2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport the world’s best SUV?

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Is the new Range Rover Sport more at home on pavement or off? The only possible answer is ‘Yes.’

Take the 5-liter supercharged V-8 from the Jaguar F-Type and tune it up to 510 horsepower. Slip it, and an 8-speed transmission, under the bonnet—sorry, hood—of a new, all-aluminum Range Rover, one that’s lost 800 pounds but is bigger inside. Add the latest on- and off-road performance hardware and software, and wrap it all up in the creature comforts of a deluxe sedan.

Welcome to the 2014 Range Rover Sport, the SUV that puts a bit of extra spring in the step of Stuart Frith, chief program engineer. When I asked him what he is proudest of in his new baby, he demurely replied, “It’s the way the vehicle seems to stretch the laws of physics.”

Indeed. We were driving a Fuji White – Ebony Leather Sport with the full toy chest on board and had stopped at the Range Rover factory in Solihull, England.

We had miles yet to go and were edging toward the door after lunch when Mike Bishop, one of the off-road instructors, collared me and said—nicely—hold on, mate, you’ve yet to undergo the full Range Rover Experience. So we went to the Jungle Track.

Good thing, because otherwise I would not have believed that a luxury speed-sled can wade through that much water, climb (and descend) such steep and slippery pitches, and tiptoe over such epically jagged (and greasy) terrain—so casually and easily, and with no drama (or leaking) whatsoever. On street tires. While listening to BBC Radio 3 through 23 speakers.

Truly. Been there, done that. The Range Rover Sport’s engine air intakes are tucked up under the hood where they’re protected from water.

Had I been able to tear my eyes away from what I was traversing, I’d have been able to see, on the 8-inch touch screen, both axles articulating up and down independently, both differentials automatically locking and unlocking themselves for best grip, and the water depth and incline angles displayed for our amusement. The bow camera provided an underwater view, but we didn’t spot any fish.

Then the Range Rover Sport showed off the rest of its portfolio. On the motorways, its natural habitat is the passing lane. Up in the Scottish Highlands, it muscled through the glens with a baritone growl, slicing along the tight and twisty B roads like a running back who’d escaped from ballet class.

Click the shift lever over to Sport and dial up Dynamic on the multi-mode Terrain Response knob. Now the suspension goes all racetrack, the throttle and transmission responses sharpen, the torque vectoring increases and the instrument dials turn red. The car changes from merely agile and responsive to nearly sports-car acute, and seems to lose another 800 pounds. It turns out that a Range Rover Sport V-8 recently set the Pikes Peak Hillclimb record for a production SUV.

A 400-mile dash from the Highlands down to London was pain-free in the Range Rover Sport’s plush cabin.

So there’s Engineer Frith’s stretching—or shredding—of the laws of physics, on the blacktop and out in the tules and anywhere inbetween. Still, his new Sport isn’t perfect. The computer menus can get tediously complex.

The electronic shifter requires care. Although 90 MPH arrives at barely more than 2000 RPM, we never got better than 21 MPG. (This is especially painful in the UK, where gas costs $9 per gallon.

Most Brits order their Range Rovers in diesel.) The rear-view camera gets blurry in the rain and the carbon-fiber interior trim is a bit dour for my taste.

But the Sport is perfect enough to make me buy extra Powerball tickets.

Safety and emissions rules, and even driving preferences, are evening out between the US, the UK and Europe, so there are just two big differences between a British-spec 2014 Range Rover Sport and the one sold here: The steering wheel is on the other side; and this loaded Autobiography Dynamic Sport V-8 that lists for £81,550 in Britain—$131,564.33 at today’s exchange rate—is available in the US for just $102,290. (The difference is mostly the UK’s awful 20% Value Added Tax.)

Yes, that’s still big money. But one new Range Rover Sport can free up the other four slots in your 5-car garage. You’ll no longer need the sports sedan, the limo, the enclosed all-terrain vehicle for five, or your old daily errand-runner. Makes a hundred grand look pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

—Silvio Calabi