- We drove the Range Rover Sport in snowy Park City, Utah.
- The goal? To see how it stacks up against its bigger sibling, the Range Rover.
- It does more than simply pass muster, but it does beg a few interesting questions.
2023 Range Rover Sport PHEV Review: Why Buy the Big One?
The Sport is no less luxurious and even better to drive
The Range Rover brand has turned into such a powerful machine as of late that contemporary Range Rovers (particularly the Sport we drive here and the headhoncho Range Rover itself) have one main concern: Placate their clientele. If you’re lucky enough to have $100,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you likely already know exactly what you want. Porsche lovers will spring for a Cayenne, and those who want a Mercedes will forever lust after G-wagens and settle for GLEs. The Land Rover faithful are much the same — they want a Range Rover and little else will truly scratch that itch. It's no wonder the brand has an almost 18-month-long backlog of orders to fill.
So the big question for the nearly $110,000 as-tested 2023 Range Rover Sport lies here: Is it a good Range Rover? The answer, very simply put, is yes. But our time in the new Range Rover Sport Autobiography in a snowy Park City, Utah, left us with a few other questions that might be on a Range Rover customer’s mind.
Do you need a full-size Range Rover anymore?
But first, the Sport itself. The new model year brings with it an all-new car, but it's largely based on the new full-size Range Rover and it both looks and feels it. There is a chunky solidity to everything, inside and out. The doors close with a reassuring thump, the panel gaps are tight, the seats are both supportive and lined in soft semi-aniline leather, and the interior carries a bank-vault-like solidity. Everything you touch is covered in something, be it leather, a technical fabric, metal or (optionally) forged carbon fiber, that feels like it befits the full-size Range Rover, let alone the smaller Sport.
The only interior material that lets the Sport down is a chunk of piano black plastic that serves as the background to the center console and its controls. It, unfortunately, cannot be optioned away and turns your fingers into smudgy paint brushes instantaneously. While harping on this particular pain point might seem arduous, Land Rover should know better. It offers wood veneer finishes on the range-topping Range Rover and the less expensive Velar. The glossy black plastic cheapens the Sport's interior just enough to make you think "why?" but this is a fairly minor point since almost every other surface looks and feels expensive.
The only other annoyance (which spans across the Range Rover family of SUVs) are the nonsensical climate control dials. Push to adjust fan speed, pull to adjust your heated or cooled seat, and do the inverse to get back to the main menu which controls the temperature. It's a hassle at best, and the bezels around the dials themselves are so thin that gripping them for the pull isn't as straightforward as it sounds. Maybe Land Rover can eventually make this system easier to use (perhaps where you simply push to cycle through the range of options), but for now it remains this cabin's only other small irritation.
Being based on the top-line Rover has other benefits beyond the mostly solid interior. The new Sport is longer than its predecessor and just as wide as the current full-size Rover. The Sport has grown so large, in fact, that it's just 4 inches shorter in overall length than its bigger sibling, and they share the exact same wheelbase of 118 inches. That means space inside is aplenty for both front and rear passengers. The cabin has an eminently airy feel, the standard panoramic sunroof added a much-appreciated dose of headroom and natural light, and knee and hip room in the back seats was plentiful for this 6-foot-tall writer.
The biggest difference in terms of size between the Sport and the standard Range is cargo capacity behind the second row and the Range Rover's option to add two seats, which isn't available on the five-seater Sport. The standard-length Range Rover has an extra 9 cubic feet of cargo capacity compared to the Sport (40.7 cubic feet and 31.9 cubes, respectively), but that isn't a massive advantage. If the extra space or the third row is truly that important to you, the LWB Range wins out here without question and is the one you'll spring for, but if you don't need the extra room (9 cubic feet is about two average-size suitcases), the Sport suddenly becomes a very enticing alternative.
For the first time since Land Rover put both of these models on sale, the Sport isn't playing second fiddle. The differences between the two in terms of size and practicality are, literally, within inches of each other. And it keeps going, because the extra space this new generation brings isn't the only way the Sport makes itself even more appealing.
Can a plug-in hybrid really feel like a luxury powertrain?
Range Rover buyers are likely used to bigger, more burly powertrains. Supercharged V8s weren't just an option, they were commonplace among the previous generation of luxury Land Rover products. That's still likely to be the case with this new generation of car. The effortless nature of a powerful, understressed engine fits the luxury bill more dutifully than a wheezy turbocharged four-cylinder. But can you get away with a little less in 2023?
The Sport Autobiography asks you to reconsider your preconceived notions about big engines in big cars. The top-spec model we tested is only available with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that's mated to an electric motor that draws power from a 31.8-kWh battery pack. A V8 was available in the Range Rover Sport for this new generation of car, but it was limited to the First Edition models and the plug-in hybrid will serve as the top-of-the-line powertrain for the foreseeable future.
