NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Been to Beverly Hills in the last year? If you have, you'd know that there is a new most-popular SUV in town: the Range Rover Sport (from Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors (TTM) - Get Report). You can't turn around without seeing one.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Range Rover Sport has become Hollywood's favorite SUV: It's the best-looking one on the market. I try avoiding to opine too much on automotive beauty, because it's so subjectively in the eyes of the beholder, but in this case I'm comfortable making an exception. I simply can't think of a better-looking SUV.
But is beauty more than skin-deep?
To find out, I drove two versions of this SUV, which starts at $64,345. The first one was the base engine, which is the near-ubiquitous Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) supercharged V6 that powers all of its rear-wheel drive-based cars, and has 340 horsepower wedded to the same kind of 8-speed automatic gearbox used by numerous automakers from BMW and Audi to Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.
The particular unit I drove cost approximately $80,000 (over $15,000 worth of options); there was no need for more horsepower. The large JLR supercharged engines have some of the very best characters in the industry, and this implementation didn't disappoint. It would be the rarest person who got into this car and said "Wow, if it weren't for the fact that it needed more power...."
With its dazzling exterior beauty as a backdrop, the interior still looks good, but it's not a standout in its price class, though as good as the best.
The seats are a bit too hard and flat for my taste. A BMW X5 or Volvo XC90 will give you better seat comfort. (Speaking of the all-new 2016 Volvo XC90, it's probably the only SUV that matches the Range Rover Sport's exterior beauty, and clearly beats it on the inside.)
The main weakness of the Range Rover Sport's interior is the aging infotainment system, which does not offer Google's (GOOG) - Get Report (GOOGL) - Get Report Android Auto or Apple (AAPL) - Get Report CarPlay. There is a new custom infotainment system coming in a couple of Jaguars (XJ and XF) this fall -- and presumably in the Range Rover models next year -- but it remains to be seen how that system will match up with the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay systems that many of the competitors -- including the Volvo XC90 -- will offer.
The driving dynamics of the Range Rover Sport are decidedly on the sporty side. Normally, even the term "SUV" (sport utility vehicle) is somewhere between a joke and an oxymoron, as there is no "sport" involved. This is one of the rare exceptions. I flogged the Range Rover Sport in curves and the handling was far beyond what most other SUVs could even dream of offering.
The price you pay for the superior handling is that the ride is a bit stiff. When you sit that high up, and the car is that heavy, you can't get great handling without making the whole thing extremely stiff.
Speaking of paying a price, I got 15 miles-per-gallon in the city and 21 on the highway, which is par for the class, but still not a great number. This weakness is expected to be cured this fall, when the Range Rover Sport gets an optional diesel engine for $1,500 extra. It is expected to get about 22 miles-per-gallon in the city and 28 on the highway, but most diesels tend to outperform the expected miles-per-gallon, as measured by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
I also got a chance to try the fastest SUV Range Rover has ever made, the Range Rover Sport SVR. It has a 550 horsepower V8 and all sorts of modifications to improve the performance, ranging from more cooling from the front facia, to stiffer suspension. It also gets different seats, with headrests that don't adjust.
With the small caveat that the headrests were not placed optimally for my body and head frame, the SVR was a delight to drive. A new exhaust system made it sound like an Italian race car -- or at least Jaguar's own F-type sports car.
That said, the base model had so much sufficient power, that I don't think most people will be interested in paying a lot more for this 550 horsepower version. How much more? It starts at $111,000 and the one I drove topped $120,000.
For the abbreviated 2015 model year, Range Rover imported only 500 units of this SVR version. More will arrive in the fall, for the 2016 model year. If you are an extreme race car driver, or look to drive your SUV on the race track, this is the SUV you should buy.
My advice: Most normal people will be more than satisfied with the power in the base model which starts under $65,000. I would wait until the fall and try the significantly more frugal diesel, and if possible wait even longer for when the Range Rover Sport gets JLR's next-generation infotainment system.
In the meantime, nobody -- whether in Beverly Hills, Calif. or elsewhere -- will be disappointed by the Range Rover Sport's supermodel SUV looks. It appears to be winning over the Hollywood set.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held AAPL.