Bigger With Better Fuel Economy And Award-Winning Driving Experience: The All-New Range Rover Sport

The model-year 2014 Range Rover Sport is the best SUV for you if a BMW X5 is too predictable, a Mercedes-Benz M Class too prudent and a Porsche Cayenne too provocative. It’s also for you if you find ads about crossing deserts and scaling mountains relevant.

At Pikes Peak, a model-year 2014 Sport raced to the summit in record time. It’s safe to say nothing in this class matches the vehicle’s blend of on-road performance and off-road pluck—or even really tries too.

This is the top-selling Range Rover in the United States, and it’s completely redesigned for the first time since model-year 2006. It’s bigger but more efficient . . . faster yet more family-friendly.

It slots into the lineup between the compact Evoque and the flagship Range Rover. This is fast company. With competitors like the X5, Cayenne and ML, success depends on a heady mix of sex appeal, performance and panache.

The Sport has all that. It’s certainly well-bred, with styling and technology influenced by its extreme-adventure heritage. For example, the new body is more streamlined, yet it retains a properly upright greenhouse. Ranger Rover, in fact, says it’s shaped to take into account the occupant’s head movements during severe off-roading.

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In a nod to fashion, the model-year 2014 offering has both hood and fender vents. They’re not functional, but only because the engine air intakes have been relocated to provide an additional six inches of wading depth. Yes, this SUV will ford 33 inches of water.

It’s more practical than its predecessor in other ways, too. The wheelbase is stretched seven inches—that’s huge in car terms—for more rear legroom and easier entry and exit. And while overall length is up just two and a half inches, that’s enough to introduce an optional third-row seat. Yes, it can now carry seven passengers.

Performance improves on several fronts. A supercharged V-6 takes over from a naturally aspirated V-8 as the base engine. The V-6 has 340 horsepower—down from 375—but quicker acceleration, thanks in part to the eight-speed automatic transmission that replaces a six-speed automatic in all models.

The top engine remains a 510-horsepower supercharged V-8, but, like the V-6, it benefits from a major change to the design. The entire structure is now aluminum. And this is now a unibody SUV. The old version integrated a steel body with a full-frame chassis.

Despite the larger size, the model-year 2014 Sport is 800 pounds lighter. Fuel economy jumps to 19 mpg city/highway combined with the V-6 (a gain of five mpg) and to 16 combined with the supercharged V-8 (an increase of two).

The new suspension is aluminum. It’s adjustable to more than 11 inches of ground clearance, a gain of two and a half inches. On-road, drivers of V-8 Sports can dial up a Dynamic Mode that sharpens steering and powertrain, uses torque vectoring to improve control and even counteracts body lean in turns.

All-wheel-drive is standard on V-6 models. But a $1,300 option is the V-8’s four-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing and an available locking rear differential. This system also features Range Rover’s next-generation Terrain Response technology. It has specific settings for pavement, snow, mud, gravel and rock crawling, and it can now advise the driver when to select low range or raise the vehicle to off-road height.

Also new are self-driving systems that enable the Sport to inch along in stop-and-go traffic or park itself in a perpendicular space—or both back into and automatically pull out of a parallel space.

As for panache, look no further than the new interior. Leather is standard, the trim is real aluminum (a choice of three wood veneers is also available) and there’s padding in places you’ll seldom touch. You can get a $6,000 audiophile Meridian-brand stereo with 1,700 watts and 23 speakers. The new dashboard is more postmodern than olde English. The number of switches has been reduced by 50 percent, and what’s left has a sophisticated, short-travel motion. Navigation is standard—it’s eight-inch touchscreen is a bit of a reach for the river but easily accessed by the front passenger.

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Shifting gears requires some dainty manipulation of the transmission lever, and only V-8 models have steering-wheel paddles.The power window switches are oddly located, and immovable headrests interfere with rear visibility.

The longer wheelbase finally gives the Sport a spacious back seat. And an elaborate center armrest adds some sense of occasion. A power liftgate is standard, and cargo volume is competitive. But convenience takes a hit from second-row seatbacks that don’t come close to folding flat.

The two-passenger third-row costs between $2,000 and $3,000, depending on the model. It’s power-controlled and stows flush with the floor. Range Rover acknowledges it’s for kids—but it does signal the brand’s evolution from personal-luxury SUV to premium-family SUV.

It may be a better soccer-team shuttle, but the model-year 2014 offering is still lighter than its direct rivals and drives with a determined confidence the old versions couldn’t muster. Three out of four buyers will choose the V-6—and they shouldn’t want for power, with great midrange passing response and just a hint of low-speed throttle lag to remind them this isn’t the V-8.

For those who can’t compromise, the master-of-the-universe supercharged V-8 goes 0 to 60 in five seconds flat. The smart suspension that comes with the V-8 pays off in pretty amazing road manners, too. But any model has quick reflexes and outstanding control. A firm ride is part of the bargain, but avoid the optional 21- or 22-inch wheels and tires; stick with the 19s and 20s, and you’ll be comfortable.

Direct comparisons are a little tricky—you can get into an ML – X5 or even a Cayenne for thousands less than a Sport. But fit them with comparable powertrains and equipment and they’ll match the $63,500 starting price of the base V-6 Range Rover Sport SE.

The HSE is the most popular version. It, too, has the V-6 but starts at $68,495, including the panoramic roof, 20-inch alloys and interior and exterior upgrades.

V-8 Sports come as a model called the Supercharged—for just under $80,000—and as the top-line Autobiography for $93,300. Even then you’ll pay another $1,800 for the 22-inch wheels and $4,400 to equip a V-8 with that 1,700-watt sound system.

The Sport may spend as much time in a Neiman Marcus parking lot as on a trail in the Rocky Mountains. But your choice at this level is as much a matter of image as anything else. Every SUV in the class is a tantalizing proposition. And there’s that three feet of water to think about.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]