2023 Range Rover Sport First Drive: Third Time’s a Charm


The Range Rover Sport breaks out from the shadow of its more popular sibling.

2023 Range Rover Sport front thr

The Range Rover Sport from Land Rover is not a car I’ve ever liked. The original model, released in 2004 as a 2005 model, and known internally as the L320, was essentially a reskinned Land Rover Discovery. I understand the reasoning behind its creation: spreading out the “Range Rover family” and spreading out the expenditures of building the chassis over two vehicles. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a good aesthetic, and despite the inclusion of the term “Sport” in the name, it wasn’t really fun to drive. When the second-generation L494 debuted in 2013, it was an improvement in looks and used the genuine Range Rover platform. When I drove one, I couldn’t help but think that it was a stripped-down Range Rover, even if it was sportier than the previous model. Obviously, this was the case. Now, in the present day, I have just finished driving around Madrid, Spain in a variety of the brand new, third-generation Range Rover Sport models. Is it an improvement over the last version?

2023 Range Rover Sport front sid

Hey, Handsome

As far as design goes, Range Rover is now at the “polishing icons” phase. Remember Porsche’s iconic 911 model. To ensure that a Porsche 911 can be identified from a mile away, few modifications should be made. Even the most dedicated automobile enthusiasts may have trouble distinguishing the newest Range Rover from its predecessors. Superbly refined icon.

2023 Range Rover Sport interior

While it’s clear that the new Range Rover Sport is descended from the L494, it’s clear that it’s a vast improvement in terms of design. In a first for me, I’ll go so far as to say the Sport actually outclasses the traditional Range Rover in terms of aesthetics. The rig’s incredibly well-formed shoulder and beltlines are highlighted by the combination of a fantastic gangster lean, subtle curves, and a crushed, sloping fast roof. The roofline actually makes me think of the prewar Bentley Gurney Nutting Blue Train vehicle. Enjoy it a lot.

2023 Range Rover Sport interior 1

The first run of the Firenze Red Range Rover Sport P530 I drove on day one, which is called that because the beautiful BMW-made V-8 engine makes 530 PS, or 523 hp. The wheels and tires were 23 inches, and they looked great. Big wheels always run the risk of making the car look smaller than it is (and ruining the ride, but more on that in a bit). Not here. No, the big wheels on the new Range Rover Sport just work.

2023 Range Rover Sport in motion

My Scottish friend said that the front looks like the front of a Kia Soul EV. I told him that Kia wishes that were true and that the Sport looks more like a sportier version of the new Range Rover with a bit of Velar thrown in for good measure. The back is just great, and it doesn’t have any of the shape problems that plague the back of big brother Range Rover. The quad pipes look good, and the fact that “Range Rover” is written in black on a black strip shows that the brand is so sure of its design language that it doesn’t think the SUV needs to be labeled in a showy way. Just like any other symbol, you can tell by looking.

2023 Range Rover Sport filter for the second cabin

The cabin is sparse and simple like a Scandinavian home, but the leathers are so soft, thick, and plush that it also reminds me of an old English wingback chair. But also sporty in a way. I like the secondary fabrics on the door cards and seats, didn’t mind the chopped carbon-fiber accents on the First Edition, and liked the open-pore wood in the P400 SE Dynamic.

2023 Range Rover Sport head rest

Most of the controls are on the touchscreen, which is easy to use. But, and this is important, there is a Terrain Response control knob that lets you switch between the different off-road modes quickly and easily. I say that because, even though the Land Rover Defender is a great car, the controls for Terrain Response are hidden in the screen. This solution, which was brought back for the first time on the Range Rover, is much better.

2023 Range Rover Sport in motion 1

I thought the seats were pretty comfortable, but the leg room in the back was a little tight. Still, if you want to, you can lay the back seat all the way back. It’s also important to note that wireless CarPlay is now the norm. There’s also Amazon Alexa. Possibly most important, the Range Rover Sport can now update all of its parts over the air. This isn’t just about infotainment. I mean everything, from making it work with CarPlay to programming the engine, tuning the hybrid system, setting up the suspension, and even the steering.

2023 Range Rover Sport in motion 4

What’s Going On Inside?

