.
Total - 76/100
Engine: 3.0 L Supercharged V6 / 5.0 L Supercharged V8
Power: (V6) 340 HP/332 LB-FT at 2,000 RPM / (V8) 510 HP/461 LB-FT at 2,500-5,000 RPM
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic (ZF)
0-60 Time: V6: 6.9 (est)/ V8 4.8 (est)
Top Speed: 155 mph
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: (V6) 4,727 Pounds, (V8) 5,093 Pounds
Seating: 5 people (7 with optional third row)
MPG: (V6) 17 City/23 Highway, (V8) 14 City/19 Highway
MSRP: (V6) $63,495, (V8) $79,995 (V8 tested at $88,585)