The standard operating procedure when testing a Range Rover is to dig out the Hunter wellies, dust off the wax jacket and head to somewhere boggy. Which I have done. But on this occasion, the 4x4 awaits me in New York City. It’s to this urban jungle and others like it that so many of Britain’s finest all-wheel-drive exports are deployed, where the wildlife includes restaurant valets and yummy mummies. The lifestyle ideal, of course, is to have an SUV that can fight its way down Fifth Avenue during the week and then head for the lakes and mountains on weekends.
But any SUV can do that. The Range Rover Sport, particularly in the guise I’m testing, the five-litre V8, is overqualified in every department. It’s the automotive equivalent of a watch that’s water resistant to 200 metres—you’ll probably never have to test its features to the full, but it’s nice to know you have the tools for any task.
The Sport is just as imperious on the road as off. Despite its sumo weight and supermodel height, it corners like a sports car. Then it’s able to turn off the highway and, on the same tyres that had it glued to the tarmac, cross a river and climb a mountain while accommodating its passengers in Aman-grade comfort. The Range Rover marque has always been a kind of leather-clad royal-hallmarked Swiss Army knife, but never has there been a model with such breadth of ability and without a hint of compromise.
Entering Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge, the elevated seating position of the Sport gives a commanding scope of the traffic and a spectacular view down the East River. This is the inner-city appeal of having an SUV, and I lose count of how many Range Rovers are sharing the road with me. Most SUVs are a bit flash. They’d look out of place stuck in mud and surrounded by sheep. However, the Range Rover, which shares its umbilical cord with the utilitarian Land Rover, has farm cred and is about the only thing that will be accepted without hesitation at both the local hunt and Cipriani.
The first-generation Sport was a bit of a spoiler because before the landowners could put their deposits down, the footballers had swooped in. The Sport developed a reputation for being all mouth and no trousers. A Range Rover that lacked substance. And the plethora of Sports with modified bumpers, comical alloys and impenetrably tinted windows led some to the conclusion that it was the ultimate drug dealer’s ride.
The new Sport is a heavily revised beast. It still appeals to the footballers, but it’s more streamlined and feminine. The same design language flows through all three of the current models, with both the Sport and the daddy Range Rover taking cues from the distinctive baby Evoque and scaling them up. The front end is imposing but more elegant than the first-gen Sport. The slab sides are similar to the full-sized model. The rear’s low roofline, high-set tail lights and pinched end are its design flourish.
The interior is very well designed and airy. The dashboard is luxuriously rugged, individual and thoroughly contemporary. The panoramic roof makes you feel at one with your environment. There is oodles of space—including the option for a third row of seats, making this a very real alternative to an MPV. Driving along with a hand on the chunky steering wheel, one elbow on the windowsill and the other on a pillowy arm rest, you really do feel like the king of the road.
New York in the summer is a stifling place. Let’s get out of town. My destination is Vermont, where hopefully the Sport will cash in on its lifestyle credentials and I’ll look the bee’s knees when I pull a kayak and a golden retriever from the back. It’s all about the props, you know. On the open road this car can really go. It can body-slam 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds and emits a throaty roar as it does so. The more frugal may wish to inquire about one of the models with the three-litre V6 engine. My supercharged five-litre V8, they say, will average 13.8 litres/100km. Should you really want to go mad—if 503bhp isn’t already pretty gosh darned ludicrous— there’s the SVR. Born of Solihull’s Special Vehicle Operations department, a kind of skunkworks led by a former F1 engineer, this HK$2.7 million monster pumps out 542bhp—and boy will they hear you coming.
Then there’s the cornering. A big, tall car like this is going to lurch like an old drunk, right? Nope, dead flat. It’s every bit as chuckable as a BMW 3-Series. It seems to defy physics, but the tech sheet offers some explanation. The outgoing Sport’s steel chassis has been replaced with an all-aluminium monocoque and the result is Hollywood-level weight loss—an Oscar-deserving 400kg. Beat that, Matthew McConaughey. So there’s less weight—and more tech. Computer-controlled suspension fights the body roll and wins. There’s also an active rear differential and torque vectoring, which dictates how much power is sent to each wheel and when, responding to sensor readings taken 500 times a second. This is supercar stuff.
After 500 kilometres and a couple of cheesesteaks, I reach Woodstock and it’s time to go off-road. What makes the Sport so good on tarmac is also what makes it stellar off it. The old chassis was borrowed from the Land Rover Discovery, whereas the new model’s aluminium chassis is to-the-manor-born Range Rover, a more sophisticated bit of kit. And the genes have handed it Range Rover’s Terrain Response system as well. This analyses the ground you’re about to traverse and automatically adjusts the suspension, gearbox, brakes, throttle and traction control to suit. There’s also a system that disconnects the anti-roll bars to increase wheel articulation so you can get across the kind of humps that could break a cross-axle. Air suspension allows you to raise the ride height 65mm to clear obstacles, with the extra benefit of a soft ride. You can also lower it, which is handy when your golden retriever is being lazy. Another of the Sport’s party pieces, should you decide to go all Walter Raleigh, is sonar. Transmitters and receivers give the driver a Wading Depth Indicator. If you go too deep into a ford or the Amazon, it will beep at you. The car is capable of wading in up to 85 centimetres of the wet stuff.
So there you have it. A car that is equally at home in Midtown, on the highway and halfway up Mount Everest. Its talents are virtually boundless. Few owners will regularly use it as a hot hatch or an exploration vehicle; instead they’ll use it as a spacious and luxurious shuttle, and it’s just as capable in this regard. Short of the Rolls-Royce Ghost and a Gulfstream G450, I haven’t experienced many machines capable of covering big distances with such little fuss