This might come to the chagrin of some Range Rover fans, but less in this case isn't more — but it isn't less either. The 434 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque from the PHEV is the right amount of grunt for an SUV of this size. In all modes save for Dynamic and Eco, the admittedly extreme ends of the Sport's many drive modes, there is a natural and linear delivery of power. As you might imagine, Eco tones things down and favors the electric motor while Dynamic injects a little extra poke. We didn't find reason to use either for very long in our day with the Sport, preferring to leave it in Auto, Snow or Comfort for the bulk of the drive.
Put your foot down in most drive modes and the electric motor does the initial pickup, and the inline-six kicks in at higher speeds. Pushing through the kickdown pedal asks both the electric motor and gas engine to work in sync, and the resulting thrust is neither surprising nor disappointing. Shifts are dealt with quickly and imperceptibly while you get up to speed in what feels like a purely appropriate amount of time. Land Rover claims the Sport will do 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds — a claim we don't think it would achieve in anything but dry conditions with a stickier set of tires installed.
Land Rover also claims that the Sport PHEV can go 48 miles on electric power alone, though the EPA hasn't yet given an official rating on EV-only range or the Sport's fuel economy. Even so, that's not an insignificant amount of electric-only range, and some buyers might be able to do several days on EV power alone. Sticking it into "EV only" mode actually adds to the sense of luxury and refinement. An already quiet cabin is silenced and the Sport will even get up to highway speeds on EV power alone — the gas engine won't kick in, even at up to 65 mph.
There's no real knock against the Sport plug-in hybrid, and it is a genuinely well-executed iteration of what can be a fussy powertrain. However, it simply feels like a V8 (à la the twin-turbo one found in the full-size Range Rover) would suit the Sport's luxury intentions just that much better. Still, if you prefer efficiency, then there's nothing wrong with going for the PHEV at all.
Is the Range Rover Sport really a sporty SUV?
The full-fat Range Rover is a car to be driven in, something we touch on in our review of the big SUV saying, "[I]t prefers to be driven leisurely and delivers a comfortable and refined ride. The smooth gear shifts are especially notable. ... Steering and handling are another issue. The Range Rover is tuned for comfort, which in this case means somewhat loose steering and a suspension that allows noticeable body lean during cornering." Indeed, the Range Rover isn't one to be turned loose on a back road and is probably best left to its easygoing devices.
However, if you do most of your own driving, the Sport starts to shine. Its steering is far more direct and there's a deliberate heft that's been added to make the car feel more, well, sporty. There's no appreciable communication from the wheel, but the Sport combats this with masses of traction from its all-wheel-drive system. Even on snow tires that aren't fit for grip, it felt buttoned-down and accurate with minimal body roll to boot. The whole car has been firmed up compared to big Range Rover, but when you firm up a bed, you're left with a couch.
That's the balance the Sport manages to strike perfectly. It's supportive in the right places, being stout and more eager to go, turn and stop, but it makes minimal sacrifices in terms of ride comfort. Our day out in Park City gave us limited time on roads that weren't perfectly paved, and some brief driving on muddy, rutted backroads proved to be the only thing that could have flummoxed the car that day. The result? Well, nothing. The Sport maintained its on-road composure over nastier potholes and deep dirt ditches and left its driver and passenger looking at each other as if nothing had been driven over at all.
Land Rover's Terrain Response 2 system (corporate speak for an array of off- and on-road driving modes) was set to slippery for most of the day — a middle-of-winter storm was laying down snow thick and fast, but again, the Sport hardly seemed to care. A test of the system's auto function revealed that it was perfectly able to detect the kind of conditions it was driving in and adapt appropriately, and while we would have thoroughly enjoyed more time off-road in the Sport, there's little doubt that a very small percentage of these will ever leave the beaten path. If your vacation home in Park City happens to have a dirt road leading up to it, rest assured the Sport will get you there.
So, is the new Range Rover Sport a good Range Rover?
Absolutely it is. If you find yourself without the need for the extra space, the Sport is the one to have. It even packs a lot of the same tech you get in its bigger sib because the two SUVs now share Jaguar Land Rover's corporate Pivi Pro infotainment system. The only thing that might give you pause is the powertrain, but there are other, less expensive engine options in the lineup that don't feature this Sport's plug-in hybrid setup. Or you can just wait for the return of the SVR. Regardless, this new Range Rover Sport is as complete as this car has ever been and so good, in fact, it might coax a few Porschephiles out of their Cayennes after all.
The Range Rover Sport feels every penny of its $100,000-plus asking price and is well worth considering over the big one.