by Mark Smyth
Land Rover management was not initially keen on making the Range Rover Sport as there was a fear that it might have an adverse impact on the Range Rover itself. After all, the big daddy Range Rover has always been the flagship model and one of the most well-known luxury SUVs in the world.
After wrestling with the idea of whether they needed another Range Rover model at all, the decision was made to go ahead, but it had to be something very different. That was definitely the case for the Range Stormer concept that debuted in 2004 at the Detroit Auto Show. Then in 2005, it became a production model, and the Range Rover Sport was born.
It was an immediate hit with everyone from school-run parents to music stars the world over. It was more athletic both visually looks and in the driving experience, and it made its owners look cool. Plus, it was fast and loud, something to take on the Mercedes-AMG G63 brigade.
The arrival of the third generation brings with it some major changes, not least of all when it comes to design, suspension, and the introduction of plug-in hybrid technology. But can it still take the rough with the smooth as a Range Rover should? We drove the new SUV in Spain to find out.
See trim levels and configurations:
Like the Range Rover and the Velar, it's all about reductionist design at Land Rover these days. Outside of the design studio, to the rest of us, that means not making cars that look fussy and overdesigned, not that we're pointing any fingers at Audi or BMW here.
The side profile is purposeful but smooth, the roofline tapering into the longest spoiler ever on a Range Rover. Up front, there are new LED daytime running lights leading into a grille with a slightly darker and more aggressive look than the last generation. Slim LED lamps are a focal point on the tailgate, too, where again, it all looks simple and uncluttered. The design won't appeal to everyone and is great if you appreciate minimalism, but not so much if you want the bling and excess of an Escalade.
The big news is the debut of the new plug-in hybrid version of the Sport with the powertrain designation P440e. This setup combines a turbocharged 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder Ingenium gasoline engine developing 395 horsepower on its own mated to a 141-hp electric motor fed by a 32.8kWh (31.8kWh useable) battery pack. Combined, the system generates 434 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque, dispatching the 0-60 mph sprint in a claimed 5.5 seconds before topping out at 140 mph.
Before the knowledgeable point it out, yes, the European spec version gets 510 hp, and no, the US can't have it, not officially anyway.
Power isn't the main point of it, though; it's all about being able to cruise through downtown in electric mode, silently gliding past the crowds of people knowing that you're not putting out any toxic fumes through the remarkably unblemished exhaust tips at the back. No, we're not insinuating anything. Should you choose to engage EV mode, or if the car's clever geofencing does it for you, then there's the potential to drive up to 48 miles for the US market.
It'll charge up to 80% in under an hour on a 50-kW rapid charger, or you can just plug it in at home for five hours to get a full charge. Total range is claimed to be around 460 miles.
There's also the option of the mild hybrid electric vehicle, which is basically the same gasoline engine but without the batteries. It's not that down on power compared to its proper hybrid sibling at 355 hp for the P360 SE and 395 hp for the P400 Dynamic SE, but you lose out on that EV mode. Land Rover reckons they will both still return a decent WLTP combined cycle score of 30.1 mpg, although the EPA will likely be a little stricter.
If you think it's all electrification, then there's one more, at least until something shouty with an SVR badge comes along. The P530e uses the BMW-sourced 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that pumps out 523 hp, will hit 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, and run on to a top end of 155 mph. For now, that's only available in the limited First Edition, but you can bet demand will see that engine quickly added to regular models in due course.
The interior of the new Range Rover balances that feeling of classic British sophistication with some of the latest tech and the option of either traditional or modern materials, including some that are recycled. One of the most interesting of those is trim inlays made from carbon fiber that has been chopped into little pieces and then reassembled.
The dashboard sits higher than in the Range Rover, the seats 0.8 inches lower, and there's a second piece to the top of the instrument cluster that's supposed to be reminiscent of a sports car. Beneath that is a 13.7-inch driver information display with a large degree of personalization to it. This should be the main focus for the driver, but for the passenger, or when you're at a standstill, the center stack features a 13.1-inch Pivi Pro infotainment touchscreen that gives you access to lots of cool stuff.
This provides access to audio, connectivity, and more off-road controls and cameras than most will ever use. Oh, and it can access Amazon Alexa these days, too, so you can order something outdoorsy to wear while you are off-roading or on-roading, for that matter.
The seats are sumptuous regardless of the materials used and are now adjusted by controls on the door panel similarly to Mercedes-Benz products. There's a large center console with the Terrain Response dial, cupholders, and on some of the models, a small fridge, which on one occasion turned out to be the source of a whistling noise that had been irritating us for miles on our first drive.
The back seats are the most spacious, with more legroom than before and plenty of headroom, making it easy to sit back, relax and watch the world go by.
The Sport is only available as a five-seater, which gives it a good balance of passenger space and cargo volume. On the latter front, 31.9 cubic feet are available behind the second-row seats, accessible via a power-operated tailgate.
Fold the second row of seats down, and that increases to a respectable 65.7 cubic feet with the front seats in their rearmost position. Neither number is a match for the standard Range Rover, which has 40.7 and 83.5 cubic feet, respectively, but it'll easily pack in anything an ordinary user would regularly need to carry.
