My childhood was a bit different than most kids. My mother informed me that when I was 4 years oldÂ I didn’t know a cow from a sheep, but I knew the make and model of just about every car on the road.
For that, she was pissed at my father, who would read car magazines to meÂ â€”Â not children’s books. It was his insistence to watch things like Camel Trophy and Formula 1 races, and not a soccer games, that hasÂ sculpted me into the car nut I am today.
And it was his influence and experience that led me to believe that a certain brand makes the best four-wheel drive, by far.
The current generation of the Range Rover Sport was introduced at the 2013 New York Auto Show, when James Bond himselfÂ (who is shorter in real life than I expected) drove one onto the stage. Like before, the front half of the Sport looks almost exactly like the big Range Rover, but behindÂ the B-pillar, the roof and windows slope toward the ground, which I guess isÂ what makes it sporty. Ironically, the smaller Range Rover Sport that is available with a set of small third-row jump seats, and not the big Rover.
Like the big Range Rover, the Sport is available with threeÂ engines: a V-6 and V-8, allÂ supercharged; and a new turbocharged diesel. This particular vehicle was equipped with the base 360 horsepower V-6, which never felt underpowered, but didnâ€™t overwhelm, either. The 510-horsepower â€”Â or the new, tuned 550-horsepower â€” V-8 would have been bonkers in this vehicle.
All of Range Rover’s engines are mated to 8-speed automatic transmissions, which, WOT or coasting, always seem to be in the proper gear. The Environmental Protection AgencyÂ rates the V-6 Sport at 17/22 mpg in city/highway. Receiving approval from the EPA a day before the VW dieselÂ fiasco broke out, the diesel versions of the two big Range Rovers went on sale last month for the first time on American soil and I can’t wait to drive them.
When it was introduced, Land Rover rightfully made a big deal of the all-aluminum unibody. The Range Rover Sport drives more like a large sport sedan than an SUV, and unlike any Land Rover product before it. The ride is smooth and even the worst road imperfections are absorbed with a quiet thump. The vehicle pictured here had an optional set of 22-inch wheels wrapped in 275/40 Continental Crosscontact tires. These wheels simply felt too big and made me more nervous around potholes and on a dirt road than a capable off-roader should have â€“ I’d stick with the stock wheel and tire size.
The body roll is minimal (disclaimer: years ago I almost rolled a 2001 Discovery on the Merritt Parkway) and its brakes feel solid and do a great job of bringing the 4,800-pound vehicle to a stop in an emergency.
Inside, the dash layout is almost identical to the big Range Rover, which is to say a modern-minimalist design that is both pleasing to the eye and functional.
But nothing is perfect; the infotainment system is slow and dated and there are only two cup-holders. There are no bottle holders in the door pockets, there is no sunglass holder and your phone is forced to live in the center console. In this model, the bottom of the center console was taken up by an electric cooler, which is nice on road trips, and can serve as storage otherwise.
The front seats make up for those annoyances. Adjustable in 16 ways, they are somehow the right size for just about every butt, and padded in a way thatÂ forces the driver to keep a proper posture while providing the legendary Range Rover king-of-the-road sitting position. If there is something to complain about, it’s that the seats on the Sport, especially the headrests, are not as soft as on the big Rover. On this HSE model they were both cooled and ventilated, but the massage option wasnâ€™t there. Boo hoo.
The rear seat is a three-passenger bench with a big center arm rest. There is a good amount of legroom, and three adults shouldÂ comfortable. The seats fold flat and areÂ split 40/20/40, allowing for two rear passengers and items such as skis. With the seats up, the cargo volume is 27.7 cubic feet, 4.4 cubic feet less than the big Rover.
While both Range Rover and Range Rover SportÂ have the same 115-inch wheelbase, the Sport is 5.6 inches shorter overall. The differenceÂ in overall height is 2 inchesÂ in favor of the big Range Rover. Those differences, along with the sloping roof of the Sport, add to a significant difference in functional capacity between the two vehicles.
While most Range Rovers are not used to their potential, it is worth noting that the Sport is more than just a pretty face.
The optional Extra Duty Package includes the “Terrain Response2” system, a two-speed transfer-case, active locking center and rear differentials, which works shockingly well and gives the Sport true off-road abilities, as I found out some time ago (read partsÂ 1,2,3).
It is interesting that this package is optional; on one side few will ever utilize it, on another, itâ€™s a Range Rover and it should come standard with a 2-speed transfer case. The capacity of the optional roof rack is 165 pounds and the carÂ can ford more thanÂ 30Â inches of water. The Range Rover Sport can tow up to 7,715 pounds, but the maximum tongue weight is limited to 551 pounds.
The 2015 Range Rover Sports starts at $63,350. The HSE variant seen here starts at $68,295. Front Climate Comfort Visibility Package adds $2,530. Extra Duty Package, which includes the Terrain ResponseÂ®2 system and a two-speed transfer-case, is $1,500. Tow package is $900, Meridian audio is $1,940, 22-inch wheels are an eye-watering $3,000, premium paint is $1,800, ebony headliner is $350. InControl App, Remote Protect is $400, and a dealer installed protection package is $537. Add $100 for California Emissions (really?), $925 for transportation costs, and grand total comes to $82,227.
The Range Rover Sport, like its bigger sibling, is not for everyone. It is expensive and it has somewhat of an undeserving reputation from enthusiasts who have never owned or driven one. Despite loving Land Rovers, my father, much like myself, never owned one, mostly due to their cost. While there are plenty of less expensive vehicles that can do everything that a Range Rover can, only the Range Rover makes many drivers feel special in a way that is difficult to verbalize, and really just needs to be experienced. Should an unexpected seven-figure income come my way, a Land Rover dealership will be the first place I go to.
Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor forÂ Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and otherÂ miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there.Â This is his last review for this great website. Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.Â
Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review.Â