SAN FRANCISCO – Fast as a sports car and able to wade through deeper streams than a Jeep Wrangler. This seems to be the basic design brief for the ’14 Range Rover Sport.

Capable of 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in five seconds, it is fast, nimble and can go just about anywhere while still cosseting passengers and cargo in a sumptuous interior.

Like most cross/utility vehicles, only a tiny fraction of Ranger Rover Sport owners will venture off road, but anyone who doubts the sincerity of this CUV’s design need only lift the hood and look at the air intake system: It is designed to draw air from inlets on top of the hood so the engine can breathe while partially submerged.

Range Rover officials brag that wading depth has been increased 6 in. (15 cm) over the previous-generation model, to 33.5 in. (85 cm). That is an impressive statistic even in the most serious off-roading circles. You would not want to attempt driving through water that deep in the Sport’s main competitors: the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class or Audi Q7. 

The Range Rover Sport essentially is a smaller, lower and more affordable version of the redesigned ’13 Range Rover flagship. The wheelbase is similar, but it is 5.9 in. (15 cm) shorter, 2.17 in. (5.5 cm) lower and about 100 lbs. (45 kg) lighter.

While the flagship is dedicated to luxury, roominess and being able to offer three rows of seats, the Sport, as the name suggests, is focused more on handling and performance. It does offer an optional third row of seats, but they only accommodate children.

Most importantly, the two vehicles share the auto maker’s all-new aluminum unibody architecture, which replaces the previous generation’s integrated body frame that featured a steel unibody mounted on a full-frame chassis.

Switching to aluminum reduces overall body and chassis weight 39%, amounting to an astonishing 800-lb. (363 kg) weight reduction for U.S. models.

Range Rover officials say the new architecture represents several firsts. This includes the first automotive use of high-strength AC300 aluminum within the crash structure and vehicle body sides that are formed as single aluminum panels, reducing the number of joints and improving structural integrity.

Other significant lightweight components include a tailgate made from sheet molding composite plastic and high-strength steel seat structures.

Weighing between 4,427-5,093 lbs. (2,144-2,310 kg) depending on engine size, the truck is hardly a lightweight, but the incredibly stiff body combined with Ranger Rover’s advanced suspension design and dynamic chassis control technologies make the CUV surprisingly agile with very little body roll or understeer. Even after piloting the truck several hundred miles we guessed it was 1,000 lbs. (454 kg) lighter than it really is.

Supercharged V-8 models are equipped with a “dynamic mode” adaptive air-suspension system that delivers an even firmer, more controlled ride with razor-sharp steering on pavement. When the pavement runs out, the system switches automatically between five offroad settings that adjust steering, throttle, transmission, damping and traction control to optimize handling.

Inside, the cabin design is among the most sophisticated of any SUV or CUV, featuring high-quality surfaces, textures and materials. There is lots of nicely tailored twin-needle stitching all about, and satin-finish aluminum trim is used extensively in place of traditional wood trim for a sportier look. That said, the interior could use a few splashes of Alcantara on the A-pillars, doors and headliner to complete the luxurious ambiance.

The seats are comfortable and highly supportive, but not the best in the segment. Plus the vehicle’s high ground clearance makes entering and exiting more difficult than lower-slung competitors.

The center console is mounted higher than before, positioning the controls closer to the driver. The human-machine interface is intuitive and the number of tiny buttons and inscrutable dials that have plagued previous Land Rover and Ranger Rover interiors has evolved into a clean and simple design.

Two powertrains are available, a 3.0L supercharged 340-hp V-6 that makes  332 lb.-ft. (450 Nm) of torque and a 5.0L supercharged 510-hp V-8 that makes 461 lb.-ft. (625 Nm) of torque. Both are mated to a new ZF 8-speed transmission. 

The V-6-powered version starts at $63,495 and delivers 17/23 mpg (13.8-10 L/100 km) city/highway. The V-8 has a base price of $79,995 and is rated at 14/19 mpg (16.8-12.4 L/100 km).  The top-of-the line Autobiography V-8 version begins at $93,295.

A diesel hybrid-electric powertrain is available in Europe, but engineers say it is unlikely to be offered in the U.S. in the near future because it does not use a selective catalytic reduction system necessary to meet U.S. emissions standards.

The V-6-does an excellent job motivating the Range Rover Sport, even on the steep, challenging roads in the hills above Menlo Park near San Francisco. But compared with Audi’s benchmark supercharged 3.0L V-6, which has made the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list four years in a row, it comes up short.

The Jaguar Land Rover engine does not deliver torque with the same linear, buttery smoothness as the Audi, and it has a rather generic exhaust note.   

However, JLR’s potent V-8 is a decadent delight that turns the truck into a truly sporting machine. With a specific output of 102 hp/L, not bad for a big V-8, it makes a deep, muscle-car rumble at idle that turns into a ferocious, lusty roar as rpms climb.

The Range Rover Sport will not win any awards for fuel-economy, but it still makes a case for being environmentally friendly. Almost 75% of its aluminum is sourced from reclaimed metal, dramatically reducing its overall carbon footprint. As much as 59 lbs. (26.7 kg) of the plastics used are recycled and another 62 lbs. (28 kg) of materials are natural, renewable materials.

In a world where even the most sophisticated CUVs are starting to look like minivans, the Range Rover Sport still is distinctively styled and happy to crawl over boulders, wallow in the mud or traverse the country club pool’s shallow end if necessary.

dwinter@wardsauto.com

 

’14 Range Rover Sport
Vehicle type Front-engine, AWD 5-passenger CUV
Engine 5.0L Supercharged DOHC DI V-8
Power 510 hp
Torque 461 lb.-ft. (625 Nm)
Bore x stroke (mm) 92.5 X 93
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Transmission 8-speed AT
Wheelbase 115.1 ins. (2923 mm)
Overall length 191 ins. (4850 mm)
Overall width 78.1 ins. (1983 mm)
Overall height 70.1 ins. (1780 cm)
Curb weight 5093 lbs. (2310 kg)
Base price $79,995
Fuel economy 14/19 mpg (16.8-12.4 L/100 km)
Competition Porsche Cayenne; BMW X5; Mercedes M-Class
Pros Cons
Iconic exterior design No Alcantara inside
510-hp V-8 V-6 lacks personality
Not a poseur offroad High step-in height