Auto123 gets in a first drive of the 2023 Land Rover Range Rover Sport.
Madrid, Spain - The Range Rover has always lived an existence in parallel to other luxury SUVs populating our boulevards, highways and yes, trails. It has its competitors, to be sure, but the history surrounding it, its evolution from its worker-bee beginnings to a luxury motoring standard-setter, is pretty unique.
When the smaller Sport model came along, the lens shifted a bit. It had its luxurious elements, to be sure, but its more compact shape and slightly blockier lines made for a more rambunctious look, while its cost of entry made it a little more accessible. That also meant the pool in which it competed was a little deeper. Models like the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5 and the Audi Q7 were and are big sellers, and present very compelling cases. The Sport may have a steeper hill to climb than its bigger sibling. Mind you, when it comes to climbing hills, Range Rovers of any stripe have always come equipped for battle.
For 2023, the Sport has received a comprehensive re-design that’s stiffer than previous, looks more upscale and adds a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant. It’s called the P440e ($123,050) and it joins the P400 48V mild hybrid model ($101,750) as well as the V8-equipped P530 Edition One version ($133,650).
There’s a lot of variety here – once you get past the somewhat confusing nomenclature – but it’s a good indication that Land Rover has taken a hard look at the Sport’s competition and figured it’s time to play ball. One thing worth noting: gone is the availability of a third row of seating; for 2023, that’s reserved for the full-size Range Rover.
We got to put all three of these variants through their paces on the sinewy roads in and around Madrid, but Land Rover being who they are, they also wanted us to take them off the beaten track. The Sport may be firmly planted in the luxury SUV space, but it is a Range Rover, and with that classic oval-shaped badge on the snout, it has to be able to cut the mustard on slippery, gravely, squishy surfaces.
Of the three models, the Edition One is the most well-endowed; it is the only way you can get a 4.4L twin-turbo V8 with its 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, and even with that big motor, it’s not the heaviest model on the roster, the PHEV variant taking that title.
Styling-wise, there are a number of details that stand out, but the overriding theme – especially with a Firenze Red truck like this one – is one of contrast. The black side grilles, hood intakes, Range Rover script, grille, wing mirrors and everything above the beltline gets blacked out and makes for an athletic look that Land Rover claims has had customers referring to as the Range Rover’s younger, tattooed sibling.
As eye-catching as all that is, the wheels are the real draw. For the first time on the Sport, they measure a whopping 23 inches. That helps pull the profile down further to the ground below, adding muscle, poise and panache to the package. They’re great, but I do find that while they’re 285 mm wide, they don’t look quite wide enough wrapped around those massive rims. The Pirelli Scorpion all-season rubber on our tester, meanwhile, is fine but for a truck like this I know I’d want some proper summer performance rubber. It may not be the heaviest Sport but at 2,429 kg you can be darn sure that it’s still going to put its tires to the test when you start to push.
Inside, we find all the customary Land Rover stuff we love. There’s top-class leather seating, panel gaps so tight you’d have a hard time jamming a playing card in, some great carbon inserts with a granite coffee table-type finish – how cool is that? – plus some interesting bits like partial fabric door liners that manage not to look cheap.
There are also a host of digital displays, though fewer than before, as the old model’s dual-screen centre stack now sees its lower screen swapped for two large dials and a touchpad, while the main display has grown larger. The gauge cluster is still digitized and looks properly high-definition and a digital rear-view mirror comes standard. It provides a wider angle, unencumbered by the rear window frame, tall cargo load – or tall passengers.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also here and can be paired wirelessly, while the wireless charge pad itself is tucked nicely underneath a panel that holds the volume knob, on/off button, drive mode dial and the electronic shift lever.
While I don’t love that some of the climate controls – the windshield de-icer, defrost, others -- are part of a touch panel, I do like how the two main dials work as both your ambient temperature and seat heat/cool controls. All that’s required to switch between the two is pressing down on the dial. It all helps reduce cabin clutter.
The main infotainment display is an elegant, concave item with sharp graphics and nicely sensitive touchscreen. It’s an elegant affair, even more so as it’s no longer fighting for your attention with a lower screen as before. That felt and looked somewhat cheap and quickly became a mess of fingerprints.
At low speeds in normal drive mode – set by pressing the drive mode button down – the Sport is a proper Range, delivering smooth steering wheel action that’s a low-effort pleasure to spin, a mostly good ride that only gets upset over the harshest bumps – likely because of that huge rolling stock – and providing a great view outwards even though the windows are a little smaller than in the regular Range Rover.
It’s properly luxurious, but when the road opens up and it come time to unleash the beast, all of that kind of goes out those slightly smaller windows.