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December 22, 2023updated Jan 08, 2024

A Loire Valley Road Trip in the New Range Rover Sport

Land Rover has redesigned its luxury SUV – with impressive results.

By Oli Smith

Since the first Range Rover prototype emerged back in 1967 the sub-brand from Land Rover has gone from strength to strength and finds itself in the enviable position of being the last word in 4×4 luxury.

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, so Land Rover can feel jolly pleased about the fact that they effectively created a segment that has now attracted names such as Bentley and Rolls Royce. While these competitors certainly make a good fist of vying for market share, if you truly want to rove some ranges, there really is only one option.

So that’s how it was, decked out in tweed, wafting around effortlessly and all feeling jolly pleased with ourselves. However, in the late nineties, BMW decided it wanted to home in on the SUV market, leaving the motoring press perplexed when it chose to launch its all-new 4×4 at a racing circuit. Firmly focused on the ‘Sports’ in ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’, the X5 was born. Needless to say, it was an instant hit and ears in Warwickshire began to prick up.

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Range Rover Sort interior
The interior of the Range Rover Sport / ©Land Rover

Pencils were sharpened and blank sheets of paper were sent to the draughtsman. In 2005 it arrived: the Range Rover Sport. Met with a mixed reception, the vehicle was aimed at a new market previously untapped by the Land Rover brand.

This brings us to the present day where an early drop-off sees me staring at the all-new 2023 Range Rover Sport sitting outside my house. The reason for this is there is serious business to be undertaken (I will draw the line at using the word ‘mission’), the cellar is dry, Christmas looms and the Loire valley is only five hours south of Calais.

After realizing that I still couldn’t fold a map, a route was planned, hotels were booked, and I was en route to the Eurotunnel. The efficiency and speed of the channel tunnel is always impressive; twenty-five minutes later and I emerge blinking into the drizzle.

I settle into the five-hour drive and start to get to grips with the Range Rover Sport. New technology abounds but I’m delighted to say things such as climate and heated seats are still tangible controls and not hidden in a distracting thicket of touchscreen menus (I’m looking at you VW). Scrolling through the menus I see that at 130kph the 3.0L, 6 cylinder is thrumming along at over 30MPG. C’est superbe!

Range Rover Sport controls
Climate and heated seats are still tangible controls / ©Land Rover

The heart of the Loire region really is stunning in Autumn. The green grass contrasts against the yellowing vines and the hillsides have an almost fauvist quality to them. The roads are littered with signposts for local wineries and vineyards, often selling fantastic wines that are very reasonably priced.

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Voted the prettiest village in France year after year, Sancerre is a funny little place. Sprinkled on a hilltop surrounded by slopes covered in vines it’s everything that you would expect from a famous wine town in the Loire. The river runs at the foot of the hill and this most easterly section of the Loire wine region gives way to rolling countryside and then the next region over which is glorious Burgundy.

A wrong turn on my part sees me very much off-road. The sun is out now but it’s been raining for a few days, so the ground is squelching with mud. Praying that the Range Rover Sport is as capable off-road as its siblings, I raise the suspension, select ‘Mud & Ruts’ mode and gingerly prod the throttle. Getting stuck while trashing someone’s land is never a good look and with a seemingly gallic shrug, 2.3 tons of leather, metal and wine was effortlessly back in motion. As the tarmac beckoned, I switched it back to road mode, the suspension settled back down and once more I was on my way.

After a period of vine-less landscape, Burgundy arrived and I decided to buck the red wine trend by stopping off to collect a couple of bottles of Chablis in, you guessed it, Chablis. Troyes was my overnight stop so as the Burgundian hills ebbed away, the chalk soil and rolling landscape of Champagne was upon me.

Range Rover Sport
The Range Rover Sport / ©Land Rover

The outskirts of Troyes are eclectic at best from an architectural standpoint as I started to think that maybe I should’ve picked somewhere else to stay. In a matter of seconds, however, the most beautiful medieval center presents itself and you’re ensconced in something reminiscent of a Grimm fairytale. I lament the short-sightedness of the medieval town planners as the girth of the Range Rover is more than a match for the narrow-cobbled streets. After locking the suspension into its lowest setting and holding my breath, the behemoth is threaded into an underground carpark and left to rest for the evening.

The following day comes with a heavy heart, not just because England beckons but because I know that my time with the Range Rover Sport is coming to an end. The journey from Troyes to Calais is dispensed with ease making me love this car even more. It feels like it has personality, it’s big and important looking but underneath it feels earnest in a way that it wants to work hard for you and see you arrive safely and unfatigued at your destination.

A whisker under £90,000 (approx. $114,000) is a lot of money for anyone, but when you consider the work that has gone into producing something as capable, handsome (the front, not the back) and luxurious as this, it starts to be justifiable. For the first time, I feel like the Range Rover Sport has stepped out from under the shadow of its bigger brother. Class leading? Yes. Class defining? Certainly. Lovable? Most definitely.

landrover.co.uk

[See also: The Luxury Cars Putting Wellness First]

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