If Land Rover had really wanted to impress us with the agile and capable nature of the redesigned 2023 Range Rover Sport, the automaker would have programmed the navigation to do on purpose what we did by accident. After missing an exit on a roundabout outside Madrid, we ended up deep in a labyrinth of Spanish village streets that got ever more narrow and twisting until we squeezed through an alley and found ourselves blocked by a Mitsubishi with a flat tire. Backing down slippery cobblestones and managing to turn the Sport around in a space barely the width of an Iberian ham highlighted the Range Rover's rear-wheel steering, multiple camera angles, and air-cushioned ride in a way all the off-road obstacles and sweeping canyon roads earlier in the drive could only hint at.
The Range Rover Sport is a big beast, sharing its wheelbase and width with the Range Rover, just a little shorter in length and lighter in price, sporty people apparently having less luggage and less ready cash. Cachet, however, it provides in large doses, with an upright but swept-back profile and clean sides unblemished by gaudy emblems or excessive body lines. Discussing design on SUVs can be a bit like picking tile—it's a brick, choose a color—and the Sport is indeed brickish, but the jaunty rear spoiler and squared-off exhaust tips balance out the front end's snootiness with a promise of energetic performance.
The most energetic performance comes from the Range Rover Sport P530 First Edition (starting price $122,975), which boasts a 523-hp twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 under its tall hood. The P530 growls and rips and grips, although a fair amount of its aural aggression is tuned for the cockpit only. Outside, it's just a grumble. Quiet it may be, but it's got plenty of pull, turning steep hills into barely noticeable bumps in the road and accelerating out of corners with serious enthusiasm. Range Rover says it will go from zero to 60 in 4.3 seconds. If anything, the 4.4-liter is too eager initially, with a jumpy throttle and a hard upshift, even in its most keyed-down Comfort mode. The P440e plug-in hybrid and the P400 SE and P360 SE with mild hybrid assist give up two cylinders and some horsepower but are smoother off the line and easier on the wallet. Toward the end of 2023, all models will be available with the optional Stormer Handling Pack that saved us from living the rest of our lives stuck in a Spanish alley, but for the first year, only the P530 First Edition gets those goodies, so we'll concentrate on the V-8, as is the American way.
Land Rover stiffened the frame for this third generation of Range Rover Sport, and no matter which powerplant you choose—including an eventual all-electric setup for 2024—the Sport comes with two-chamber air springs that tauten and soften automatically based on steering input, lateral g-forces, and even navigation information. It knows if you're coming up on curves or have a long stretch of highway ahead. We never managed to catch it off guard, and it tackled hard turns and gravel roads with minimal lean or jounce. This kind of tech gets bragged about often, without always delivering, but the Range Rover Sport bucks a trend of hard-riding hot-rodded SUVs. We found it quiet and smooth-sailing, even on massive 23-inch wheels. What the P530 gets that the other trims don't (yet) is the combination of the air suspension with a 48-volt electronic anti-roll system instead of fixed anti-roll bars. It also boasts torque vectoring, an active rear differential, and that helpful all-wheel steering; the Stormer Handling Pack name is a nod to the 2004 Range Stormer concept that was the precursor to the first-generation Range Rover Sport.
When it comes to off-road, the Range Rover Sport is both capable and enjoyable—although anyone planning to spend much time in the dirt should skip the matte-white cloth interior that was in our ride. The Sport has several off-road modes accessible through the console dial or on the center screen, and if there's any complaint about the Sport's off-pavement performance it's only that it makes it too easy. What valor is there in straddling a boulder with almost a foot of ground clearance beneath you? Different modes adjust the throttle response and how much wheel slip is allowed. Most of the off-road modes also allow the rear-wheel steering to stay at an angle when the vehicle comes to a stop to allow for easier restarts on hills or soft terrain. In street driving, the rear wheels straighten automatically to keep your Range Rover from looking unkempt when parked.
One new off-road driving feature is adaptive off-road cruise control, which allows the driver to set a target speed and then a comfort level. It's similar to choosing the follow distance in highway adaptive cruise, only instead of how close you want to be to other cars, this tells the system how hard you're willing to hit the bumps and ditches to maintain your set speed. The need for such a thing seems minimal, but it doesn't matter because it's so many steps deep in the menu that nobody will ever remember how to engage it.
This is a critique that applies to much of Range Rover's Pivi Pro user interface. The digital instrument display and the large center touchscreen (which curves to follow the shape of the dash) both use an elegant font and attractive graphics. But everything is at least two clicks in, often via multiple buttons in different locations. For example, adjusting the head-up display requires four selections through the steering-wheel buttons, and once completed, four steps to get out of that menu. By the end of the day, we had given up trying to customize anything and just left everything in the default setting.
That's unfortunate because the rest of the Sport interior is excellent. Both the leather and non-animal interiors are soft and comfy, with an attractive mix of accent materials. We never thought we'd say this, having previously compared forged carbon trim to head cheese, but on the door panels and the console of our P530, it looked amazing, was delightfully unreflective, and seems like it would wear well—unlike the white steering wheel, which is one chocolate donut away from disaster. The front seats are supportive enough for hard driving but as cushioned as a luxury ride should be, and are heated, ventilated, and massaging. The rear seats recline and offer room for full-size riders or child seats. Behind them, there's 32 cubic feet to fill with groceries, dog crates, or fancy ham.
Sensible shoppers will wait a year for the PHEV with the Stormer package; it's a more subtle machine, and with 434 horsepower and an estimated 50 miles of electric range, it can be a weekday EV as well as a weekend wanderer. For those who need a classy hauler right away—and want to be able to slalom around obstacles with the same ease as driving straight over them—the V-8 First Edition is an alley-escaping action hero.
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