Review: 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE

The latest Range Rover Sport is lighter, nimbler and even more luxurious than its popular predecessor.

The dreaded Sophomore Slump. Although a phenomenon typically reserved for bands and athletes, automakers, too, can suffer from the second-year blues. And that's exact what Land Rover was facing when it sat down to design the second-generation Range Rover Sport.

The original Range Rover Sport, introduced in 2005, was smash hit, both in terms of sales and opening the brand up to a new demographic of buyers. That's a pretty tough act to follow, but the all-new 2014 Range Rover Sport appears to have the goods for a successful followup. So is the new 2014 Range Rover Sport another hit like The Godfather Part II, or is it a dud more akin to Caddyshack II? Come with us as we find out.

What is it?Based on Land Rover's all-new Range Rover, the Range Rover Sport is, as its name suggests, a more sporting version of Land Rover's flagship SUV. But don't let that athletic demeanor fool you - the Ranger Rover Sport is just as capable off-road as it is on thanks to Land Rover's terrain management systems.

New for this generation of Sport, a supercharged 3.0L V6 is the entry-level engine, replacing Land Rover's naturally-aspirated 5.0L V8. Although down in power compared to the bent-eight (340 horsepower vs. 375 horsepower), the 2014 Range Rover Sport has lost about 760 pounds, so performance hasn't suffered a bit. But if it's power you crave, Land Rover will happily sell you a version of the Sport equipped with the company's 510-horsepower supercharged V8.

Our tester arrived in mid-level HSE form, which is the Range Rover Sport's most popular configuration. Base SE, up-level Supercharged and range-topping Autobiography models are also on offer.

Regardless of model, Range Rover Sport comes paired with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

What's it up against?Those shopping for a high-end and agile SUV will likely pit the Range Rover Sport against the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X6. If size and prestige aren't necessarily on the top of your shopping list, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and Infiniti QX70 could also be lumped in as Range Rover Sport competitors.

What's it look like?The 2014 Range Rover Sport retains the same general greenhouse shape as the last-gen model, but gains new front- and rear-end styling inspired by the smaller Range Rover Evoque.

Those front-end similarity include sleeker headlights with new LED accents and a more angled grille that gives the Sport a more streamlined appearance. The 2014 Sport keeps the last-gen's sharply-raked D-pillars, but a reward-sloping roofline has been added to give the SUV a more coupe-like silhouette.

The rear of the Range Rover Sport features wrap-around LED taillights and a form-fitting bumper. The 2014 Range Rover Sport has actually grown by about four inches, but its tighter proportions give the illusion of a smaller footprint.

As you might have noticed, our test car with missing a tooth (the 'A' in Range Rover), which was the result of a nasty run-in with some road debris.

And on the inside?Admittedly, the Range Rover Sport's interior styling hasn't changed much from one generation to the next, but there has been a noticeable improvement in attention to detail.

Given our tester's price point of $73,000, you'd expect soft-touch materials and high-quality leather, which the Sport delivers. But what you might not expect are the little details Land Rover included, like metal dash accents that spend most of their time hidden behind the front doors, brushed aluminum stalk caps and a Range Rover Sport illustration placed on the B-pillar, just to name a few. Those details might not sound like much, but they really do add up to an extra air of quality.

The Range Rover Sport's twin-pod gauge cluster is easy enough to read, but seems a bit bland for an SUV with above average character. An LED screen is located in the middle to keep track of engine temperature and fuel level.

The Range Rover Sport's center stack scores higher on the aesthetic scale, with a metal-framed infotainment screen topping elegantly modern HVAC controls. For some reason we were particularly smitten with the use of LED readouts in the center of the Sport's climate control knobs.

The Range Rover Sport uses an actual gear lever rather than the rotary dial used in the more up-scale Range Rover, but the Sport shares its console-mounted off-road controls with its bigger brother.

We liked the look of our tester's Shadow Zebrano wood accents, but wish it was offered with a matte rather than a gloss finish.

Land Rover's infotainment system isn't the best on the market, but it gets the job done. There are a few too many menus for our tastes, but they're at least simple to navigate. We weren't blown away with the system's response times, which sometimes lagged by a few seconds.

The Sport's infotainment system includes an all-too-rare volume knob, but accessing functions like seat ventilation require the press of a physical button before delving into the virtual world of the in-dash screen.

The optional Meridian sound system in our test vehicle sounded like a million bucks. Thankfully, it retails for a more reasonable $1,950.

Whether you're sitting in the front or second row, the Sport offers plenty of room with comfortable and supportive seats.

Cargo room isn't quite as spacious in the Sport, with the SUV offering just 27.7 cubic feet behind the second row and 62.2 cubic feet with the seats folded. Moreover, even with the Sport's adjustable air suspension at its lowest setting, the load floor is pretty high off the ground, which could make loading heavier items cumbersome.

But does it go?Even with just six cylinders to drag it around, the 2014 Range Rover Sport is a snappy performer.

The supercharged V6's maximum torque doesn't come on until a relatively high 3,500rpm, but the Sport's eight-speed automatic transmission is geared to keep things moving along at lower speeds. Land Rover says the Ranger Rover Sport V6 will accelerate from 0-60 in 6.9 seconds, which isn't bad for a vehicle of this size.

The 2014 Sport is much more fleet of foot than last year's model thanks to its crash diet, but it still feels like a substantial vehicle. The Range Rover Sport was designed to handle the most extreme off-road conditions, so it doesn't even bat an eye when it encounters a midwest-sized pot hole or raised manhole cover.

And though it may be a brute on the trail, the Range Rover Sport is extremely civilized on payment. Steering is light and easy, and its air ride suspension provides a compliant ride. The Sport's cabin is also vault quiet at highway speeds.

The Range Rover Sport's V6 is rated at 17mpg in the city and 23mpg on the highway, which is a significant improvement over the 13/18mpg city/highway ratings of the outgoing V8. The new Sport also has a larger fuel tank (27.7 gallons vs. 23 gallons), so overall range has grown from 322 miles to almost 500.

Leftlane's bottom lineWith its latest 2014 model, Land Rover has proven that its Range Rover Sport wasn't just a one-hit wonder.

Retaining the charm that made us fall in love with the original, the 2014 Range Rover Sport sweetens the pot with a lighter curb weight and greater attention to detail. If only all sequels could be this good.

2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE base price, $62,600. As tested, $73,295.Tow package, $900; Black contrast roof, $650; Range Rover Sport HSE, $5,000; Extra Duty Pack, $1,300; Meridian Premium Audi Pack, $1,950; Destination, $895.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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