Throughout the cabin, storage can be found in the door pockets and center console, with a new storage bin found under the center console alongside the front occupants' knees underneath all the climate controls.
The new Range Rover Sport has all the road manners of its larger sibling. It sits high with a driving position that feels more armchair than sports car, and it's easy to just let it soak up the bumps in the road and waft along. Except that the wafting is what my driving partner on the launch called "squidgy," a term that seems more appropriate and which I'm borrowing.
The air suspension is the same as that on the Range Rover, but the Sport gets twin air chambers, tuned for its more athletic character. There's no sign of the dynamicism in Comfort mode, just that squidgy feeling. But just as we found ourselves doing with the big brother, switching to Dynamic firmed things up; suddenly the Sport feels much more composed and in character.
Interestingly, the soft suspension was not so obvious in the six-cylinder mild-hybrid, something the engineers put down to having a different software setup. Some owners might want to ask for an over-the-air update on that, then.
The steering feels relaxed most of the time and communicates fairly well when you decide to push on.
The soundtrack of the V8 is great, the response of the six-cylinder is sufficient for most, and the PHEV delivers the best of all worlds. Select EV or let it do so itself in Auto mode, and it'll have you silently cruising through town feeling rather smug, even smugger than Range Rover owners already feel.
Chuck everything into maximum attack Dynamic mode with the gear selector in Sport, and it gallops along with gusto, sticking to the road in a way that ignores its substantial heft. There's plenty of power in all models to make the most of the corners should you choose to do so, and there are shift paddles if you want to control the gear changes yourself. The eight-speed automatic - sourced from ZF and used in everything from Alfa Romeos to BMWs, strangely doesn't listen to manual prompts when in its standard mode, requiring Sport on the selector to be chosen before it listens to driver inputs.
On road, it doesn't set a foot wrong, but despite nabbing Aston martin's former chief engineer, Matt Becker, land Rover is adamant that the on-road dynamics are a secondary focus. That's because as much as it has Sport in its name, it's a Land Rover first and foremost, and it needs to do the off-road stuff well. Really well.
And it does.
Engage an off-road setting from the multitude available in Land Rover's Terrain Response system, hit low-range, and there's almost no terrain too tough for the Range Rover Sport. Off-road, the rear-wheel steering provides its maximum seven degrees of turn, the suspension rises by 5.3 inches, and the wizardry that is the integrated chassis control system reacts in just 1/500th of a second.
Fewer people need to know all that than will ever actually go off-road, but from steep, dusty descents to inching along a mountain path with a steep drop off to the side and creeping between the walls of a dried-up and very narrow stream bed, the Sport coped with everything impeccably. It might have Dynamic mode, it might launch to 60 mph with force, but at its heart, it's still every bit a Land Rover.
The Range Rover Sport will start in the US at $83,000 for the mild-hybrid SE P360. Stepping up to the Dynamic SE P400 will cost you $90,000, but it's well worth the additional cash. The luxurious Autobiography P440e, with its plug-in hybrid tech and EV range of up to 48 miles, is priced at $104,200. If you want all the style and luxury of the First Edition P530 - replete with BMW twin-turbo V8 - then be prepared to spend $121,500.
That's all before you start shopping from the options list, which is extensive. For those with an eye for the bespoke, you can go the whole nine yards and get the team at Special Vehicle Operations to create some unique touches just for you and your bank balance.
All models are well equipped by default. The SE features LED daytime running lights, perforated leather or recycled fabrics, integrated Amazon Alexa, 3D surround-view cameras, Terrain Response, the latest 13.1-inch Pivi Pro infotainment screen, and 21-inch wheels. The models we drove all had the optional 23-inch rims, which didn't impact ride quality nearly as much as we expected.
The Dynamic spec primarily focuses on the uprated powertrain but also equips Terrain Response for enhanced capability.
The Autobiography - in addition to its plug-in powertrain, focuses on enhanced luxury by virtue of standard 22-inch wheels, 22-way heated, ventilated, and massage-equipped seats, semi-aniline leather upholstery, Pixel LED headlights, four-zone climate, a Meridian 3D sound system, and enhanced systems like Dynamic Response Pro, all-wheel steering, an electronic active differential, and adaptive off-road cruise control.
First Edition models, while limited to the first year of production, get all the Autobiography features, plus a more potent engine and unique styling attributes.
Whether you want a Range Rover Sport for its luxury, its performance, or its superb off-road ability, the latest generation is everything you'd expect of a Land Rover; designed and engineered to deliver on its promises. Granted, it has a few flaws - like the suspension programming differing from model to model - but that's nothing that can't be addressed easily. While there will be those that would have liked to see a bit more adventure in the design, it's a great evolution of the sporty strand of the Range Rover DNA. From us, we'd like to see the V8 available on more than just the First Edition trim, which has already sold out stateside. Power-hungry Americans will want the V8 grunt and added pantomime that accompanies it, and while the straight sixes - with varying levels of hybrid assistance - are more than competent, the Sport deserves that little bit extra.
Whichever way you slice it, though, Range Rover has delivered a product that has evolved in every meaningful way compared to its predecessor.
The most popular competitors of 2023 Land Rover Range Rover Sport: