A Range Rover for a more enthusiastic set of drivers, the Range Rover Sport may not be the brand’s hallmark vehicle, but it is its most exciting vehicle, even with the arrival of the pint-sized Evoque.Reimagined on a smaller scale than the big Rangie, but with much of its off-road ability, the Sport is the stepping stone between the formal, regal Range Rover and the higher-performance, street-ready utes that more of us are shopping and buying now. Looking at an M-Class, a Cayenne, or an X5? Then you’re likely looking at a Range Rover Sport, too.And for good reason. The Sport’s on-road performance is almost astonishing for its weight and its size. At the same time, there’s still enough off-road capability baked into its body and frame to enable those fantasy-camp treks across banana republics worldwide–the kind that aren’t at the other end of the mall from where you parked, drat.
With some running gear in common with the seven-seat Land Rover LR4, the Range Rover Sport couldn’t look, feel, or drive more distinctively. The scaled-down Range Rover look just works, from the bluff front end to the spare use of detail, to the sloped rear end that clearly predicted the Evoque while it was still an LRX concept floating around Land Rover HQ. The cockpit’s lavish without looking spoiled, a lovely balance of top-drawer materials and functional knobs and rockers, now bathed in a warm LCD touchscreen glow.Power for the Sport comes from the Jaguar-Land Rover 5.0-liter V-8, with or without supercharging. The naturally-aspirated version pushes out 375 horsepower and 375 pound-feet; with supercharging, it howls out 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. Brisk acceleration in base form (0-60 mph in about 7.2 seconds) becomes stunning in Supercharged models, dropping to a scant 5.9 seconds. With either drivetrain, the Sport gets a brainy all-wheel-drive system and a six-speed automatic transmission.
Outfitted as such, the Sport makes its talents known in the mud as well as it does in corners. It’s truly surprising how tenaciously it clings to the road, and how deep a stream it can ford, but sometimes the ride quality gets a little rough and bouncy, reminding you that the gulf between its extremes is a vast one. The available adaptive suspension goes a long way to soothing ruffled ride motions.Inside, the Range Rover Sport wavers between snug and tight. It’s not a roomy cabin by any means, and four adults will find comfortable spaces for relatively long road trips–but not much additional space for their belongings or the occasional yawn and stretch. The cargo hold’s especially small, with a high floor.Neither the NHTSA or the IIHS has crash-tested the Sport, but it offers blind-spot monitors and a rearview camera, along with the stock and trade stability control and all-wheel drive. What it can’t do is much for your carbon footprint–gas mileage is abysmal on an absolute scale, and low even for its luxury class.