On the P530, it’s that great 4.4-liter BMW N63 twin-turbo V-8 that makes 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque, the same specs as the BMW X5 M550i. You might be thinking something like, “Why doesn’t Land Rover just put in its own V-8?” There are a few reasons. The first is that the old Land Rover V-8 with a supercharger has about the same chance of passing Euro 6 emissions tests as Pete Davidson has of not getting his shot with a female celebrity.

2023 Range Rover Sport in motion 5

Even though this is a forced and terrible metaphor, the real reason is that Jaguar Land Rover, like the rest of the business, is going electric. Instead of spending valuable R&D money on a new V-8, it would be better to team up with a company that has already done the hard work and focus on making cars more electric. Also, in two years, the Range Rover Sport will be fully electric.

2023 Range Rover Sport in motion 6

Both the P510e Autobiography and the P440e Autobiography are plug-in hybrids with a 3.0-liter Ingenium turbo inline-six engine connected to a 141-hp electric motor powered by a 39-kWh battery pack. The P510e has 503 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, while the P440e only has 434 horsepower and 457 lb-ft. Only the output of the inline-six engine is different between the two cars. Land Rover hopes that the EPA will give the Range Rover Sport P440e an electric-only range of 51 miles. We should know before October, when the car goes on sale. Land Rover says that test vehicles are getting anywhere from 60 to 70 miles of pure EV range. This means that your mileage may be better than what is listed. We Americans will also get the P400 SE Dynamic and the P360 SE. Both have only the Ingenium six-cylinder engine, which can make 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque in the P400 SE Dynamic and 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque in the P360 SE.

2023 Range Rover Sport in motion 7

All engines send their power through the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, which is used everywhere for a good reason (it’s great!) and then to all four wheels permanently. The hybrid motor is in a pancake shape and sits between the engine and the transmission. The car is connected to a low-gear transfer case.

The fancy off-road electronic suite in all Range Rovers is called Terrain Response, but its full name is Terrain Response 2. It has several different off-road driving modes, including General Driving, Grass, Gravel, Snow, Mud and Ruts, Rock Crawl, Sand, and Wading. But the system is set to Auto by default. The idea is that the computer will choose the right mode based on what the tires are telling it. For modes like Rock Crawl, the air suspension raises the car even higher, giving it more ground clearance. The rear-wheel steering makes the Range Rover Sport more agile both on and off-road.

2023 Range Rover Sport headlight

Is Driving Good, Part 1: On-Road

Yes, very. Even more so the P530. Even though the Range Rover is bigger, heavier, and more formal, this is still true. Based on my time driving the full-bore P530 SWB Rangeie, the lighter (by 500 to 600 pounds, according to LR’s numbers) Sport with the same output feels more sporty to drive. Acceleration is quick enough, and even though the P530 is smooth and quiet most of the time, putting it in Sport mode makes the V-8 sound nice.

I also like how a little bit when you floor it, the Range Rover Sport rears up on its haunches. About 30 miles outside of Madrid, a semi-truck decided I wasn’t there, so I had to make an emergency lane change while going 85 mph. Even when the truck tried to merge into our right front fender, it didn’t scare my poor passenger. This Range Rover Sport is easy to drive!

On a road with more turns, I was impressed by how well the Range Rover Sport P530 handled the turns. The best way to describe the experience might be “no drama,” which means that even if you drive this SUV hard. Our European bureau chief, Angus MacKenzie, has criticized the Sport’s “on-center” feel, saying that the “off-center” effort is too heavy for a Range Rover. I didn’t mind the work, and I thought it was a good way to set the Range Rover apart from the Sport.

2023 Range Rover Sport shifter

The more sporty truck is also beautiful and elegant to drive at a slow speed. When it comes to elegance, I’m surprised by how smooth the ride is. I thought the ride would be rough because the 285/40R23 tires on all four corners were so big. It turned out to be the other way around. The Range Rover Sport is almost as fun to drive as it is comfortable and luxurious. The Range Rover Sport P530 has good brakes and the best automatic transmission in the business. It’s hard for me to think of anything I didn’t like about it. I guess I didn’t check the gas mileage, which is probably not very good. Back to the important stuff: Does this Land Rover product drive better than any other? I’ll go ahead and say yes.

The rest of the engines? I only drove the P510e Autobio, which we don’t get in the U.S., but it was the only PHEV that Land Rover brought. But it weighs the same as the P440e Autobiography we’re getting, which will have 69 less horsepower and 59 less lb-ft. Land Rover says that these models are about 500 pounds heavier than the P530, and you can tell because of how they handle. It’s still fun to drive, but not as much.

