Iconic vehicles carry both a benefit and a burden with each new iteration. Does it get harder to live up to the past with each successive model? Perhaps. And with the changing automotive landscape, as the realities of climate change begin to penetrate the obfuscation thrown up by short sighted financial interests of oil companies, and major manufacturers plan for a greener, more electric-focused power source for future offerings, the impediments to purchasing a large, heavy, SUV from a legendary manufacturer are not insignificant.

DSC_5238And yet, there is no denying the pleasure of driving a new 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HST. The Land Rover company traces its roots back to 1948’s introduction of the second four wheel drive vehicle following closely behind the Jeep. Four doors, the normal hatch rear opening, and all the trimmings the six cylinder twin turbo with electric supercharger all-wheel drive panoramic moon roof British luxuriousness on full display. Carbon fiber dash and other interior and exterior appointments, smooth leather, not just any leather, but Windsor leather with suede cloth bolsters. Beautiful silver paint, black roof and wheels – the sizable car has that slightly menacing, definitely imperious, potentially fast appearance.

DSC_5246With a curb weight of 5,130 pounds the zero to 60 isn’t bad – 5.9 seconds – but the 40 to 60, given the twin turbos, is a bit of a blast. And when all of that weight gets up and going, the feeling of the speed combined with the heft of the vehicle gives one a sense of serious security, and the allure of being able to impose one’s automotive will on the other lesser vehicles on the road. Which can be a dangerous feeling if not tempered by good sense and an awareness of the necessity to be safe, first and foremost. Safety is helped by the large, red brake calipers, which are larger in the front than the rear. (Red is part of the HST package – which isn’t an acronym for anything, just the name of the trim package.) An interesting result of physics – the front brakes do more of the stopping than the rear. Which if you think about it makes sense – the car is moving forward, so the energy is in the front, which always gets there first, except when driving in reverse of course. But we’ll leave that to Tom Cruise and stunt drivers in the Fast and the Always Furious. It’s also why on older cars that are updated it’s not necessary to replace drum brakes with discs all around, if you’re being judicious with the dollars spent, and the front brakes are enough. Drums do work to slow vehicles – it’s just that discs do work better.

DSC_5250There are the anticipated multiplicity of settings on the Rover. Up and down, wet roads, snowy roads, hills. Sport mode, comfort mode, auto mode. The Millennium Falcon is easier to fly than figuring out all the buttons and knobs and modes on most modern cars. My move is to leave it all in auto, and not worry about it. I did play with the height adjustment to see what it looked like raised all the way up. It’s funny for me, as a person on the taller side, to have to step down from a vehicle. And it made the wheels look small – which is funny, because they’re 21 inches and not small at all.

I was helping someone move some things, which provided a perfect real-world test of the Utility of the sport utility vehicle. The back lift door opens high, and the opening is wide, which is great. But for some reason the rear seats don’t fold all the way flat. There’s a chance I was doing it wrong – but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t operator error. Even with the slight elevation of half of the cargo space there was still ample room to move all kinds of items in one trip.

DSC_5254Like most high end modern cars – and many modern cars period – the Range Rover Sport HST comes with all kinds of driver assist technology. There are cameras all over the place – front facing, rear facing – and the ability to see a cobbled together overhead view of the car. Sensors on all the corners providing warnings of things like curbs or cars or people in proximity to the vehicle. If the lane guidance is on, and you change lanes without signaling there’s haptic feedback – the steering wheel shudders, lights appear on the screen in front of you. When cruise control is on the automatic braking system is engaged. And turning on the blinker initiates an automatic lane change, which is still a bit nuts but worked flawlessly. The big issue with all of these systems designed to make driving safer for the passengers, other cars, and pedestrians is that they may be having the opposite effect. Recent studies by the three A’s (as we call AAA in my family) Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have found that these systems are more a source of distraction for the driver than a source of safety for all concerned. A little smart evidently isn’t smart enough.

When it comes to the engine, the new technologies provide some serious power and return increased fuel efficiency, thanks to the new inline six cylinder engine, with twin turbos and an electrical supercharger that kicks on in a half a second. With the automatic system that turns the engine off when you’re sitting at a stop light, or you just haven’t turned your car off, these new systems allow for fuel efficiency numbers that aren’t bad given the size and weight of the vehicle – 19 MPG city, 25 highway, for a combined 21 MPG.

Range Rover Sport - Ingenium six-cylinder gasoline engineOne issue for me was legroom. I had plenty of legroom in the front. But when my seat was where I wanted it, only small children or diminutive adults would be comfortable behind me. Which for a car that is not small. In fact, it’s 192″ L x 78″ W x 71″ H, or 16 feet long, six and a half feet wide, and almost six feet tall. What I’ve always wondered about SUVs is why the rear seats don’t move back. Use some of the cargo space in the back to provide the option of more legroom for the rear passengers. Some minivans have rear middle row seats that slide back for enhanced legroom. It’s a serious deficiency in an otherwise super appealing vehicle.

DSC_5236The other impediment being the price. The base price is $82,950. Then add things like Driver Assist Package at $4k, Tow Package at almost $1.1k, Meridien Signature 1700 watt Sound System for just over $4.5k, Carbon Fiber Exterior Pack at $3.5k, On/Off Road pack for what sounds like a bargain $565, some of this and some of that and voila the sticker bottom line is $105,170. Which is a serious number. It’s hard to figure out comparable vehicles. Especially given the heritage that Range Rover brings to the category. But in the luxury world, the Bentley Bentayga with a 542 V8 that gets to 60 under four seconds stickers at $168,000. Of course the fuel economy isn’t as good. But really once you’re in the six figure range it doesn’t seem like fuel economy is a deciding factor. The Mercedes AMG-GLS63 is a three row SUV and stickers just about $126,000. It really becomes a matter of which badge you prefer. Any vehicle at this level will be pretty amazing, with some significant highlights, and some things one may like better or worse than other vehicles of this size, power, and price range.

DSC_5245We’ve reached that point in the creation of automobiles where there really aren’t any more Yugos – cars that may or may not work as intended – and it all becomes a matter of your personal preference, your pocketbook, and your proclivity for frugality versus frills.

I’ll admit I missed the imposing, sleek, powerful HST when I had to turn it back over to the nice people who loaned it to me and it pulled away, off to another lucky reviewer. DSC_5241

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow; Engine Image (c) Land Rover