Following in the shadow of the Range Rover’s dramatic redesign, the Range Rover Sport plays it relatively cool. The updates are significant enough to deliver a fresh and modern impression and feel closely derived from the Range Rover although the tailgate seems to draw its inspiration from the Velar and Evoque with its rear “Range Rover” blackened trim piece that extends from one tail light to the other it lacks the dramatic appeal that one might be looking for from a $100,000+ vehicle. At this price, it is fighting against some extremely polished competitors from Mercedes, and Audi.
The interior is also significantly influenced by the big-daddy Range Rover, for better and for worse. Its central touchscreen is larger, curved, and sits proudly from the dashboard surface, and the system reacts quickly to inputs. The dash panel vents are thinner, and the center console controls have become more minimalist. Everything feels of high quality with precise dampening of the dial controls, stitched leather panels on the dash, dual-tone leather-wrapped steering wheel with stitching as well, and ambient interior lighting. The rear passengers can appreciate the panoramic sunroof and power-adjust their seat backs (just get ready for unusually fast movements!). Even the cargo area is lined with premium materials and features remote seat controls, several LED lights, and a cargo divider that tucks into the floor and is extremely sturdy – finally an elegant solution to an extremely common problem.
The exterior and the interior might be a mixed bag of creativity and familiarity – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The powertrain, however, is difficult to defend. Its power delivery from a stop feels anything but linear and far from the level of refinement that the Range Rover name deserves. The programming of the transmission isn’t helping either and it delivered noticeable downshifts when slowing to a stop. It feels like a missed opportunity given the high-tech design of the powertrain with its 48V motor-driven supercharger and twin-scroll turbocharger unit that promises quicker and smoother power response. There’s also a motor between the engine and transmission that can provide butter-smooth rev-matching downshifts – in theory. Looking for the V8? It’s already sold out for the 2024 model year and the plug-in hybrid model starts close to $120,000 so that is a big step up in price.
Once underway, however, the powertrain and engine settle into a more synchronized performance and the rich torque provided by the turbos shows its low-end muscle and the transmission lets it do its job without unnecessarily downshifting. Even when kept at mid-range RPMs, the Sport delivers acceleration in a relaxed and smooth fashion as it easily pushes well past street-legal speeds without seemingly breaking a sweat or delivering an encouraging note. Regardless of the lower levels of excitement the Range Rover Sport generates, this six-cylinder engine serves up plenty of power for relatively stress-free onramp merging and two-lane passing.
On the opposite end of the acceleration direction, the brakes feel powerful and respond quickly to initial pedal inputs but once they grab on, they prove difficult to back off smoothly, a trait surely attributable to the regenerative braking system.
While the powertrain and brakes don’t quite live up to the high expectations after having gone through its spec sheet, the Range Rover Sport’s cabin delivers in areas that can’t be scored or justifiably described in a few words. It does more than just look premium and use premium materials, it also provides a very isolated experience whether you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic or on an extremely noisy stud-marked highway road. Beyond the serene feel and sound, the driver can also feel confident in the Sport’s surroundings through good forward visibility, large mirrors, and a surround-view camera with a look-underneath generated image. The body motions are well controlled and the adaptive dampers soak up small and large imperfections. The air suspension is quick to lower and does so in a smooth process. It is even quiet from the outside with dampened sound from the air compressor and the air-pressure release valves – something that is not a given. The steering, however, never felt relaxed and felt vague enough on center to require frequent corrections along highway stretches nor did it promote any precise corner attacks – although this may be corrected with grippier tires.
The new Range Rover Sport is no doubt a premium SUV. Looking beyond its questionable value, the design strikes instant recognition among the rest of the Range Rover clan, and its off-road capabilities (tires not-withstanding) and on-road refinement continue to advance. Its overall character, however, feels more staid than its competition or even its predecessors. Add to that, its steep cost, and one gets the impression that Land Rover priced the Sport for the arena in which it wants to play but it hasn’t engrained enough of that distinguished British charm to justify its runaway price tag.