Like most PHEVs, you can choose between driving modes called Hybrid, EV, and Save. Hybrid uses both sources of power as needed, EV runs on electricity until the battery runs out, and Save uses the gas engine to keep the battery charged. One cool thing is that EV mode works automatically within a certain area. Many European cities require or strongly prefer that PHEVs don’t use the gas engine in the city center. So, when the Range Rover Sport got to Madrid, it automatically switched to EV mode. If the battery dies, what happens? The car has a hybrid engine. This feature doesn’t make much of a difference for U.S. customers right now, but it’s good to know that it’s ready for such laws in the future.

2023 Range Rover Sport seat cont 1

Land Rover says that the P400 is more than 350 pounds lighter than the V-8 model, which I also drove. Not surprisingly, it felt a little bit faster and a little bit slower. That’s what you get when you have 128 horsepower less than you need. Conclusion about the powertrain: I like the V-8 best, but if the PHEV can go at least 51 miles on electric power alone, that is something to think about.

Part 2 of “Is It Good to Drive?”: Off-Road

When I’ve been to the launch of an SUV that can go off-road, the makers often try to pull a fast one on me. We have one set of cars for driving on pavement and another set with smaller wheels and knobbier, deflated tires for driving off-road. Range Rover didn’t do anything like that. Instead, after throwing the car all over some sweet Spanish turns, we just turned on the Range Rover Sport’s low-gear transfer case, waited a second for the air springs to lift the car about 2 inches, and hit the dirt. That’s right, the Range Rover Sport is a ringer off-road even though its 23-inch all-season Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires look like rubber bands by off-roading standards. I should say that we only drove the P510e on dirt, rocks, and mud because Land Rover wanted us to see what it’s like to drive an electric vehicle off-road. Still, I can’t help but think that the lighter ICE versions would be even better.

2023 Range Rover Sport side view

We pretty much used every off-road mode except for Wading, because there was no river to cross. Part of the trail, though, was muddy because of rain. Land Rover told us to leave the cars in Auto and let the computers figure out what to do. It worked perfectly. Both the center and rear electric lockers on the Range Rover Sport can be locked and unlocked by the computer as it sees fit. On the central screen, you can see what is happening with both in real time. Yes, you can do everything by hand if you want to, but Land Rover wanted to show how smart and useful Terrain Response 2 is. Can you say you’re sorry? I was amazed for most of the drive at how well the Sport could grip the road even though we were on street tires that were inflated to street tire levels. Almost every time I take a Range Rover off-road, I’m surprised by how capable these vehicles really are.

The Range Rover Sport is probably as good off-road as the Mercedes-Benz GLE, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and even the Jeep Wranglers and Ford Broncos, which are more utilitarian. It can do some mild rock crawling (hey, it has a Rock Crawl mode), but big boulders would start to damage the beautiful, expensive aluminum body panels. Still, the Range Rover Sport can do a lot more than most people will ever need or even think is possible. I should also say that the Range Rover has one of the best rides on dirt and gravel roads compared to the Bronco and Wrangler, which don’t. I didn’t think it would be very good off-road, for whatever reason, but I was very impressed.

2023 Range Rover Sport in motion 7

The End: From Zero to Hero

Before this drive, if someone had asked me if the Range Rover was worth the extra money over the Range Rover Sport, I would have said, “Yes, ma’am/sir, without a doubt.” Now? I like the Range Rover Sport better. First, it looks better. Yes, the Range Rover’s design has changed over time and it’s a polished icon, but I just like the Sport’s metal better. It’s sportier and more aggressive. That just wasn’t how people felt in the two generations before us. I also like the way the Sport drives, especially with the V-8’s power. What can you do with the Range Rover that you can’t do with the Sport? Mostly, a bigger interior with more comfort and legroom in the back. But if you want to be the main driver—and trust me, you will—I recommend the Sport. If you don’t have $123,000 to spend, you can get the P400 for about $92K. What about the PHEV, which costs nearly $106,000? If you want an electric car that can go 50 miles, go for it. In that case, I would wait for the all-electric version. The third-generation Range Rover Sport is a very impressive SUV, no matter which version you choose.