Nothing stamps out and rivets-together an abstract concept like the Range Rover. It’s more than an SUV. It’s fancy. It’s important. It’s rolling royalty for god-sakes, man. It was good enough to put in the Louvre 40 years ago and now it’s better than ever.

Plus, puppies love it!

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But the thing is, there’s now two major flavors of Range Rover you can get — the smaller, sportier Sport, and the larger normal Range Rover, which I just tested in extended wheelbase form. Both are great. Almost perfect, in fact. But which is better?

(Disclosure: Land Rover let me borrow the Range Rover Sport Supercharged and long-wheelbase Range Rover, both powered by the same engine. I’m also the kind of delusional Land Rover fanboy who sometimes misses his Discovery 1.)

Decades of well-executed brand marketing, product placements, and a strong alliterative name have paid off for the Range Rover brand. Now it’s parked perfectly in this status-symbol niche that says; “I’m rich, I want you to know it, but I don’t really want you to know, that I want you to know it.”

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That, I’m told, is what passes for “class” these days. And it will never stop being appealing to the people who can spend $100,000 on a vehicle.

But seriously, think about all the really expensive true SUVs you can buy right now. Eliminate all the ones that are lifted cars (BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes GLE) and let’s look at how the Range Rover compares to what else you might spend your money on:

Toyota Land Cruiser: Comfortable, capable, as cripplingly unsexy as those toe-glove shoes a Silicon Valley exec might make their employees wear.

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Mercedes G-Wagen: Primitive, so much capability the AMG version literally trips over itself on and off-road, so garish you need another radar detector just to watch out for the Fashion Police.

Infiniti QX80: “Hmm. Never heard of it.”

Cadillac Escalade: No pretense of off-road ability. But more importantly American chauvinism is beer guts and diabetes. British chauvinism is Downton Abbey and lusting after Kate Middleton. Also Hugh Grant, charming befuddlement, and whatever crumpets are.

In this market “image” obviously weighs heavily on our opinion of these vehicles and ultimately buyers’ decisions. But the Range Rover’s deathblow to rivals is its legitimate and uncompromising capability.

I know I just finished telling you the Jeep Wrangler is great because it really feels like an off-roader, but the Range Rover is also great because it doesn’t. The V8 models, and the Sport in particular, are more than just flashy sprinters when you mash the gas at a green light. They’re genuinely decently-balanced and downright exceptional on pavement for anything that can off-road so well.

Which brings me to the point that, holy crap, modern Range Rovers really can pull off some incredible feats and they’re nigh unstoppable if you swap the all-season tires for some knobbies.

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Yes, the 550-horsepower thunderstick known as Range Rover Sport SVR is the top of Land Rover’s performance heap right now. But with that “loud button” and Hot Wheels body kit, it’s such an antithesis to the subtle superiority Range Rover stands for I’m gonna have to say it lives in a slot of its own.

Are you annoyed that you’ve read so much about Range Rovers without learning anything about what they’re actually like to drive? Believe it or not this started out as a comparison between the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, how each vehicle took to the supercharged V8 engine and if one was “better” than the other.

But that proved difficult to quantify. Six months after driving these vehicles, my head is still spinning with all the hyperbole of a dealership brochure they’re just that good. Neither the Range Rover or Range Rover Sport is “better” than the other. They are both just Best, for reasons I’ve already outlined.

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That said, for vehicles with the same name and the same engine the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport Supercharged are actually each pretty distinct.

Design

The Range Rover has stayed true to its original design, maybe not as well as the Wrangler, but the profile is unmistakable. The shape, that glorious shape with all the right notches and a couple angles, has been augmented with some LED rings in the headlights because that’s what’s fancy now.

But it still has a flattish face, a long and wide hood, a trapezoidal windshield, and a raked rear pillar. Just like Spen King and his lads scribbled out on a bar napkin over a pint of Guinness or however that went down.

The longwheel base version, or “L” as is written on the fender, compromises the look in favor of massive rear-seat luxury. Now stretching one SUV to make another SUV seems to work pretty well for GM; both the Suburban and Tahoe have always been stylistically tidy.

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But since the Range Rover’s been elongated to make more legroom as opposed to cargo space, the proportions get a little wacky and the rig looks weird from the side. There, I said it, one of the few faults I can find with a Range Rover.

The look of the Sport has been improved vastly since the vehicle’s introduction about a decade ago, and from certain angles that rear-pillar rake reminds me more of the early-90’s Range Rover “classic” than the current full size model does.

But parked next to the “real deal,” the Range Rover Sport still looks a bit like a little brother trying on daddy’s tuxedo. It’s handsome, but not the real deal.

