It used to be a well-known truth: getting an SUV that conquered the rough-and-tumble of off-roading and had good driving dynamics on the road was a holy grail, like marrying a woman with the physique of Lolo Jones and the brains of Marie Curie. Nowadays, that vehicular combination is no longer as elusive as you think — and you can either spend a pretty penny that gets nods in both baller and ballroom circles alike or opt for something that will go over swimmingly with the weekend warrior crowd. Either way, what you get in both the 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport and the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk are excellent on-road manners and the kind of off-road chops that will have herds of mountain goats bowing in respect. You just have to decide how much you plan on doling out.
2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport
The first RR Sport was a huge success, a direct consequence of well-to-doers wanting some good Brit street cred that hustles with muscle. This all-new Range Rover Sport is that much better, dropping the weight equivalent of several of your larger friends with a copious use of aluminum in the body and the chassis. The Sport uses the eight-speed ZF automatic tranny from its big brother Range Rover — the electrically assisted rack-and pinion steering, fat brake discs and independent suspension, too. Opt for the 340 hp base engine’s supercharged six cylinders and the Sport moves with alacrity, but the 510 hp supercharged V8 is much quicker to 60 (5.0 versus 6.9 seconds). The air-suspension system generously offers four ride heights, and the active roll control and torque vectoring keeps things in check when the pavement driving becomes more aggressive. But it’s not all street without off-road chops. The Terrain Response 2 all-wheel-drive system means the Sport takes on off-roading like a beaver to fresh wood.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
It’s the dirt-loving bad boy of the four Cherokee models, with its extra inch of ground clearance, better approach and departure angles and three bona fide tow hooks. It also gets fat fender flares, real (not decorative) skid plates, an auxiliary transmission-oil cooler and better cooling than its brothers. The Jeep Active Drive Lock, a low range and a locking rear differential all come standard. Yea, its “Trail Rated” badge isn’t just for show. The Selec-Terrain traction-control system lets drivers choose between auto, snow, sport, sand/mud, and rock — and it can crawl like a Wrangler, too, thanks in part to a hill descent and ascent assist that regulates engine torque and brake pressure.
What about when roads are paved and speed picks up? The 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 is good for 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque. It even drives impressively, with great feedback and maneuvering chops. You won’t see it come close to besting the Range Rover Sport’s speeds, but it will move nicely on road and hold more than its own when things get rocky, muddy or covered in snow.