2017 Range Rover Sport Autobiography: Equestrian Road Trip Review
The 2017 Range Rover Sport is an impressive machine, with the supercharged 5.0L V8 packing 510 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful sport utility vehicles sold in the USA. When you tack on the Autobiography trim line, you have a high performance luxury SUV which puts just as much emphasis on performance as it does luxury, but like other high end luxo-performance SUVs, this Range Rover is saddled with the stigma of being a mall crawler. Even though the Range Rover Sport has many of the same features which make other Land Rover models so capable in any driving situation, the fact that many owners do not go off-roading or tow anything with their big, beautiful British SUV leads critics to insist that the vehicles cannot comfortably perform these tasks.
Especially with the supercharged, 510 horsepower Range Rover, critics insist that is a big, heavy gas-guzzling SUV which only serves as a toy. These anti-performance SUV folks will insist that the supercharged Range Rover is a one-trick pony, so I wanted to put this high performance SUV through a few common tasks which many of your average SUVs drivers do from time to time. In addition to the rigors of daily life around town, I would use the Range Rover Sport for a long road trip to one of the world’s most prominent horse shows followed by a local horse show – which including pulling my standard 2-horse test trailer home from the show venue.
Can a supercharged Range Rover serve as a great road trip vehicle and perform the work of my half ton pickup?
Yes and yes.
800 Mile Road Trip to America’s Biggest Horse Show
My extended weekend of equestrian events began with the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event presented by Land Rover in Lexington, Kentucky. That venue and the corresponding hotel are about 400 miles from my house, so on the day before the Rolex 3-Day began, I made the long drive with the 2017 Range Rover Sport.
As you might expect, the premium interior layout of the Autobiography package made for a very comfortable 400 mile drive to Kentucky from Michigan. It was warm when I left the house, so I made good use of the cooled driver’s seat and the massaging feature throughout the duration of the trip south. I used Land Rover’s turn by turn navigation system to get me to the hotel and along the way, the system did a great job of navigating me around traffic situations along my route and when the nav wasn’t talking to me – the high end Meridian sound system was the highlight of the drive through the long, boring stretches of Ohio. When using the buttons on the steering wheel, the driver is able to flip through tracks on the dual USB auxiliary inputs or through the preset satellite radio stations, so you can constantly adjust the sound system on a long trip without taking your hands off of the wheel.()
For the majority of the trip to Kentucky, I set the adaptive cruise control of the Range Rover Sport at 70mph and let the system handle the throttle and breaking along the way. I did find that the traffic gap aspect of the Range Rover’s cruise control is a bit overbearing, even when you shorten up the distance, but unlike so many other adaptive cruise control systems – you can disable to gap distance. This way, if a slower moving car on the highway crosses into your path for a second, the Range Rover won’t suddenly slow down for no reason.
Also, while cruising down the highway for 400 miles, I drove this Range Rover on a variety of road surfaces and in every situation, I was impressed with the ride quality and the low levels of interior noise. Now keep in mind that the Sport package comes with a set of 22 inch black wheels wrapped in low profile tires, which look great, but those low profile tires are prone to absorbing less road harshness. As a result, these huge rollers allow slightly more of the bumps and imperfections in the road to echo into the cabin, but the ride is still as smooth as you would expect from a premium luxury SUV. It is a slightly bumpier ride than a vehicle with smaller wheels, bigger tires and a less aggressive suspension setup, but as high performance SUVs go – the Range Rover Sport offers excellent ride quality at highway speeds.
There was a stretch where I was going a little slower than the posted speed limit due to hard rains and slower traffic, but for the most part, I cruised from Michigan to Lexington, Kentucky at 70mph in complete comfort. I expected that the drive would be smooth and comfortable, but what I didn’t expect was for the supercharged V8 to get excellent fuel economy numbers on that long drive. According to the EPA, this Range Rover should return 14mpg around town and 19mpg on the highway for a combined figure of 16mpg. On my 400-mile drive from Michigan to Kentucky, I averaged 22.1 miles per gallon, driving at 70 miles per hour with the radio, air conditioning and cooled seats kicking.
For a 2.5-ton luxury performance SUV with 510 supercharged horsepower, I consider 22+ miles per gallon to be very impressive, especially since I was not driving in a manner which would lead to stronger fuel economy numbers. While the cruise was set at 70 most of the time, there were a few stints of higher speeds and at no point did I make any effort to drive gently – yet this high performance SUV still got better than 22 miles per gallon.
I spent the next two days driving around Lexington for the Rolex 3-Day Event and during that time, I spent lengthy periods in thick, rush hour traffic as I made my way in and out of the show grounds. When that traffic would clear up, I would let the Range Rover stretch its legs and after a few days at the famous Lexington event, I headed back to Michigan. This trip north was a bit more hurried, so my speeds were a bit higher and my driving was a bit more aggressive. However, even with the higher speeds, I averaged 21.2mpg during the course of my 800-mile road trip to Kentucky and back.