On-Road Performance

Put a supercharged V8 in anything and you’re gonna have a good time. This engine sends the 2015 Range Rover ahead with the spirt of a runaway locomotive, and in the smaller Sport it’s ready to make any drivable surface bend to your will.

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Running the exact same blown 5.0-liter V8 with 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque, Range Rover Sport obliterates the big guy. Maybe not on paper, who has time to make a spreadsheet? I’m talking about the only measurement that matters: my butt dyno.

And my body tells me the Sport snaps ahead when you hit the gas, tucks and rolls without reservation when you turn the wheel, and ten-huts like Spartan warrior when you reel it in with its enormous brakes.

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It just. Feels. Sportier. [ducks to avoid rotten tomato]

The full-sized Range Rover is quick too, but just by virtue of being a few more inches off the ground it doesn’t feel quite so eager to dive to that exit from the fast lane. Hah, not that you won’t. Don’t worry, everybody else will get out of your way.

Off-Road Puddle-Smashing

If the Range Rover feels more at home in dirt than the Sport, it’s only because of how much taller the driver’s seat is. Both vehicles are incredible scramblers, and both climbed my favorite mountain of snowy shale pretty easily on all-season tires.

These vehicles have proven that they’re extremely intelligent system of traction control and differentials can keep moving through really nasty stuff whether it’s sticky or slippery. The only problem with actually using a Range Rover off-road is the prohibitively high repair cost of inevitable damage.

Interior and Luxuriation

The main surfaces that aren’t soft-touch are an uninterrupted ocean of smooth glossiness like a sleeping computer screen. Starts to look a lot less sexy once the first fingerprint fudges it up but hey, your passengers are sure to be impressed as long as they keep their grubby mitts off the console.

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The Sport’s seats are a lot more aggressive, and the shifter taking up a prominent portion of the center console gives the vehicle a much more fast-driving vibe.

Each of the vehicles use nice leather, real leather. Which is great for the first owner who lovingly applies conditioner every week, not so great after a month when that gets old. When leather this soft isn’t cared for it gets wrinkly and cracks. Check out the pilot’s seat of this Sport with a couple thousand miles on it:

“This is why we can’t have nice things.” But really though, Ford had the same issue with the first King Ranch trucks- the super-nice leather turned to shit because nobody could be bothered to look after it, now we get stuck with the same stuff you get in an Arby’s booth with a nice dye on it. That’s a joke, obviously, but still.

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Tucking into the Sport feels like climbing into a small fighter jet, while the front seat of a Range Rover is more like the command deck on a cruise ship. Back seats are workable in Sport, quite literally fit for royalty in the long wheelbase variant.

I wasn’t too sure about the Range Rover’s white leather option, but I am most certainly offended by the tubes of neon-looking accent lighting that seems to have spread through the truck like a malevolent vine. It’s so... nouveau riche. Pisses all over the vehicle’s otherwise extremely elegant vibe, I say be gone with it.

Fuel Economy

The engine has the same EPA estimated fuel economy in both the long wheelbase full-size Range Rover and the smaller Sport, despite a 200 pound difference in curb weight and slightly different aerodynamic profile (Cd 0.01). So I’d call the figures of 14 MPG city, 19 MPG highway “slightly inaccurate” at best, but you’re not buying either of these vehicles for frugality. There’s a diesel hybrid variant for that!

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We hung out around 18 average over a few hundred miles in the Range Rover, and closer to 16 in the lighter Range Rover Sport. Hey, I had a lot more trouble driving gently.

So which one should you buy?

The Range Rover still embodies the spirt the company created when they took a simple but elegant design, tucked in a nice interior, and mounted the whole deal on a farm wagon. It’s just a lot more modernized. The vehicle carries itself with experience, class, and subtlety.

The Sport is like the hotshot first-year analyst who rode dad’s coattails to a killer Wall Street office but dammit, now he’s gonna go out and get even richer. It’s in your face, it’s working harder to impress you, but with a significantly lower price tag than the full-sizer and pretty well comparable capability it’s an enticing prospect in its own right.

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Even with the same engine, you get two totally different personalities between the regular Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport. The original is smooth and straight-laced, the Sport’s redesign is more aggressive than ever. The Sport might be a better candidate for a one-car household since it’s got plenty of luxury, cargo space, and offers a more engaging driving experience than its big brother.

But if you can afford a Range Rover you can probably put something else in your garage too, and a long wheelbase super SUV would be a perfect foil to something like... a Jaguar F-Type. Hey, get the V8 and you’ll have a donor-parts car in a pinch!

On that bombshell, I’ll leave you with my favorite photo on Truck Yeah! taken so far:

Images by the author


Andrew P. Collins is Jalopnik’s off-road and adventure guy. Shoot him an email at andrew@jalopnik.com or hit him up on Twitter @andr3wcollins to talk trucks.