Tuesday, October 4, 2022
News 2023 Range Rover Sport First Drive: Plug-in to Win

2023 Range Rover Sport First Drive: Plug-in to Win

Strong points

  • Off-road unstoppable
  • Plug-in variant gets generous EV range and fast charging
  • New infotainment a step up

Weaknesses

  • Heavy, in all its forms
  • P530 model doesn’t get quite the handling chops promised by the powertrain

 

Madrid, Spain — For 2023, the Range Rover 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). The Sport is no longer offered as a three-row SUV; for 2023, if you want three rows of seating, you’ll have to opt for the full-size Range Rover. Which is probably how it should always have been, but wasn’t because Land Rover originally saw the Sport as the more affordable and family-oriented take.

We were given the chance to put both the traditional ICE model and PHEV model through their paces on the sinewy roads in and around Madrid, but being Range Rover, they also wanted us to put them through their paces 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 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 with its 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Even with that big motor, though, it’s not the heaviest model. That title is reserved for the PHEV variant.

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

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 Range Rover claims has had customers likening it to the Range Rover’s younger, tattooed sibling.

As eye-catching as all that is, the wheels are the real draw. For the first time ever on the Sport, they measure in at 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 millimetres 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 kilos 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 Range stuff we love; top-class leather seating, panel gaps so tight you’d have a hard time jamming a playing card in, some great carbon inserts whose finish look like something you’d see on a granite coffee table – how cool is that? – plus some interesting bits like partial fabric door liners which you’d think would look cheap, but somehow work in these environs.

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

There are also a host of digital displays but there are less than previous, 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 as 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 hods the volume knob, on/off button, drive mode dial and from which sprouts 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, and it helps reduce cabin clutter.

The main infotainment display is an elegant, concave item with sharp graphics and nicely sensitive touchscreen. It’s a very elegant affair, even more so as it’s no longer fighting for your attention with a lower screen as previous, which looked somewhat cheap and became a mess of fingerprints right quickly.

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

At low speeds in normal drive mode – set by pressing the drive mode button down – the Sport is a proper Range; smooth steering wheel action that is 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 its non-Sport sibling.

Acceleration from stop is fierce, to the tune of 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds and on to a 250 km/h top speed. While those figures are rarely going to get put to the test by most owners, it’s nice to know that it’s capable of all that, you know?

Plus, you don’t have to be doing timed runs in order to feel the fury of this powertrain, and to hear the howl from those bloody great big quad exhaust outlets. If you only knew Range Rovers for how they amble over greasy British moors or glided smoothly along Rodeo Drive, then this would be a whole other experience to you.

All new Sport models are stiffer thanks to extensive use of materials like aluminum and boron, while the Sport gets adaptive dampers to help it pull through the corners just as well as it can pull down a straight.

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

It’s not bad in these situations, the Sport, as it pulls gamely enough through tighter curves as the strong brakes help reign it in for the corner and the big power pulls you gamely out.

It’s on the longer sweepers where chinks in the armor begin to show, revolving not so much around the weight, but around the steering. Even in Sport mode, there’s too much of an off-centre deadzone meaning what feel like smaller corrections become larger ones once the front end begins to engage, and that means more corrections through these longer corners. It’s then that the weight becomes a bit of an issue because all those little corrections lead to body movements and as these get more repetitive, things get a little more unsettled.

The situation is aided, however, by the addition of rear-wheel steering, which turns the rear wheels in the same direction as the front wheels at speed to help stabilize the Sport through turns. At lower speeds, meanwhile, they can swivel up to 7.3 degrees in the opposite direction of the fronts to help shrink the turn radius.

Of course, we’ve seen V8s and sixes from the Sport before; what we haven’t seen is a plug-in hybrid model. For 2023, Range Rover has obliged with the P440e model. It adds a 104 kw EV motor attached to the transmission and 38.2 kWh battery to the proceedings, which combine to make 434 hp and 457 lb-ft. Range Rover claims it’s good for up to 50 miles (about 80 km) of EV driving in the right conditions. The highway driving we mostly did had us going from 100 per cent charge to 17 per cent over just under 150 km and while that wasn’t in full EV mode the whole way though, it does bode well for the P440e’s performance in slower traffic, where EV powertrains excel.

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

Speaking of EV driving: drivers do have the ability to select an EV mode, and it will stay in EV mode even if you select the Sport drive mode. Even dumping full throttle didn’t cancel it out, and it stayed in that mode until we selected “S” on the transmission, at which point it did revert to Hybrid mode. There’s also a “Save” mode that will ensure you maintain a charge until you most need it, say when trudging through rush hour traffic. Speaking of maintaining a charge: you can plug the 440e into a DC fast charger; that’s not something that can be said for your typical plug-in hybrid vehicle, which usually come equipped with level II 240V chargeability.

Also good is that the EV motor can send power to all four wheels, meaning it can be a big help in off-road situations as well. We were able to take the P440e’s slightly more powerful (and not for Canada) P510e variant off-road, where we got to test the 274 mm of ride height the Sport gets in its highest setting, the hill-descent system and off-road drive modes.

The hill descent control system is automatically activated when you select low-range mode via a button press, and you can easily select the speed at which you want to travel by toggling the cruise control speed. That means you can take your feet off the pedals and focus on the steering, while cameras looking forward and over each front wheel help you place the Sport within inches of the various obstacles a good off-road trail will fling at you – there’s also a trick played by the cameras that can essentially see through the hood of the Sport, for an even better view forward and beneath you.

Needless to say, the Sport handled all of this in stride, rarely spinning a tire, rarely hitting the bump stops. Whoever told you Range Rovers were just for hitting the strip has obviously never attempted to let one essentially drive itself down a 30-degree grade covered in loose shale before.

That’s really what’s so impressive about all this. It’s not just the price, or the luxurious accoutrements or the big V8 on the P530. The Range Rover Sport just feels so comfortable in these environs that even covered in off-road grime, it just seems right. Now, with the addition of the P440e model, it has covered a base that needs covering to compete this day in age in this segment.

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

2023 Range Rover Sport | Photo: Dan Heyman

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