The entire history of Land Rover has been a process of taking tractor-simple things and making them vastly more complicated. Granted, the company got a slow start in that it was basically selling some crudely built tractors called Defenders right up through the Nineties.
But no more. I have just driven the newest Range Rover Sport, the third generation of the Sport, which is a sub-model of the Range Rover, which is, in turn, a sub-brand of Land Rover. And it is a humming, blinking, bonging, chuffing chalice of modern complexity. It has two cruise control systems, for goodness’ sake, one for the on-road and another for trails. That the latter one is accessible only through a video-game-cheat code of button presses and switch throws means that a meaningful percentage of owners will never know the function even exists. The new Range Rover Sport deploys enough sophisticated chassis systems that even when it’s equipped with the monstrous optional 23-inch wheels, it doesn’t ride like garbage. Its ride is silken smooth, in fact. (That Land Rover chose the glass-smooth roads of Spain to conduct its first drive is probably a factor here though.) The most complex of the chassis arrangements, as seen in the top-level First Edition model, uses a bevy of electronically controlled systems including four-wheel steering, adjustable air springs and dampers, 48-volt active anti-roll control, brake-based torque vectoring, and an electronically controlled active rear differential. The vast potential for faults and failures that represents will give some buyers pause. Others just haven’t owned a Land Rover before.
It’s available with mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and gas-swilling V-8 powertrains. And it’s a measure of the company’s hardware and software prowess that there’s no appreciable smoothness difference between them. If anything, the V-8-powered version might have the least linear powertrain response because of its sometimes-touchy accelerator pedal. Point is, the Range Rover Sport has tamed complexity to do its bidding.
The lineup now includes the P360 SE base model and the P400 Dynamic model. Both are mild hybrids packing 3.0-liter inline six engines and electric motors. Think of them as the regular and the extra-strength versions of the same medication. Incidentally, the Dynamic model is not any more dynamically capable than the SE, but it does come with a body kit to indicate that it is the sportier of the two. Then there’s the P440e plug-in hybrid, which mates the same 3.0-liter to an electric motor and a 38-kWh battery for about 50 miles of EV range. Finally, Land Rover will offer the 4.4-liter V-8 (a BMW engine with a modified intake and oil pan) in the P530 First Edition models. For the 2023 model year, the V-8 will be available only in the loaded $122,975 First Edition model, but will almost certainly be available more broadly in following years. These will be followed by the inevitable battery-electric Range Rover and Range Rover Sport in 2024.
If the above alphanumeric nomenclature seems a bit much, know that none of it really matters as those letters and numbers will not appear on the vehicles. The clutter of badging would clash with what the company calls the new model’s “reductive” modernist design aesthetic. Okay.
It’s true that this big brick is clean and sophisticated looking. Unlike some of its more garish competitors, the RR Sport (and regular Range Rover) has precious little ornamentation. It looks substantial and expensive, which is good because it is actually both. The interior carries the same unfussy style as the exterior, with a large, curved center screen floating just above the surface of a simple dashboard and a second screen tucked into a binnacle behind the steering wheel. It’s a calm, orderly environment punctuated only occasionally with flourishes, such as forged carbon trim. The seats are comfortable and offered with non-leather upholstery for those that don’t want to sit on animal skin. It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position and outward visibility is excellent.
The interior is mostly quiet too. Active noise canceling pairs with convention sound deadening to pretty effectively quell the road noise and the less-attractive powertrain sounds. Yet every one of the test cars had unexpectedly high wind noise around the leading edge of the driver’s side door. Rear-seat accommodations are more than adequate with firm-and-comfortable, high-mounted seats, although knee room is at a premium for the long-legged. The Sport’s cargo hold has an unusually high load floor but is large to accommodate all the lacrosse and field hockey equipment that inevitably comes with Range Rover ownership.
Built on the same platform, fitted with the same suspension and powertrains as the Range Rover, the Sport is, and always has been, an exercise in tuning and restyling. And you’d have to say that it’s been a highly effective effort for the company. The Sport not only outsells its brand-defining fraternal twin; it is the best-selling Land Rover product in the U.S. For a certain segment of the vehicle-buying public, the Sport, with its slightly better body control and generally more responsive demeanor trumps the regular Range Rover’s venerable appeal. The third row of seats offered in the long-wheelbase Range Rover is the only real functional advantage compared to the Sport. And, depending on the model, the Range Rover can cost tens of thousands more than the Sport with the same powertrain and wheelbase.
It feels wrong to be typing these words, but the best powertrain option is probably not the 523-hp V-8. It’s a great engine, but it’s almost certainly overkill here. And with a base price starting at more than $120,000 it’s a little precious. The mild hybrid P400 Dynamic is a more sensible option for this not-particularly-sensible model. It’s more than $20,000 less expensive and its inline-six is V-8 smooth. It even adds a punch of electric power down low in the engine’s rev range for more than ample acceleration. Sure, the powertrain feels like it runs out of steam at the higher reaches of the rev range but most Range Rover Sports will live that vast majority of their lives in the torque-rich lower half anyway.
The launch of this new 2023 model year Range Rover Sport coincides with peak powertrain complexity in the industry as highly efficient gas engines mate with bewildering electronics. But perhaps soon, Land Rover can, like the rest of the industry, turn toward a simpler solution. That could begin in 2024.
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