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(Nick Dimbleby/Jaguar Land Rover)
(Nick Dimbleby/Jaguar Land Rover)

2014 Range Rover Sport

Range Rover drives like a fast car - and takes on mud, snow and ice Add to ...

How much?

That’s the first question and often the last answered. So let’s start where it matters most: the 2014 Range Rover Sport has a starting price of $73,990 and that gets you the 340-horsepower V-6 engine. At the top of the range is the $104,990 supercharged V-8 Range Rover Sport Autobiography (510 hp).

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What that pricing tells you is that Land Rover’s latest is slightly more dear than an Audi Q7 ($63,200 to start), a BMW X5 ($61,800 base) and a Porsche Cayenne ($56,600 base). Stuart Frith, the chief engineer of the RR Sport, is undeterred. His new car/truck is better than any of them.

And the RR Sport is quite the leap forward. Gone is the old truck-based chassis shared with the LR4/Discovery. It’s been replaced by monocoque or car-like underpinnings that help explain how Land Rover has stripped out more than 420 kg of heft. Extensive use of aluminum throughout – suspension, body panels, and so on – are at the heart of this story. The end result is a V-8 RR Sport capable of 0-100 km/h in less than five seconds, with a top speed of 250 km/h.

Frith, slightly biased but utterly earnest, says the RR Sport is the most capable in its class. After rollicking around tight and twisty country roads in Wales and tackling the muddy, rocky, slippery, nasty terrain at Land Rover’s adventure park at Eastnor Castle in Wales, who am I to disagree? For the latter, we were riding on street tires, after all.

The Range Rover Sport is quick to answer driver inputs for a car and shockingly user-friendly for a big, tall truck that can be ordered with what Frith calls “5+2” seating. That is, a third row seat is available, but useful only for smallish types on short runs. The handling, he says, is “30 per cent” better and I am sure he has spider graphs to prove it. And the powertrains are up to 24 per cent more efficient. At speed, it’s quieter than any Porsche, Audi or BMW, too – and Frith has the bar graphs to prove it.

There’s more, too. The rear seats fold flat to enhance car space. They recline and those sitting in them have 24 mm of extra space. You can get seats that cool and heat and massage you, while adjust up front in 14 different ways. The doors have an automatic soft close, you can order a stereo with 1,700 watts of ear-busting output, and the list of electronic driver-assist technologies in unending.

And whatever sort of driver you are, you should be able to dial in just the right ride, handling, steering and throttle responses. An active locking differential controls wheel-spin and this one is 30 per cent faster than any previous Range Rover, says Frith. Something called Torque Vectoring uses the electronic stability control and throttle inputs to improve cornering by sending power to the wheels with the most grip – and braking those that those where doing so will inhibit understeer or plowing in corners.

Four-wheel-drive? You have the choice of a two-speed or single-speed transfer case. You might as well get the two-speed unit; it’s just a $1,300 option on select models. With it, you have a unit that can send up to 100 per cent of torque to wheels at either end, as opposed to the 42/58 per cent front/rear torque bias of the single-speed design.

Of course, Land Rover’s Terrain Response system allows you to dial up off-road AWD computer modelling to match the conditions – from sand to mud and gravel to snow and ice. If you want to wade through water up to 850 mm deep, this Range Rover can do that, too.

 

Almost no one who buys an RR Sport will ever venture anywhere near its capabilities. This rig is over-engineered to the max. It drives like a fast car, too.

Obviously, this array of electronic aids and such might be worrisome to anyone who keeps their RR Sport past the warranty period. That’s the price of progress in this high-tech age. I’d also like Land Rover to refine one or two things further, as well. For instance, all the finger-tip touch controls are pretty, but there is no tactile response from them when you punch up the audio system or navigation. Speaking of which, the navi sometimes gave instructions after we’d passed the turn or landmark.

But capable? Get your own and you’ll be craving snowstorms or a trip to your neighbours cottage down that unpaved goat path. Not to mention that trip down the highway out of town to get there.

jcato@globeandmail.com

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