Range Rover Continues to Evolve

2014 Range Rover Sport.

2014 Range Rover Sport.

These have been good times for Land Rover, and its upscale sub-brand Range Rover. The large flagship model was completely redone earlier in 2013, with a new aluminum structure and more of what upscale SUV buyers want in a premium vehicle.

A couple of years ago the smallest Range Rover – the Evoque – was introduced to both rave reviews and an enviable problem to have: not enough to go around. Dealers had long waiting lists, and customers waited their turn for the rakish little Rangie.

And now, slotting right in the middle is a revised Range Rover Sport. Still big by many people’s measure, but a bit trimmer and lighter than the largest one (simply called “Range Rover”). This is the second generation of the Sport, which was initially conceived to be a sportier, less conspicuously consumptive alternative to the biggie.

But with eight cylinders under the hood, the first-generation example swilled gasoline like a 1970s American luxury car. Most owners likely didn’t care, but these days it’s about being as efficient as possible. Many car shoppers want this, and the U.S. government is demanding it.

So like the new Range Rover, the new Range Rover Sport relies on aluminum to help it shed weight. It’s about 800 pounds lighter than the old one, or about three well-fed college football players. It also features a supercharged V6 engine for a few more miles per gallon, though a supercharged V8 is optional too.

Other little fuel efficiency tricks include a shape that’s 8% more aerodynamic, a standard 8-speed automatic transmission, and a stop-start system, which shuts the engine off when the vehicle is paused at a traffic light. (This feature can be defeated by de-activating the “ECO” button each time you start the vehicle, in the event you don’t care for your engine shutting off all the time.)

The upshot is EPA fuel economy ratings of 17 city and 23 highway. Don’t laugh if that isn’t sounding impressive. The previous Range Rover Sport’s standard V8 could only muster 13 city and 18 highway. And the new one is actually quicker in acceleration thanks to the lighter weight. The 2014 supercharged V8 version is up in EPA numbers as well, to 14 and 19 (compared to 12 and 14 for the old one).

Okay, enough about all this efficiency business. Is it worthy of the Range Rover badge in terms of everything else? Oh, you bet. The instant you climb inside (and for shorter people it literally is a climb, though the air suspension can lower it for you if you’re patient) you know you’re inside a Rangie. The styling of the dashboard, the comfort of the big front bucket seats, and the overall look and feel are just as they should be.

And the advantage to the new aluminum structure is that we now have a stiffer vehicle that feels much more nimble on the road. It’s still no sport sedan, but the Sport name is actually pretty apropos, as this thing gets around corners like no other Range Rover ever has. Oh, and it will perform famously off road too if you choose to take it there. (Yeah, right. This is Southern California after all.)

As you’d expect with any premium luxury ride, the available options seem nearly endless. From safety technology items to premium sound systems, it’s all there for the taking. (Or technically, the buying. Choosing them runs the sticker price up pretty quickly.) And one option debuting on this new generation of Range Rover Sport is a small third-row seat to hold a couple of kids.

The example I tested was the mid-level HSE trim level, one notch up from the base SE which starts at $63,495. Base price for an HSE is $68,495, and with options the final sticker price on mine was $72,495. Next level up from that is V8 Supercharged at $79,995, and if you’re really feeling bucks-up, you can spend $93,295 for the decadent Autobiography version.

The first Range Rover Sport had a few people scratching their heads in many ways, as it didn’t seem any more efficient than the big model. This new example sets itself apart as trimmer, more efficient, and yes, sportier.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz