Foundational to the formation of NASCAR, Daytona Beach is arguably the most famous “drive-on” beach in the world. Beginning on Atlantic Avenue (highway A1A), racers would run southbound for two miles and take an aggressive left turn, completing the loop on a two-mile stretch of hard packed sandy beach. Although racing has moved to the Daytona International Speedway, driving on the beach continues to be popular with the locals as well as the 8,000,000 tourists that visit Daytona every year. And although I wish I could have witnessed those early days of NASCAR and I enjoy spending time in Daytona, there is a location about a two hour drive up the coast that I would now contend tops the fun, excitement, and beauty of the once world speed record producing stretch, Jacksonville’s very own Huguenot Memorial Park.
Located just off Heckscher Drive, which is itself a visual masterpiece, Huguenot Memorial Park is a 450-acre horseshoe shaped peninsula surrounded by the breathtaking Fort George Inlet, St. Johns River, and the Atlantic Ocean. Huguenot visitors are able to swim, surf, camp overnight, bird watch, and view other wildlife – including the incredible ships located across the river at the Naval Station Mayport. Of course, for an automotive journalist there is one amenity that tops them all, Huguenot allows motorists the rare opportunity to conquer the oft flooded and rutted out roadways and soft sandy beaches from behind the wheel of a street car.
Driving on Huguenot’s beach is typically one of the more relaxing treks you can make, but like all beautiful things, you have to respect the environment. During Memorial Day weekend 2014, the rising tide stranded over 100 people at the park, cars partially submerged by the rising tide. Only the most capable vehicles could escape the surf and in typical Jacksonville fashion good Samaritans rose to the occasion, rescuing stranded vehicles from the pounding waves and sinking sand.
When Land Rover asked me to review the redesigned 5.0L 510hp supercharged V8 powered 2014 Range Rover Sport V8 Autobiography edition, I almost immediately visualized the midsize SUV conquering Huguenots numerous challenges while pampering my family in the opulent cabin. If ever a vehicle was created for the perfect drive-on beach day, it is the 2014 Range Rover Sport V8.
Built from an aluminum monocoque integrated body with aluminum chassis doors, fenders, and hood all covered by a six year unlimited mileage corrosion perforation warranty, the lightweight body panels of the 2014 Range Rover essentially laugh at salt water. The Range Rover’s optional 21-inch wheels and standard permanent four-wheel drive with four-wheel electronic traction control and two-speed electronic transfer box electronic center differential assure excellent traction, even on the gnarliest road – or off-road – conditions.
However, the 461 ft-lb of torque Range Rover Sport V8 makes no compromises that would limit performance to that of a one hit off-road wonder. The ample power, adaptive dynamics and response mean that the Range Rover Sport delivers a driving performance that is typically reserved for the highest priced sports sedans. The independent aluminum front and rear electronic air suspension work in concert with the Rover’s massive supercharged engine and quick shifting eight-speed automatic to create a driving environment that is more closely related to a high speed autobahn cruiser than an off-road monster. Steering is excellent; the speed proportional electric power assist means that even small amounts of wheel input force the 5093 lb Rover to immediately comply. Bringing the five thousand pound SUV to a stop is a cinch thanks to the comically over-sized four wheel ventilated disc Brembo brakes.
In many ways Range Rover is the benchmark standard for luxury SUVs and the 2014 Range Rover Sport V8 Autobiography edition does not disappoint. Virtually every soft-touch surface is leather wrapped; the dark brushed aluminum accent pieces are tastefully realized, providing a subtle balance between luxury and function. The 16-way adjustable power climate memory seats are the perfect blend of soft and sport. Of particular note are the headrests which are hands-down the most comfortable I have ever experienced. I’m not sure if they are filled with some sort of scientifically engineered super foam or angel feathers, but placing your head against the perforated leather is as close as you can get to receiving a hug from a vehicle.
The interior is spacious and cargo space is excellent, but I would be hesitant to recommend the optional $2,000 rear-seating package. The third row package is marketed as a 5+2 option, but even the smallest of children would have a difficult time riding back there for more than a couple of miles. The seats pop-up out of the rear storage area and are front facing, forming a small leather box to contort yourself into. The third row seats would be a more desirable addition for the larger Range Rover, not the Sport version where it proves to be more of a novelty than something truly useful.
On the other hand, if you have the means I would highly recommend the $4,450 optional 1700 watt 23 speaker Meridian Signature audio pack. I consider myself a bit of an audiophile and I am convinced that the Meridian system is among the best sounding available as a factory option in a vehicle. Placing a DVD movie in the system and reclining in the leather seat, head pressed firmly in the headrest is about as close to in-vehicle entertainment nirvana as it gets.
Taking the 2014 Range Rover Sport off-road at Huguenot truly proved, pun intended, to be a day at the park. We arrived while the tide was rolling in and waited until the waves were just about touching the SUV’s wheels before we headed out, ensuring the maximum possibility of getting the 4WD stuck in the soft, wet sand. I switched Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 auto system into the sand setting and started heading towards the beach entrance, having to drive around a tire-spinning, ditch-digging, four-wheel drive pickup truck piloted by a gentlemen who – much to the chagrin of his wife – refused any help freeing the vehicle from the ever increasing grip of the sinking sand. All the while, the Range Rover never even hiccupped; pushing us through the now saturated sand like it was driving on pavement.
The 2014 Range Rover Sport V8 is an expensive vehicle, starting at $79,100 and the heavily optioned Autobiography edition will cost you $105,435 plus fees. Gas mileage is about what I have come to expect from a high horsepower midsize luxury SUV at 14 city and 19 highway. But, if you want to treat yourself to a mini-vacation every time you take a trip to the grocery story, you may want to visit the Land Rover dealer and give it a test drive.