Land Rover Range Rover Sport — Refined and capable

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It's been nearly a decade since Land Rover introduced the Range Rover Sport featuring an unequaled combination of horsepower and handling while retaining the company's vaunted off-road characteristics and the appealing Range Rover styling in a slightly smaller package. At a company where significant changes come at a glacial pace, the second-generation Sport has finally arrived for 2014 and is a marked improvement over the outgoing model — lighter, sportier and more fuel efficient, but with a bigger cabin and more passenger space.

The new model was conceived alongside the all-new Range Rover and we discovered it’s a vehicle that truly deserves the "sport" moniker. It is endowed with a quick, agile nature that seems as anxious to take on winding roads as the most rugged rock-strewn and water-infested outback.

Like the bigger Range Rover, the Sport is built on an aluminum chassis to reduce weight, and it has dropped as much as 700 pounds depending on engine selection. Adding to the enhanced handling prowess is a standard electronic air suspension system.

Increased fuel efficiency comes from an all-new standard supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine rated at 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic that offers 17 mpg city and 23-highway. It replaces a 5.0-liter V8 that made 375 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque with mileage ratings of 13/18. The big thing here is that — according to Land Rover's numbers — the V6 is measured at 6.9 seconds from 0-to-60 compared to 7.2 seconds for the V8.

At first we were dismayed that our test vehicle did not arrive with the optional carryover supercharged V8, which makes 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. But the new V6 proved an eye opener, a revelation that there was no need for the V8 to derive true sporting performance, on road or off.

And no need to fork over more cash — there's a whopping $16,500 difference between V6 and V8 models — and sacrifice between three and four miles to the gallon.

The feeling of spaciousness inside and the ability to add a small third-row "child's seat" comes from a wheelbase stretched seven inches compared to the previous Sport. Four adults can now ride in comfort with space behind for two small people or luggage room of 27.7 cubic feet.

Land Rover has designed a more sporting feel into the Sport's cockpit by lowering the driving height and raising the center console. Also, the diameter for the steering wheel is smaller than the Range Rover and the rim much thicker. The pop-up rotary gear knob has been replaced by a more sports-car-like shifter. The interior also has a more luxury and Land Rover has eliminated most of the plastic pieces found in the first-generation car, and the abundant leather surfaces and wide variety of interior customization options make the Sport feel sophisticated and worthy of its $62,600 base price.

The highly adjustable front seats are comfortable and provide plenty of support. The electronics interface seems a little dated compared to some rival systems, but overall we found it one of the easiest of the new systems to use. Perhaps more than any other thing, the Sport's supremely quiet interior at highway speeds and the vibes emitting from an outstanding Meridian sound system give the vehicle a true luxury persona.

Standard features on the base SE trim include 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic xenon headlights, power-folding heated mirrors, a self-leveling air suspension, front and rear parking sensors, a power liftgate, keyless ignition/entry, 14-way adjustable power front seats, front seat memory settings, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery and dual-zone climate control.

Also standard are a voice-controlled navigation system, an 8-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system with a 10-CD changer, auxiliary audio jack and USB/iPod integration.

Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, first- and second-row side curtain airbags, front and rear parking sensors, and a rearview camera. Optional safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera system, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic detection. The adaptive cruise control includes an emergency braking feature that automatically applies the brakes if a collision appears imminent.

Options are many and can run the price up by many thousands. For instance, our V6 SC HSE test vehicle carried a bottom line of $78,430 with such goodies as 20-inch alloy wheels; Luxury Climate Comfort and Visibility Package, which includes four-zone climate control, 16-way power front seats, and adaptive headlights with high-beam assist; the extra safety features noted above; and a premium 850-watt sound system.

Base price: $63,525; as driven, $78,430
Engine: 3.0-liter supercharged V6
Horsepower: 340 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 332 foot-pounds @ 3,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 115.1 inches
Length: 191 inches
Curb weight: 4,727 pounds
Turning circle: 39.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 27.7 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 62.2 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 7,716 pounds
Fuel capacity: 27.7 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 23 city, 17 city
0-60: 6.9 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Lexus GX 460

The Good
• Powerful engines
• Excellent road manners
• Off-road capability

The Bad
• Expensive options

The Ugly
• Third-row seat for children only