2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport second drive
On road or off, the Range Rover Sport excels
Photo: Land Rover
Redwood City, Calif. – It was, while sitting in the back seat of the new 2014 Range Rover Sport, when I was finally convinced that it really was the dual-use special the company claimed. The ridiculous angles at which the trees appeared to be growing out of the ground as we climbed, crept and crawled our way through Northern California’s redwood forests was pretty astonishing. The illusion was a strong one – the trees, which were the only real way of telling approximately which way was straight up, appeared at various times to be following trajectories that were significantly more horizontal.
The Sport represents the third all-new Range Rover to appear in the last three model years; the sexy Evoque started the run in 2012, while the full-blown Range Rover followed in ’13. That says plenty about how seriously officials take the increasing number of competitors – both existing and arriving soon – that are prepared to take the company’s well-staked claim to luxury off-roaders.
There wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the way the original Sport, which debuted in 2005, went about its business; it was just easily overshadowed by its full-size no-compromise football star of a brother, the Range Rover. The Sport used a shortened version of the LR3’s chassis, along with a good portion of its lower-rent interior. It felt very much like a compromise. The extra pounds also affected its performance, which was competent, but nothing special in the realm of AMG-tuned ML-Class, M-badged X5s, and of course several versions of the Porsche Cayenne.
Big cash injection from new owners yeilded big dividends
Photo: Mark Atkinson
No longer. With a fresh injection of development funds from new-owners of Tata – an Indian conglomerate that makes everything from steel to Tetley tea, and everything in between – meant suitable aluminum underpinnings for the redesigned 2013 Range Rover. And, in a fantastic move, is the same one that the slightly smaller ‘14 Sport uses now. It’s the main reason why Sport weighs 365-kg less than before. It also uses most of the same aluminum suspension parts as its donor, but obviously the geometry and tuning are drastically different.
Range Rover calls the Sport a 5+2, meaning it has a pair of emergency-use jump-seats that can be flipped out of the cargo area if needed. The flagship Range Rover has no problem holding seven people if needed, but because the Sport is about 15 cm shorter, it’s only designed for small kids, and even then you’ll have to bribe them to stay back there.
Everyone else will have no complaints about the rest of the accommodations. The quality of the leathers, woods, metals and even the carbon-based materials really are second to none. The front seats are 16-way power units that are heated and ventilated, and thankfully, one of those adjustments is for side-bolstering. The steering wheel is nicely sized and has secondary controls for the radio and onboard computer, while the HVAC controls are big dials on the lower part of the dashboard. One minor gripe regards the shifter for the automatic transmission, which mimics BMW in its use. However, like BMW, there’s a good possibility of the car refusing your command to shift from drive to reverse, or out of park, simply because you didn’t put enough pressure on the button located on the selector’s rear. Park is engaged with a button on top.
Nav/infotainment caught up to 21st century
Photo: Land Rover
Thankfully, the older integrated navigation and audio system, which was pretty clunky and slow to respond to user inputs before, has been completely revamped. There are now a pair of displays – five- or 12-inch (depending on model) in the gauge cluster and an eight-inch touch-screen on the centre console. Every audio system on offer is sourced from Meridian, including the 1,700-watt, 23-speaker ‘reference’ sound system that threatened to shake California into the Pacific when turned up to a quarter volume.
While there are significantly fewer buttons around the cabin this time around, there’s one very important dial that remains: Terrain Response.
The Terrain Response system that previously required the driver to select one of five different presets now also features an automatic mode that varies everything on the fly. During the previously mentioned two-hour off-road tour around and through a private coastal ranch in Northern California, it never once coughed or gave us cause for concern. It essentially controls things like throttle response, transmission shift-times, hill-descent control, allowable wheel-spin, plus the torque-vectoring differentials that can infinitely vary how much power gets sent to an individual wheel. There are also two different transfer cases, which mean you can opt for true two-speed ‘box for a real ‘low-range’ crawling gear.
Not having driven the two back-to-back makes it difficult to make assumptions about how close the Range Rover and Sport would be in the mud. Land Rover staff on hand swear they’re equal; seeing the extreme angles and close-up views of enormous redwoods on the demanding course, I’d be inclined to agree.