There’s no denying a certain panache in the Land Rover name and a certain pride a Rover driver feels in its ability to crunch through the Serengeti brush and ford rushing hippo-infested streams as it takes you deep into the rugged, wild outback.
Yet Rover is no rough and tumble Jeep, it’s evolved into a luxury brand fit for the dinner-jacket and ascot crowd and proudly wears a hefty price at which one should expect all the finery a car maker can pack into a leather-slathered interior.
And while there are Defender and Evoque models (sniff) at the lower end of the luxury brand’s lineup, the Range Rover Sport HSE is not one of those. It’s near the top of Land Rover’s food chain. My gorgeous and muscular looking Firenze Red Metallic test ute was all of that with a base price of $75,545, including delivery, and an $80,970 out-the-door price.
Indeed, it had everything a modern sport-utility truck buyer would want, and maybe more.
There’s no questioning that the Sport would go off-roading. It’s rated to wade in water up to 33.5 inches deep and its all-terrain system has six settings for everything from mud and muck to snow and rocks, or loose gravel, and yes, the highway too. All of that is easy to adjust via taps on the lower of its two 10-inch infotainment screens. Thankfully there’s also an automatic mode so one needn’t futz with the system just because it’s sleeting or snowing on the way to the corner office.
Previously tests were with Rover’s 5.0-liter V8, but this Sport now sports a 3.0-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder engine that makes 355 horsepower and 365 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a gob and the Sport will gallop up to highway speeds in short course, all the while its smooth 8-speed automatic slipping ever so easily through the gears. There’s enough engine noise inside to let you know you’re the power master, but it’s never intrusive. My, my, no! This is a fine china tea cup and saucer quiet interior.
Handling is also quite good with a direct feel to the wheel. Turn it a touch and the SUV responds, no lag, no play and no need to keep adjusting it over and over (like a Jeep) as you trundle down the motorway.
Ride? Well, it’s well controlled to be sure, but still feels rather trucky, so a bit more bounce on the big bumps we call roads in Wisconsin. Yet passengers are always comfortable and not jostled to the point of spilling any tea from their cups’ saucers.
There is one flaw, and I wish to be dainty here. The turbo seems to lag quite a bit when you first get on the throttle and there’s a nasty lag when you let off the accelerator for a curve and then ease your foot back onto it for powering out of the turn. Many vehicles seem to do this these days, so it’s not solely a Rover quirk.
Some advantages this Sport has over my previous drive a few years back, well, it has lost about 400 lbs., so while still heavy at 5,100+ lbs., it’s not as beastly as before. Likewise the wheelbase has grown 2 inches, which tends to help ride and provide more interior legroom.
Inside, the test truck was ebony and ivory (I feel a song coming on) leather that looked and felt luxurious.
Crawling aboard is a bit tough though as the step-up is considerable since there is 8.4 inches of ground clearance. But know there is a way to slightly lower the vehicle’s height from inside. That’s primarily meant for when you’re rock climbing, but could help shorter drivers hop aboard.
Seats are fairly flat and soft due to the fine leather interior and these were both heated and cooled with three settings. That’s an $815 upcharge. But the cab is big enough for five adults to fit comfortably, and a third-row seat is optional for wee ones.
I like the truck interior’s clean lines and look. As with the Evoque I tested recently, the dash is designed around two giant infotainment screens, the upper for radio, navigation and such, the lower one for climate and heated seat controls. Both worked, although setting a radio channel and making such adjustments is best accomplished before putting the Rover in motion. Otherwise the task is much more complex than just taping a button as we all did in days of yore.
The driver’s seat also has three memory settings and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope model so you can get it set exactly where you want. A heated steering wheel also came on the test vehicle and overhead was a monstrously large panoramic sunroof and shade, both power operated.
Buyers in Wisconsin and other northern climes should be aware that the Range Rover’s climate control system is slow to warm when set in automatic mode. That is, the fan remains at low speed for way too long. After five minutes of commute each day I found myself cranking the fan speed to 6 or 7 (its top setting) to get air moving to my feet and hands. Evidently the heating was fine, just not enough air movement to warm passengers.
The Sport HSE, like most large sport-utes and many crossovers, also has large A-pillars and combined with a large side mirror creates big blind spots to the front and side. That’s most noticed at 4-way stops and corners where you need to see if oncoming traffic is really stopping or yielding to you.
On the bright side, there’s a 360-degree camera that helps you with vision when the Rover is in reverse. I also like the soft-close doors that automatically latch themselves if you push them nearly closed as you enter or exit the vehicle. It’s a cool feature, but $610 extra.
Note that the test truck also included a driver assist package ($4,000 extra) that includes blind-spot warning, high-speed emergency braking, smart cruise control, a park assist system and that camera, plus a stop & go system to slightly aid gas mileage.
Nothing to email home about here on that front. Rover says the Sport averages 17.7 mpg on its website. I got 18.5 mpg, and considered that a successful run. Premium fuel is preferred, naturally.
There’s a power hatch in back and decent cargo room behind the rear seats, so a family of four could easily glide to their holiday spot in the snowy mountains with all their gear. Skis likely will need to be carried on the roof.
Don’t think that this HSE model is your only big Rover option as the Sport comes in 10 trim levels starting with the SE at $69,945 including delivery. It features the same turbo 6-cylinder engine, but a turbo-diesel V6 is available in the SE tD6 model, listing at $70,795. Diesels usually get moderately better fuel mileage.
The HSE is available with the turbo-diesel too and there’s a P400e HSE hybrid with a turbo four-cylinder matched with a hybrid system. It lists at $80,295.
Move all the way up to the Sport SVR and you’ll need to part with $115,795, but then you will have supercharged 5.0-liter V8 power (575 horses) at your disposal. It’s rated at 15 mpg city and 20 mph highway.
Hits: Muscular look, major power, nice handling, solid off-road ability (6 settings), giant sunroof, three-level seat heat front/rear, heated wheel, 3-memory seat settings, off-road height adjustment, flat soft comfy leather seats, power tilt/telescope steering wheel and quiet interior.
Misses: Big step-up height, big A-pillar/mirror blind spot, slow to warm climate control system, radio channels hard to program especially while driving, major acceleration lag after stop or letting off accelerator for turn it’s slow to pick back up.
Made in: Solihull, England
Engine: 3.0-liter turbo 6-cyl., 355 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 5,135 lbs.
Wheelbase: 115.1 in.
Length: 192.1 in.
Cargo: 27.5 cu.ft.
Tow: 7,716 lbs.
MPG: 17.7 (avg.)
MPG: 18.5 (tested)
Base Price: $75,545 (includes delivery)
Soft-close doors, $610
Driver assist group (blind-spot warning, high-speed emergency braking, smart cruise, stop & go system, park assist, surround camera), $4,000
Heat/cool front and rear seats, $815
Test vehicle: $80,970
Sources: Land Rover, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage