Test Drive: Range Rover Sport sacrifices space for luxury

In at least two respects, not much has changed in the Land Rover and Range Rover lines since the mid-1990s, when we were the proud owners of a red Land Rover Discovery. Like the Disco, our latest test car, a Range Rover Sport HSE, somehow communicated a sense of drama upon launch from a dead stop. Also like the old Discovery, it’s a lot smaller, functionally speaking, than it looks.

How much smaller? With the back seat folded down, it actually has significantly less cargo room than the maximum square footage available in the diminutive Fiat 500L wagon we tested about the same time. Knee room in the back seat was tighter than in the Fiat, too. Moving on to a more appropriate comparison, the midsize Volvo XC90’s maximum cargo space of 85.7 cubic feet dwarfs the Range Rover’s 56.8 cubic feet.

But if room for cargo and passengers were what it was all about, we’d all be driving minivans. The Range Rover comes to the game with a different mission. It’s all about luxury, style, character and, of course, off-road prowess.

Our test Rover’s most impressive feature was its 3.0-liter, 254-horsepower turbodiesel engine. Not only was it as powerful as advertised, but it was unexpectedly smooth and quiet. Strolling around the big Rover while it idled, we were unable to discern even a hint of diesel odor.

The diesel delivers better fuel economy than the standard V-6 gasoline engine – 22 mpg city, 28 highway, compared with 17/23. Moreover, diesel fuel typically costs 24 cents less in Connecticut than the premium gasoline the Range Rover’s conventional V-6 requires. But the diesel engine also needs an average of 4 ounces of urea – what Land Rover calls diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) – every 1,000 miles. And if the DEF tank happens to run dry, the engine won’t start. The fluid costs about $14 per 4 ounces, gobbling up most of the cost differential between diesel and premium gasoline.

Such calculations may not matter much to someone who’s willing to pay $74,350 or more for a midsize SUV. But the DEF is one more thing the Range Rover diesel driver needs to concern himself with, while the driver who chooses the gasoline-powered version will never have to give a moment’s thought to it.

Whether equipped with diesel or gasoline power, Range Rovers compete with the likes of BMW, Porsche, Lexus, Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz. And where it counts the most, Range Rover is indeed competitive. Our test Rover was luxurious to the max, with comfortable seating and convenient controls throughout. Its handling and power delivery were flawless, and its overall personality practically added up to the definition of refinement.

Like the new Range Rover Velar we test-drove a few weeks ago, the Range Rover Sport had one of the more user-friendly and informative systems for choosing a driving mode – from dynamic (for sharp cornering) to rocks, sand and gravel.

2018 Range Rover Sport HSE TD6

Price: $74,350

Engine: 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6, 254 horsepower, 443 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Weight: 4,773 lb.

Ground clearance: 8.4 in.

Suspension: Control-arm front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 20-in. alloy

Tires: 255/55R20 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 24.8 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 56.8 cu. ft.

Maximum towing capacity: 7,716 lb.

Fuel capacity: 22.7 gallons

Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

Fuel type: Diesel

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.