The Range Rover Sport fits between the Land Rover LR4 and the flagship Range Rover in the Land Rover lineup, bridging the gap from a price standpoint. The Sport is the shortest of the three, both in overall length and in height, and it's built on a shorter wheelbase. And it only seats five.
Range Rover Sport was substantially revised for the 2010 model year with fresh styling, a new 5.0-liter V8 and 6-speed automatic transmission, more luxurious interior, safety enhancements, additions to the Terrain Response system, and a new surround camera system designed to aid towing and driving off road.
The 2011 Range Rover Sport lineup gets a new GT Limited Edition model in Fuji white with special trim inside and out and added luxury features.
Compared with the big Range Rover, the Sport is seven inches shorter overall, on a wheelbase that's five inches shorter. It's a little narrower. And the roof is lower. Priced about $20,000 less, it's less luxurious inside and slightly less roomy. The Sport and Land Rover LR4 share platforms, drive systems, suspension, and powertrain. The Sport boasts more standard equipment, more upscale styling, and generally a more luxurious approach to the same mission: go anywhere, do anything, in any weather. The Sport rides on a 108-inch wheelbase, five inches shorter than that of the LR4. So it may seem neither here nor there.
But the Sport has been rolling in accolades. Most recently, it was a double winner at Mudfest, a long-running annual competition for SUVs, put on by the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Twenty-three Northwest automotive journalists voted it SUV of the Year, and also, in the sub-class, Luxury SUV of the Year. Meanwhile, the Land Rover LR4, the Range Rover Sport's fraternal twin, won Off-Road SUV of the Year.
It's powered by the same engine as the Range Rover and LR4, a compact new 32-valve V8 made by Jaguar that's gotten rave reviews after its first year. It makes 375 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque, which we found to be plenty during our test drive of the Range Rover HSE.
The hotrod Range Rover Sport Supercharged model pumps out 510 horsepower and 461 foot-pounds of torque. It's the latest generation of Eaton supercharger, a twin vortex, with dual intercoolers.
All models use a smooth and quick-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission that was new for 2010, with Normal, Sport and Manual modes. It has a two-speed transfer case that can be shifted on the fly, with a low range that will drive the vehicle through unimaginably rugged offroad conditions, using the magical Terrain Response system.
Contrasting stitching has been added to the leather upholstery in 2011, but the standard sound system on the HSE has been downgraded from a 480-watt, 14-speaker harman/kardon with 6 CD storage, to a 240-watt, 9-speaker harman/kardon single CD.
The Range Rover Sport competes in the crowded midsize luxury sport utility vehicle segment with the Acura MDX, Lexus RX 350, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Infiniti FX, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Toureg, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Range Rover Sport got a whole new face for 2010, with a new hood, two-bar grille with a starry mesh design that Land Rover calls Jupiter, fenders with larger flares, sharp new side vents and relocated lower air intakes, and new LED front lamps, rear lamps, and turn indicators. It's a clean, integrated, and aerodynamically efficient package.
The Range Rover Sport is visibly smaller than the Range Rover, which fits for these times. The overhangs are slightly shorter, raising its offroad capability by increasing the angle of obstacles it can climb or cross, without nudging the front or rear bumpers. The wheelbase is 5 inches less than the Range Rover, which adds nimbleness to the handling but doesn't much affect the ride quality, the suspension is so good anyhow. And its 7 inches less overall length makes parking easier.
The lines are iconic; everyone recognizes a Range Rover, like everyone recognizes a Porsche. It's basically a big box, but British designers somehow have made it look sleek. It seems most Range Rovers are a titanium color (called Stornoway Grey, after a village in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, grey for the weather), which adds to the sleek effect. But we'd love to see a British Racing Green Range Rover Sport. Supercharged.
In 2010, the dashboard, instrument panel, door panels and seats were all redesigned and upgraded, and every gauge and switch was made more tidy and user-friendly. There are fewer switches overall, since many of their functions have been transferred to the 5-inch touch screen at the top center of the instrument panel. It's called TFT, for Thin Film Transistor. The center stack is easy to read and use.
Range Rover Sport boasts a long list of standard equipment including pushbutton starting, a power tilt-and-telescope steering column, color driver information center between the main gauges, satellite navigation with voice recognition, ambient interior lighting with footwell and puddle lighting, and all of the usual power assists. However the harman/kardon sound system has been downgraded for 2011, from a 480-watt 14-speaker system to a 240-watt 9-speaker. The 480-watt system is optional now.
