After wringing out the 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport on some twisty strips of asphalt, we reach an off-road park clamoring with Jeeps and ATVs. Not surprisingly, the ranger at the gate looks at us with raised eyebrows.
Perhaps it's the 21-inch wheels and short sidewall tires that give him pause. Or maybe it's the sporty, hunkered-down stance that's making him wonder whether he should let this luxury SUV pass.
Then, with a tap of a button, the ride height rises 1.4 inches before his smile-crinkled eyes. We let him know that it'll go up another 1.2 inches in its most extreme off-road mode.
"Now that is pretty slick. Go have yourself some fun out there," he says as he waves us through.
Making the transition from agile canyon carver to capable off-road rock crawler is something the Range Rover Sport did well before, and not much has changed. What has changed is the fact that unlike its predecessor, this new Sport is based on the top-of-the-line Range Rover. As a result, it benefits from a wheelbase that is 7 inches longer, which translates to more space for rear passengers, a sticking point of the last model.
More importantly, the new Sport is almost 400 pounds lighter by our reckoning (Land Rover claims 800). The end result is a new Sport that delivers its all-in-one promise of luxury, on-road performance and off-road capabilities with even more comfort and features than ever before.
As Fast as a Mustang on the Street
Lurking under the clamshell hood of the top-of-the-line 2014 Range Rover Sport is a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 that turns out an impressive 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission and two-speed transfer case send power to all four wheels with spectacular results.
In testing, the Sport blasted to 60 mph in only 4.6 seconds (4.4 seconds with a 1-foot rollout as on a drag strip) and crossed the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds at 109.1 mph. Putting that into perspective, it's as fast as a Ford Mustang GT that's 1,800 pounds lighter, and it sounds just as good doing it.
Even more impressive is how the Range Rover Sport handles, weaving through our slalom at 62.3 mph and pulling 0.80g around the skid pad. It only needed 124 feet to stop from 60 mph, and after repeated runs at our test track that distance extended to only 130 feet.
On the twisting mountain roads prior to our off-road excursion, the brakes proved to be the weakest link. After continued punishment the brake pedal became noticeably softer, diminishing our confidence in its ability to keep us from careening off a rocky cliff. At the braking limit, there's also a mild rear end shimmy. Slowing to speeds where we weren't exceeding the brakes' capabilities still allowed us to maintain a surprisingly fast pace, however. Quite terrifying for a passenger.
As in the previous Range Rover Sport, there's a Terrain Response dial on the console that adjusts the suspension, reprograms the stability/traction controls, sharpens steering and optimizes throttle and transmission response to suit varying conditions. Dynamic mode does an impressive job of reducing body roll and dive, allowing the tall SUV to track relatively flat through high-speed curves. It certainly doesn't feel like a 70-inch tall, 5,470-pound vehicle.
Is It Still a Range Rover?
The short answer is a resounding yes. The various obstacles we find in the off-road park are no match for the Range Rover Sport's capabilities. A stream crossing barely approaches the Sport's maximum wading depth of 33.5 inches. Our biggest concern here is making sure an errant rock doesn't scrape the pricey 21-inch wheels.
We clear the riverbed with no more difficulty than a Corvette has with a driveway. This also holds true for the field of sand and football-sized rocks on the other side of the stream.
Then we find something a little more difficult: a climb that comes uncomfortably close to the Sport's 31-degree approach angle. We select neutral and tap the Low Range button. A few seconds later, the system says we're all set. Slow and steady, the Range Rover scales the loose sand and rocks. Out the windshield we can only see sky, which makes us wish our test vehicle came equipped with the optional surround camera system. We crest with little drama and turn around to test the hill descent control.
For the uninitiated, pointing a big heavy SUV down a steep drop is unsettling to say the least. Keeping your feet firmly planted on the floor, well off the pedals, requires a leap of faith in the name of technology. We brace ourselves to keep from sliding into the dash and begin the descent, with each wheel crunching its ABS brake as the Sport lumbers ever downward. As the landing approaches, filling the forward view with nothing but the rocky terrain, it's hard not to notice our quickening pulse, but it's all for naught as the nose levels out with ease and grace.
As Luxurious as an SUV Gets
During our off-road adventures, we're struck by how civilized the Range Rover Sport's cabin remains. Passengers in lifted pickup trucks sharing the off-road area with us are jostling around like off-balance washing machines as they inhale the dust and smoke through open windows. Meanwhile, we're basking in the luxury of a leather-lined cockpit that would be at home in a six-figure luxury sedan.
With our windows up, quad-zone automatic climate control on and cooled seats keeping our backsides pleasantly free of stifling heat, we've never felt so isolated from the wilderness while being right in the middle of it. The bumps and ruts do have us bracing from time to time, but no more that we would on L.A.'s pockmarked boulevards. In the event that we feel any fatigue, the cooler box under the center armrest keeps our beverages refreshingly cool.
At no time do we feel as if the Range Rover Sport is a truck in luxury disguise or a luxury car pretending to be outdoorsy. The virtual gauges are as legible as they are slick, and the 16-way-adjustable front seats ensure a comfortable driving position for almost any body type.
There's also an abundance of space for full-size adults in the rear seats. The longer wheelbase has opened up an additional 4.7 inches of legroom in the second row and the difference is noticeable. A two-seat third row is also an option with the Range Rover Sport, but our tester doesn't have it.
Cargo capacity takes a slight hit compared to the standard Range Rover, mainly due to the Sport's Evoque-like styling. Even still, there's an ample 27.7 cubic feet of luggage space behind the rear seats (about 4 less than in the standard Range Rover) and 62.2 cubic feet available with the seats folded down (a more significant 10 cubes less).
This Much Capability Doesn't Come Cheap
As is usually the case, there's a hefty price for this level of capability. In our case, it's $94,085. The base price for the supercharged Range Rover Sport is $79,995 and our tester added $14,090 worth of options.
It's not cheap to run either. Big weight plus high horsepower numbers equal poor fuel economy. The EPA estimates 16 mpg in combined driving (14 city/19 highway), but our best result was 17.2 mpg on our highway-heavy evaluation loop. Overall, we averaged a measly 12.4 mpg, dipping into single digits when off-roading.
If those numbers give you pause, there's always the base model and its 340-hp V6. It starts at $63,495 and has a combined EPA rating of 19 mpg. Still not great, but fuel mileage is not what this Range Rover is about. It was designed to deliver outstanding on-road performance and unmatched off-road performance in a luxurious and attractive package. In that regard, the 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport remains one of the best options at any price.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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