That includes the drive from Michigan to Kentucky, driving around Kentucky for two short days and driving back to Michigan and over the course of roughly 800 miles, the 510hp Range Rover still got better than 21 miles per gallon. That is 21 miles per gallon in a vehicle with massaging, heated and cooled front seats wrapped in plush, premium leather, a high end sound system connected to a premium infotainment system and room for four adults while preserving the cargo space needed for four people’s wort of luggage.
So, with regard to the first question posed above – can a supercharged Range Rover serve as a great road trip vehicle – the answer is a resounding yes. Not only is this high performance SUV a blast to drive when you push it to its limits, but it is a great vehicle for a long road trip. The seats are comfortable, the cabin is quiet, the sound system is incredible and the fuel economy is stunning for a vehicle of this size with these power levels on hand.
Off to the Local Horse Show
After spending a few days driving the Kentucky to watch some of the world’s greatest equestrian athletes, I returned home to Michigan to prepare for my wife’s first horse show of the year. This local horse show included a long drive on a variety of road surfaces rough, unpaved roads, with the 5,000lb horse trailer loaded with two of our champion show horses. The Range Rover Sport has a towing capacity of over 8,000lbs, but for the sake of consistency, I pull this same 5,000lb horse trailer with every truck and SUV which I test. My key concern was the smaller footprint of the Range Rover (relative to a bigger, heavier pickup) making the horse trailer harder to handle when turning or stopping, but I had no concerns about the supercharged V8 packing enough power to pull that extra weight.
Fortunately, all of my concerns proved to be unfounded, as the Range Rover Sport pulled my 2-horse trailer as well as any unibody SUV I have tested in the past few years. Thanks to the massive Brembo brakes, the Range Rover Sport stopped very easily from normal towing speeds and when roadwork caused traffic to back up suddenly on the highway, the big brakes coupled with the surge breaks on the trailer got the combo slowed in a hurry, every time. More importantly, whether cruising at highway speeds or cutting through the narrow, twisty roads around the show venue, the Range Rover Sport had no issues cornering with the extra 5,000lbs out back. Some unibody SUVs (which are typically smaller and lighter than body-on-frame SUVs) will feel like they are being pushed around by the trailer, when making tight turns, but the wide, low stance of the Range Rover made for very stable handling in every situation.
The only “problem” that I discovered when pulling the 2-horse trailer with the 2017 Range Rover Sport was that the vehicle sits so low that I couldn’t get my trailer jack out from under the trailer. To hook up the trailer, I had to line up the hitch and ball using the integrated back-up camera, lower the trailer down to the ball, then get back into the SUV and lift the suspension up to the off-road setting. At that point, I could remove the trailer jack and move the trailer. Mind you, it doesn’t sit low enough while moving to create an unpleasant trailer angle, but with my trailer, I had to play with the adjustable suspension to hook up the trailer.
So hooking up the trailer was a bit more entailed than some vehicles, but that was truly the only downside when towing the horse trailer with the supercharged Range Rover Sport Autobiography. While I stayed below the speed limit for the safety of our living, breathing cargo out back, I barely had to touch the throttle to maintain highway speeds, so I suspect that it could have gone far, far faster than the posted limit even with the extra 5,000lbs hooked up. With the extra weight, the Range Rover may have stopped a touch slower than when unladed, but the cornering and road handling characteristics of the Sport package lead to a big SUV which drives as well as any half ton truck I have tested.
Finally, in addition to towing the horse trailer without hardly breaking a sweat, the 2017 Range Rover Sport handled the rough roads around the show venue better than I expected. While the gigantic 22 inch wheels with low profile tires are the furthest thing from the ideal off-roading setup, even sections of roadway which were flooded with 6 inches of mud proved to be no challenge for the Range Rover. Again, even with the extra 5,000lbs hanging off of the back end, this high performance SUV was right at home in the mud – showing the heritage of the Land Rover brand in their premium on-road performance model.
The Final Word
The 2017 Range Rover Sport Autobiography is a big, beautiful luxury SUV with a supercharged engine delivering 510 horsepower. There is a good chance that many of these vehicles are restricted to paved roads in high tax bracket areas where they never get dirty, let alone tow a horse trailer through deep mud. However, just because most owners don’t do certain things with the Range Rover doesn’t mean that it won’t do those things and I learned that first hand during my week-long equestrian testing with the supercharged Sport Autobiography.
When it comes to unibody, luxury SUVs, I don’t believe that there is a competitor on the market which combines on-road performance, premium comfort on a long road trip, off-roading ability and the capacity to safely and securely pull a 5,000lb horse trailer as well as the 2017 Range Rover Sport. The interior comforts of the Autobiography package makes this one of the most comfortable SUVs of this size on the market today and for most people, that alone is enough to warrant the $95k price tag, but this big SUV is more than just a pretty cabin. The 510hp supercharged V8 makes it one of the quickest and most capable SUVs on the market and should the need arise – this SUV can handle off-roading situations like a proper Land Rover.
Really, the Range Rover Sport Autobiography might just be the ultimate SUV for a buyer who wants a fast daily driver which can serve as a great road trip vehicle or a hard worker, so while the $95,455 price tag is a bit much for the average buyer to swallow – this SUV combines working ability, luxury, on-road performance and off-road performance better than anything I’ve tested.