Silvio Calabi: Range Rover Sport, the off-road GT
Flying into Denver in January and then traveling into the Colorado high country virtually guarantees a few challenges: hideous traffic, winding mountain roads, an altitude hangover, brass-monkey cold, snow in biblical-plague depths and drivers from somewhere else who can’t cope. It’s comforting, then, to be at the wheel of a large yet agile vehicle with smart all-wheel drive and enough power to blitz the passes — along with satnav, serious wipers and defrosters, heated wing mirrors, far-seeing Xenon lights and ways to manage various functions without taking hands off the steering wheel or eyes off the road, plus perks such as adjustable seat warmers and automatic dual-zone heat. There’s just one more must-have for a polar trek like this, and we’ll get to it later.
These days, plenty of pricey SUVs tick the boxes on this list, but our Rocky Mountain snowmobile was one that I’ve come to place a great deal of trust in: a Range Rover Sport, the lighter, all-aluminum luxury 4×4 that wowed everyone when it debuted as a 2014. This one wasn’t the supercharged V-8 model, but instead the slightly more modest — and much more modestly priced — supercharged V-6 Sport. So instead of 510 horsepower, we had to get by with just 340 horses. (Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually; both are shared with sibling company Jaguar too.) The V-6 Sport’s Terrain Response system also lacks the extra-sharp Dynamic pavement setting of the V-8 Sport. Otherwise, the vehicles are very similar, especially since ours was dressed up with the $5,000 HSE luxury package and the $1,300 Extra Duty Pack. However, instead of shelling out more than $100,000 for the V-8 Sport, we’d have paid just $73,125 for this one, as optioned — had our Powerball ticket come in.
Range Rover Sports are unique. Last fall a year ago, I had a chance to visit with Stuart Frith, chief program engineer for this marvelous machine. When I asked him what he was proudest of in his new baby, he hesitated for a moment and then said, with classic British diffidence, “It’s the way the vehicle seems to stretch the laws of physics.” Having by then put oodles of fast road miles on a V-8 Sport, I could grasp part of his point: For an SUV, the RRSport does a heck of an imitation of a GT car. The rest of it came clear when a Range Rover instructor took me out — still in the Sport, still on street tires — into the company’s Jungle Track proving ground for the other half of the Range Rover experience. If he hadn’t, I would not have believed that a deluxe speed-sled can wade through that much water, climb and descend such steep and slippery slopes, and tiptoe over such epically jagged terrain—so easily, and with no drama.
On the 8-inch touchscreen, I could watch a cartoon of all four wheels driving and working up and down independently, and both differentials automatically locking and unlocking themselves for best grip, while monitoring the water depth and the incline and lean angles. And listening to the “Ride of the Valkyries” — the British Parachute Regiment’s quick march — on 23 stereo speakers. No snow, though, on the Jungle Track.
In Colorado, the resort staff decided that such a fine vehicle deserved pampered parking, and handed over a pass to the heated underground garage, where the 360-degree cameras and beepers helped us thread the maze of pillars and posts without dinging the RRSport’s gilded flanks. And every evening the puddle lights that project “Range Rover” onto the ground alongside the front doors reliably wowed our guests.
Now for that final snow-country must-have feature (no, not a ski rack): One day, despite its super-hero Terrain Response 4×4 system, the anti-lock brakes and my best efforts, our RRSport slid, slowly and gracefully, on its three-season tires down an icy incline and across an intersection in front of a Breckenridge city bus. The bus stopped; eventually, so did we. But it was a scary moment. When it comes to grip, ultimately even “the best four-by-four by far” is only as good as its tires.
- Supercharged V-6 + 8-speed automatic
- Startling off-road ability
- Black-tie elegance in an SUV
- Too-complicated computer menus
- To engage Reverse, push shift lever forward
- Still only 19 mpg overall
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at email@example.com.