REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — I don’t think anyone can really complain about having too much exposure to high-end British luxury vehicles, but this has definitely been a big summer for the conjoined forces of Land Rover and Jaguar — so I apologize in advance for the flurry of recent coverage.
That said, those with a desire to purchase an automobile that is, believe it or not, equally poised hauling along well above the speed limit between walls of redwood trees and careening up a loose, 60-degree gravel slope — well, we’ve found your car.
The new Range Rover Sport, a more lithesome interpretation of the equally new standard Range Rover (Land Rover is the parent company, Range Rover is the prestige label), made its North American debut a couple of weeks ago in the hills above Silicon Valley and … I must say I am quite impressed.
It’s as well composed as and offers handling that makes it feel like a sports car, not a 4,700- to 5,000-plus-pound SUV (though more extensive use of aluminum in the new unibody has dropped the vehicle’s weight a claimed 800 pounds from the previous model). Mostly, the Sport now feels (and looks, a bit) like a full-size version of the curious and wonderful Evoque, the company’s smaller, futuristically styled offering.
At the same time, that poised cruising machine has got every ounce of the 65-year-old company’s legendary off-road prowess, with even more advanced off-road and all-weather technology than before — including an air suspension system and an automatic terrain-response system.
After our highway galavanting, we were let loose on a 1,000-acre property across the valley from Neil Young’s house to put the Sport to the test. From near-vertical drops to off-camber rock crawling and a few stream crossings in the middle, the Sport did everything without breaking a sweat. And it’s actually got more ground clearance (11.2 inches) and a deeper wading depth than a standard Jeep Wrangler.
Admittedly the Sport is aimed at a considerably different audience than the Jeep (here in Denver, you seem to see them five-deep at Cherry Creek Mall, and you know they’ll never do any off-road work in their entire lives), but the car is also a little less tony than the very high end Range Rover, available in variations that start at $63,495.
Engine choices have now been streamlined with the greater Jag/Land Rover family and if you remember fuel economy being in the mid-teens on the old model, there are some more gas-friendly offerings now.
A supercharged 3.0-liter V6 makes 340 horsepower and can propel the car to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, getting 30 percent better mileage in the process (17 mpg city, 23 highway). Or, go whole hog and opt for the supercharged 5-liter V8, which makes a stupid-fast 510 HP. That gets the car to 60 in a Jaguar-like 5 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph, all with the same giddy gurgle and crackling as the new F-Type Jaguar. And yet it is still a giant SUV. Think about that.
Happily, some oversized Brembo brakes are there to help keep the speed in check, plus massive 22-inch wheels as the largest option. A standard eight-speed transmission is also part of the package.
Still, the vehicle (a V6 model) I spent much of the day in was indeed $79,000, though it had nearly all the bells and whistles you can load as part of the vehicle’s four-model range. At the top of the food chain, the V8 Autobiography edition will set you back at least $93,295.
Interior details are indeed sterling in the new vehicle, with slightly gaudy two-tone Batmobile-worthy leather as an option, plus a scalp-frying full panoramic sunroof. It’s got a clean, airplane-inspired cockpit — à la the Evoque — with a distinctive, angled shift lever, plus a range of surface materials including three different wood veneers and four different aluminum finishes.
The Sport is also designated as 5+2 seating, meaning that a small, hideaway jump seat in the very back can be used for short trips with small humans, when necessary.
Audio has also been taken to the edge of reality with the option of a 1,700-watt, 23-speaker Meridian 3-D sound system, which will make your sport sound louder (and better) than the Fox Theatre.