Most gearheads have a finely tuned ear for engine music. The tune can take many forms – perhaps the high-pitched snarl of a fast-winding four-cylinder, or the basso-profundo whooffle of a big V8 – and who cares if it’s loud, if it sounds right?
The absence of engine noise can be seductive too – hence our smitten-ness with the new Range Rover Sport. The flagship version of the new-for-2023 Sport is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), so you expect it to be quiet in electric mode. This one, however, is tranquil even by EV standards. It can also stay in EV mode more often and for longer than most PHEVs.
Then, when the gas engine does intervene … nothing. You hear the engine if you’re asking for maximum thrust, but it’s a remote, cultured sound; in casual driving mode, however, the gas engine is mostly invisible. It operates with all the aural and tactile silkiness you expect, but don’t always get, from a classic in-line six.
The three-litre unit is supercharged and turbocharged and does duty in all three trims sold in Canada. In the Dynamic S (base price: $101,750) and SE ($108,450), it’s paired with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system and generates 395 horsepower. In the HSE plug-in hybrid, the engine is partnered with a 105-kilowatt electric motor to deliver a combined 434 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is common to all, likewise dual-range all-wheel drive. Dual range is basically a second low-range gear set for negotiating extreme off-road gradients at crawl speeds.
A V8 is no longer offered in Canada but a fully electric model is expected before year’s end. Meanwhile, the battery is massive by PHEV standards, at 38.2-kilowatt-hours with a range of 82 kilometres and, unusually for a plug-in, it can accept DC fast charging up to 50 kilowatts.
Also unlike most PHEVs, EV mode means what it says; the gas engine stayed dormant the entire duration of the initial 97-per-cent charge, which eventually expired at 71 kilometres – impressive, considering it included a 35-kilometre freeway dash, more uphill than down.
Our first two days of driving, including the initial charge, netted an average of 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres over 225 kilometres.
The downside of such a large battery is that overnight charging at home on 110 volts won’t fully replenish a discharged battery. Still, we charged as much as we could, and ended our four-day, 281-kilometre loan period having averaged 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres. That’s Prius-like consumption, from a big, powerful, luxurious off-road SUV.
While the powertrain delivers a best-of-all-worlds blend of speed, refinement and fuel efficiency, the chassis is less miraculous.
When a vehicle has air suspension (height-adjustable in this case), we usually expect a plusher ride. And yet, despite the firm ride – not to mention the Sport in its name – the handling is less than a revelation. It corners well enough for an SUV of this size (and, to be fair, our test sample was on winter tires), but it doesn’t defy physics the way, say, a suitably optioned Porsche Cayenne does. (In other markets, the Range Rover does offer handling options comparable to Porsche in a so-called Stormer package, but not in Canada).
Then again, a Cayenne PHEV has less than half the Rover’s electric range, and is less refined.
That all said, do potential Range Rover Sport buyers even care about handling or fuel economy, let alone the brand’s legendary off-road talents? With their distinct stealth-muscle shapes and sumptuous interior furnishings, Range Rovers are all about making a statement. This one just doesn’t make a big noise about it.
2023 Range Rover Sport Dynamic HSE
- Base price/as tested: $123,050/$137,176 before taxes and dealer fees
- Engine: Three-litre in-line supercharged and turbocharged six-cylinder with a 105-kilowatt electric motor
- Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/dual-range all-wheel drive
- Fuel consumption (litres per 100 kilometres): 12.4 city, 10 highway, 11.3 combined (in hybrid mode)
- Alternatives: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Cadillac XT5, BMW X5*, Genesis GV80, Infiniti QX60, Jeep Grand Cherokee*, Lexus GX, Lincoln Aviator*, Porsche Cayenne*, Volvo XC90*
* PHEV models available
Rover designers toss about words like “modernist” and “reductive” when discussing the shape’s sleek, unadorned muscularity. It couldn’t be anything other than a member of the Range Rover dynasty, its stance enhanced by whopping 22-inch wheels on the HSE.
Perhaps befitting the Sport label, you don’t get an especially lofty driving position, despite 20-way power seat adjustment. A bigger issue for me, though, was not being able to adjust my seat without the wheel partly obscuring the gauge cluster – doubly frustrating because the display is gorgeous. The graphics of the 13.1-inch main screen look equally opulent, though if you haven’t owned a British vehicle before, be prepared for eccentric secondary controls – on screen and off. You’ll no doubt love the cabin’s finish, which looks appropriately rich, despite the use of sustainable materials. In the rear, there isn’t as much legroom to spare as you might expect, but it’s not cramped, and the power-recline seat itself is amply comfortable.
You can certainly buy faster SUVs than the Range Rover Sport, which can go from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in about 5.8 seconds. But if you appreciate the concept of an iron fist in a velvet glove, the PHEV’s wealth of velvet more than offsets its slightly smaller iron fist.
The Range Rover doesn’t offer Level 2 autonomy like some rivals, but the otherwise generous suite of driver-assist technology – including off-road cruise control – is standard. The well-stocked inventory of infotainment features likewise leaves “Wi-Fi enabled with Data Plan” as the only listed upgrade.
Cargo volumes of 903 litres, seats up, and 1,500, seats down, are unremarkable for its class (a full-size spare tire nixes any under-floor storage), but the space is user-friendly, with 40/20/40-split backrests that fold flush with the rear deck, and no lift-over at the rear. Maximum tow rating is 3,000 kilograms (6,615 pounds) with a braked trailer.
Any Range Rover makes a statement, but in the case of the Sport PHEV, you can strut your conspicuous consumption without much in the way of actual fuel consumption.
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