Model year 2017 changes:
Editors' note, August 21, 2017: This review was written based on an evaluation of the 2016 Range Rover Sport. See the changes for the 2017 model year above.
Scooting the 2016 Range Rover Sport Td6 over into a pocket on the side of a fire road to let other traffic squeeze by, the guy in the first truck says there's a downed tree ahead that he couldn't get under, so I'd probably have to turn around. The guy in the second truck asks after his dogs, the playful pack of black labs wearing radio tracking collars I passed coming up the road. I talk to him about the dogs for a bit, and he says they are tracking a bear.
Welcome to the wilds of Idaho, one of our lesser-populated states that, however, has some of the best highways and Interstates in the country, not to mention big river canyons, lakes and heavily forested mountains. I'm in the middle of a 2,500-plus mile roadtrip, driving the new diesel-powered Range Rover Sport from San Francisco.
This well-packed fire road, running up Cougar Mountain near Coeur d'Alene, sees plenty of use, but trees fall frequently across its path. The locals probably scoffed at the upscale Range Rover Sport as they passed me, but I had no problem cruising under the fallen tree across the road. Further up, things got a little hairy as the rain increased and the road's ruts deepened.
That's when I engaged the Mud and Ruts setting on the Terrain Response System, letting the Range Rover Sport compensate for slip through a combination of locking differentials and automated braking system work. The air suspension lifted, keeping the chassis off the mud and the tires in contact with the track.
It was a moderate test of the Range Rover Sport's abilities, and a chance to see some of the more impressive Idaho terrain, despite the reported presence of bears.
Getting to that mountain in Idaho required many miles driving through California and the sweeping, high desert of Nevada. When I hit Reno and fueled up, the Range Rover Sport's mileage didn't impress me as much as I had hoped. 25.6 mpg seemed low for this truck's turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine after 300 miles of Interstate-driving, a bit under the EPA's estimated 28 mpg for highway driving.
Throughout the trip I would find that this diesel was happiest with the 55 and 60 mph speed limits of Washington and Oregon, where its average economy reached a high of 27.6 mpg.
Searching for diesel in Reno proved easy enough, after I dug into the Automotive points-of-interest category in the Range Rover Sport's navigation system. However, subsequent searches for specific place names proved so complicated that I resorted to my phone. Land Rover is on the verge of rolling out a new infotainment system for its vehicles, which will hopefully offer a better destination search interface. Even better would be support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, neither features being available in Land Rover's current system.
With its 23.5-gallon tank, I was looking at just over 500 miles between fill-ups, which proved especially useful during the desolate drive through Nevada to Winnemucca, then up the lonely Highway 95 through Washington and into Idaho, where fueling stations were very few and far between. This stretch proved the comfort of the Range Rover Sport, as its air suspension mitigated the toll on my body and limited the need for rest stops.
Further adding to the big sky ambiance of the high desert was the Range Rover Sport's Meridian audio system, its 19 speakers and 825-watt amp serving up detailed and balanced sound. Featuring the usual digital audio sources, including satellite radio, two USB ports for my phone or a thumb drive and Bluetooth streaming, I enjoyed the system's very crisp reproduction, with scintillating highs and profound bass.
After a night in Boise, I was lured to the southeast to see the spot where Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket cycle. The 80 mph speed limit on Interstate 84 made the detour from my northward journey more palatable, and seeing that historic point, along with the beauty of the Shoshone Falls, confirmed this decision.
Adaptive Cruise Control in the Range Rover Sport, automatically keeping distance from slower vehicles ahead, helped ease the long highway miles, although I found on curvier roads the system was prone to misidentifying which cars were actually in the the lane ahead of me. And while the car warned me if I drifted over a lane line, it did not actively attempt to keep itself from drifting over.
Following Highway 55 (connecting to 95) from north of Boise to Coeur d'Alene took me through spectacular river canyons on surprisingly well-kept roads. Through the twistier bits I tried to exercise the third word in the Range Rover Sport's name, but alas, this model was more limited in capability compared to the gasoline-fueled supercharged V8 version I drove a couple of years ago. My diesel V6 model lacked the Dynamic setting on the Terrain Response Setting, which stiffens up the suspension and allows for hard cornering. In the turns, the softness of the suspension proved a detriment, letting the body wallow.
The diesel V6, throwing out 254 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, wasn't really game for this type of behavior, either. Putting the eight-speed automatic into Sport mode held the revs a little higher, but the engine didn't offer the kind of turn-exit horsepower to make for satisfying sport driving.
Beyond Idaho, I cruised into Washington, visiting Spokane and the Coulee dam, following the highways through more spectacular terrain down to the Hanford Reach National Monument, site of a secret nuclear reactor built during World War 2. After following the broad Columbia river to the ocean, I was treated to more natural beauty along the Oregon coast, driving amidst the Range Rover Sport amidst redwood forests.
While the 2016 Range Rover Sport Td6 didn't demonstrate the twisty road agility of the gasoline version I had driven earlier, it was the best option for this road trip. With an average EPA fuel economy 6 mpg better than the gasoline V6 version of the Range Rover Sport, I likely saved quite a bit of fuel and got better range.
The engine had enough oomph for passing maneuvers, but more importantly, the Range Rover Sport was just very comfortable to drive over so many miles. The driver-assistance features aren't exactly cutting edge, but the adaptive cruise control was fine for the interstates. As a bonus, automated high beams illuminated dark mountain highways, and flawlessly switched to low beams for traffic ahead.
The dashboard electronics remain serviceable, with the sort of features that have become common over the last five years. However, I'm eager to see Land Rover's next generation of navigation head unit.
What gives the Range Rover Sport an advantage over many an SUV are its offroad systems, opening up scenic possibilities beyond what most travelers will see from the paved highways.