We’ve driven into the clouds. The fog is so thick that it collects on the branches of the redwoods towering above us and crashes down in torrents onto our new SUV as we jounce along the rugged old logging trail. It’s hard to believe we’re barely 20 miles away from Silicon Valley.
The trek provides the perfect contrasts for testing out the new 2014 Range Rover Sport—the second-generation remake of the British brand Land Rover’s best-selling, premium SUV ($63,495). These days, buyers expect their sport utes to be as much fun to drive on-road as off, and no surprise. The vast majority of owners will never experience anything rougher than a dirt trail to their summer home.
Dashing down I-280, our Sport’s supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 makes a thundering 510 horsepower, enough to challenge a Porsche when we stomp on the throttle. It’s not just quick but smooth and responsive, in part due to an all-new design that abandons the older model’s heavy steel body and frame for lightweight aluminum, shaving about 800 pounds in the process. Sink into the plush leather seats, put a disc in the changer, turn up the 1,700-watt Meridian sound system and you’ll match the sense of refinement offered by any traditional luxury sedan.
Heading into the back country, its light weight again pays off, the Range Rover Sport showing a sure-footed nimbleness as we weave and bob, climbing ever higher into the redwood forest, finally turning off onto a back trail that only a handful of vehicles on the market would even consider assaulting. Despite its luxurious manners, there’s a tough beast lurking beneath this ute’s stylish skin. In fact, the 2014 model can handle even more challenging trails and cross even deeper streams than before.
We shift into low range and set the Terrain Response control. The system is designed to take much of the guesswork out of off-roading. A twist of the dial will automatically adjust a variety of vehicle settings that include throttle response, gear shifts, vehicle height and braking behavior, giving you the precise settings for various road conditions—such as snow, sand or, in this case, Mud and Ruts. As we lurch along over deep moguls and straddle fallen tree branches, the Range Rover Sport barely grunts, its sophisticated driveline automatically shifting power to the wheels that have the best grip.
As we creep back to our base for an appropriate cup of afternoon tea, we can’t help but admire the new Sport. Despite the mud that covers its wheels and fenders, it’s a handsome carriage, one that picks up some of the more appealing lines of the smaller Range Rover Evoq—notably the sloping roofline. But the real appeal is the breadth of the new Sport’s capabilities. The 2014 remake is home anywhere you drive it, whether on an open highway, a suburban street or the toughest of trails.