Let’s be honest. The original Range Rover Sport was a true game changer for Land Rover. When it arrived as a 2006 model, the company was best known for producing vehicles that could go anywhere – as long as you weren’t in a hurry. Suddenly, Land Rover had itself a sports car. Sort of.
Channeling the spirit of the two-door Range Stormer concept that debuted at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, the RRS was Land Rover’s first entry into the burgeoning performance SUV market that Porsche’s Cayenne and Mercedes’ AMG-tuned MLs had helped to create. Now that the market is fully developed, Land Rover is hoping to shake things up once again with its all-new second-gen Sport.
A bit of history first. The Range Rover Sport (L320) debuted with a 400-hp supercharged V8, 20-inch wheels, and a lower chassis than the full-sized Range Rover, giving it a sportier attitude at the cost of off-road performance. In truth, the Range Rover Sport fit the bill for a new breed of SUV enthusiasts who may have had no plans of taking to the trails, but still appreciated the go-anywhere capabilities of a 4X4 combined with the spaciousness and appointments of a modern luxury car. Despite its 5670-pound weight, the supercharged Sport lived up to its promises, delivering a 0-to60 time of 7 seconds and handling that felt less top-heavy and wallowing than any previous Land Rover.
The L320 evolved over its 8-year run, eventually abandoning its Jaguar-bred 4.2-liter (or 4.4-liter in naturally aspirated form) engine for an all-new 5.0-liter version. To help keep up with new competitors like BMW’s X6, output eventually topped 510 horsepower, with the 60-mph sprint dropping to under 6 seconds. Nevertheless, the truck’s nearly three-ton weight remained its biggest Achilles heel when it came to improving both on- and off-road performance, let alone fuel economy.
“…the truth is, the supercharged V6 is all the power anyone truly needs in real life…”
Land Rover addressed the weight issue by replacing steel with aluminum. Although light alloy has always been a key component of Land Rover vehicles, their understructures have often been comprised heavily (quite literally) of steel. Land Rover moved to an all-aluminum structure with the fourth-generation Range Rover (L405) that debuted as a 2013 model, and now shares this platform with the new Sport (L494) for 2014. The move to an all-alloy structure shed an incredible 800 pounds out of the new Sport.
Losing that much weight meant a smaller engine could be used for better efficiency. The Range Rover Sport lineup is now completely supercharged, anchored by a 340-hp 3.0-liter V6 and topped by the former 510-hp 5.0-liter V8 (at least until the 550-horse Range Rover Sport SVR arrives for 2015). The change is significant, as the base model is now more powerful and faster than the original range-topping Sport of near a decade ago.
We spent some time in a new 3.0 HSE – a step up from the base-model SE with the benefit of upgraded leather, larger wheels, and a full-panel panoramic sunroof – and discovered a whole new perspective on the Range Rover Sport. Not only is it more agile and efficient as a result of its recent diet, it’s also much more luxurious, feeling more like a true Range Rover than a rebodied Discovery, which is what the original actually was.
While the cry for ever more output will continue to echo, the truth is the supercharged V6 is all the power anyone would truly need in real life. With an incredibly quick ZF 8-speed automatic transmission knocking out the shifts, the bigger Sport will launch to 60 mph in under 7 seconds and carry you to a terminal velocity of 130 mph, not that you’ll likely find a place to do that. Peak torque (332 lb-ft) comes on by 2000 rpm, giving the Sport the effortless task of moving through the world.
Our time behind the wheel included a day trip from the Philadelphia suburbs to Carlisle, PA, for the annual import and kit car weekend. As you might expect, the new Sport is quite at home on the open highway, cruising effortlessly at a few clicks over the 70 mph limit on this stretch of Pennsylvania Turnpike for a couple hours each way. With the cruise control set and traffic fairly light, the freeway section of our drive saw average fuel economy jump from around 18.5 mpg to over 21. Both of these figures represent a roughly 15 percent increase in what most of us expect from a Land Rover.
Where you notice the biggest difference between new and old, however, is in fast, tight transitions. Eight-hundred pounds is a lot of weight to leave behind, and the chassis is thankful for the lighter load, rewarding its driver with a more athletic attitude. For those who truly view the Range Rover Sport as both a utility vehicle and a sports car, their argument for the latter just got much stronger. The Sport is now fast and agile. A lot more fun to drive too.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to line up any off-road time with the new Range Rover Sport. Having logged seat time in the new full-size Range Rover, however, we have complete confidence in the Sport’s ability to get into and out of just about any situation. As with the new Range Rover, the Sport uses a push-button selector for Terrain Response to avoid confusion with the rotating knob that serves as the gear selector.
Regardless of how or where you’re driving, the new Sport feels more spacious and less confining than its first-gen counterpart, retaining that classic throne-like Range Rover driving position and commanding view over traffic ahead, but now with an expanded view to the rear. The greenhouse is more airy than before, especially with the HSE’s huge full-panel moonroof.
The interior also moves up a notch from the previous model in terms of design and materials, feeling more like a true Range Rover. Wood, leather and aluminum fill the space, and the warm earth tones of our tester look like they’d be perfect at camouflaging outdoor elements that might find their way inside.
Perhaps most spectacular is the exterior styling. Although it features the controversial Ford Explorer-style front and rear lights, the rest of the design is classic Land Rover with a big helping of fresh, clean surfaces. Less blocky and more flowing than ever before, there’s no mistaking the new Sport for an old one. The bigger challenge is discerning the Range Rover Sport from the full-size version, though they share not a single body panel.
All told, the 2014 Range Rover Sport is every bit as significant as the first model to wear that badge, but for different reasons. It is finally has genuine Range Rover DNA, and thanks to a significant weight loss, legitimate credentials to be considered truly sporty as well.
2014 Land Rover Ranger Rover Sport HSE V6
Base price (including destination): $68,495
Options: Tow Package $800, Extra Duty Package $1300, Meridian Premium Audio $1950
Price as Tested: $72,645