Mountain Wheels: Range Rover Sport blends futuristic class and roaring performance (review)
2016 Range Rover Sport HSE
MSRP: $69,950; As tested, $86,916
Powertrain: 340-HP 3.0-liter supercharged V6 engine; eight-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 19 combined (17 city, 23 highway)
With the increasing drama on the ski slopes, I’m not necessarily suggesting that hitting your favorite hills inside the safety of a new Range Rover Sport might be the best solution — even if you did happen to catch the promotional campaign demonstrating the car in action as a mode of downhill conveyance.
Well, maybe. And you couldn’t pick a classier or more solid mix of precision, intriguing design and low-key showboating material, an SUV that blends capability, winter mobility and a package that’s a step ahead of much of the competition. Until you head to Aspen and discover nine of them parked on the same block.
The refreshed Sport takes the gargantuan wallop that is Land Rover’s top-of-the-line Range Rover model and tweaks the proportions and the looks to create something a little less imposing, more in line with the smaller and more svelte members of the LR/RR family like the Evoque or the new Discovery models.
With a floating roofline and blacked-out windows and window frames, super-gigantic wheels and toughened-up tweaks to its trim and body lines, Sport is a little less old-school in its presentation than the statement-making Range Rover (though that big and broad machine may have saved little old David Spade’s life in an accident earlier this week).
And Sport indeed lives up to its name, with or without a frighteningly powerful engine under the hood. I got the Jaguar-Land Rover family’s 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 in mine, and its 340 horsepower did a fine job of hurtling the British vehicle up the passes with all the speed you’ll ever need. A diesel option is also available.
More menacingly, the Sport can also be ordered with the F-Type sports car’s 5.0-liter supercharged V-8, creating an awful 510 horsepower; the fantasy league, 162 MPH-worthy Range Rover Sport SVR comes with 550 horsepower and sounds like one of the absolute scariest things this side of an AMG-tuned Mercedes G-wagen.
I say this because Sport, despite its more tarmac-focused design than the full-size, does not necessarily take on the same motoring spirit of, say, the new Jaguar F-Pace. Sport is still a chunky 4,700-plus pounds and steering is not particularly light at all — an effect exacerbated to some degree by unbelievably large 22-inch wheels (a $3,000 option) and a set of oversized, day-old four-season tires.
I felt the car getting caught up in road ruts and had to keep a pretty heavy hand on the wheel. Traction was, however, no problem, and the car’s increasingly sophisticated terrain response system can be dialed into snow mode or popped into an instant-reacting dynamic mode to better handle your standard Summit County winter mix of dry pavement, icy patches, slush or fresh powder. It’s also fully sorted for serious off-road pounding, with an air suspension system (up to 10.9 inches of clearance) and infinite hill-descent and rock-crawling speed controls, for your invariable summertime scrambles above the tree line.
The futuristic terrain mode switchgear is just part of the car’s very elegant controls and interior, a shining cocoon of pillowy leather, sweeps of chrome, subtle instrumentation and even a bit of dark grey oak wood trim, one of many combinations of stylistic packages. Even the floor mats are brutally solid and chunky; the Sport also has a new multicolored interior lighting control system, for your purple-lit disco cruises to night skiing, I guess. And there’s a refrigerated four-can/bottle cooler in the center console, of course.
Many vehicles are taking Range Rover’s lead with a pistol grip-styled shiftgear that will leave you flummoxed until you learn to hold the buttons and the brake to put it in gear; do not try to back the car up with a door open to help navigate as you will receive more warning buzzers and displays than you could ever imagine.
Seating is tall and solid but still sporty and comfortable, and the second row is slightly elevated for a better view of the road. The old-fashioned armrests with their twirly adjustment knobs are a throwback feature; the rest of the cabin is as sculpted as a Swedish stereo store, though here it’s a 825-watt Meridian Premium audio system providing the symphonic overload.
Navigation is not quite the very new system found in the Jaguar SUV, but is still an improvement from previous systems and loads on four screens’ worth of 4×4 monitors, Range Rover apps and the ability to watch the road ahead using the bumper-mounted camera. Do not ever use that while driving at highways speeds, I will enthusiastically warn you.
A significant and entirely carpeted rear cargo space offers 27.7 cubic feet, or as much as 62.2 cubic feet behind the front row; an incredibly solid middle section of the rear seating drops down and allows for ski or snowboard bags when you still have two rear passengers.
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