We're surprised that heated front seats are optional, and that a power liftgate is unavailable. It's a stretch and a tug to get the liftgate down. The good news is that because the hatch window pops open separately, smaller things can be loaded in the rear without lifting the whole tailgate.
The interior is beautifully made and tightly finished: sumptuous, comfortable, and quiet. The steering wheel is big and thick, having controls for audio, telephone and cruise control, and the seats are very supportive and comfortable for the long haul, with careful high bolstering. In 2011, handsome contrasting stitching in the leather has been added, standard.
The optional surround camera system uses five cameras, two facing forward, one on either side of the truck facing down, and one at the rear to give a near-360-degree view of surroundings. Camera views can be selected from the main nav screen, and the view can be zoomed if necessary. This feature was developed to assist drivers in trailer hookups and trailer maneuvering, as well as for checking all-around clearances and terrain when driving off-road. It shows live high-resolution video as you go, which can be enormously entertaining when traversing streams, because if the water is clear, you can see the rocks under the water and steer around them. No other vehicle offers this feature.
The Range Rover Sport HSE we drove came with the luxury package, Vision Assist package, premium sound system, and 20-inch wheels.
The Sport's 375-hp 5.0-liter V8 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission will hurl the 5500-pound truck from 0 to 60 mph in only 7.2 seconds, which is as fast as the prior 2009 4.2-liter supercharged engine, without the extra cost. What's more, the new engine is smaller, lighter and cleaner. That acceleration is plenty quick enough for passing, and it's wonderfully smooth. We took four high-school soccer players to their away game, a 100-mile round trip, and they were appropriately impressed when we passed slower cars on the two-lane road.
The engine is the first home-built engine for a Range Rover, shared with its Jaguar cousins, and modified from the Jaguar design with a deeper oil pan to keep lubrication continuous when the vehicle is tilted steep angles, off road. To further prepare it for rugged duty, all of the electric motors, pulleys and bearings, plus the starter, alternator and air conditioning compressor, have been waterproofed. This enables the Sport to travel through water 27 inches deep.
The ZF 6-speed automatic transmission shifts very quickly and smoothly, up or down, with Normal, Sport and Manual modes. The Supercharged adds paddle shifters.
Land Rover developed the Range Rover Sport air suspension and the optional adaptive damping shock absorbers on the famous Nordschleife, the northern loop of the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, and it shows through to the average driver on a twisty country road. SUVs of this height and heft are not supposed to handle this well in the curves, and with so little body roll. There are limits, of course; but they're higher than one has a right to expect. The 20-inch low-profile Michelin tires on our Sport undoubtedly helped. We think we'd prefer the taller sidewalls of the 19-inch wheels for all around use, however.
The Terrain Response system has five settings: Highway, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl. All you have to do is look out the windshield and select for the correct terrain, and the Range Rover Sport will drive accordingly, including setting the suspension height.
Our test included two days of driving off road (along with Land Rover LR4s) in Colorado's San Juan Mountains over trails that exceeded 13,000 feet. The rock-crawling challenges we faced were very challenging yet there was nothing that caused our Sport to even pause, except maybe the dangers that we perceived when we climbed out to peer over the cliffs we might drop over if we made a big mistake. With guidance from Land Rover instructors riding shotgun, we saw first-hand the amazing things the Range Rover Sport was capable of, and how the Terrain Response system found traction in any situation, including climbing up steep bare rock covered with dust. Suffice it to say that you're unlikely to ever get stuck in the mud.
We used Hill Descent Control much of the time, and it worked flawlessly to keep us out of trouble on steep downhill rocky paths. Gradient Acceleration Control kicks in to keep the car from going too fast, when Hill Descent Control isn't set. And climbing up, we used Hill Start Assist, to keep from sliding back when we went from the brake pedal to the gas.
The Supercharged model uses the latest generation of Eaton supercharger, a twin vortex, with dual intercoolers. It also takes big Brembo brakes, with six-piston calipers in front. What this means is that it will accelerate from 0 to 60 in an eye-popping 5.8 seconds, and get back to a standstill in short space and without a groan.
The Range Rover Sport meets ULEV2 emissions requirements, and is rated to tow 7700 pounds. Trailer Stability Assist is an option that works like stability control; sensors detect oscillation in the trailer, and use throttle intervention and braking to get the trailer to stop weaving.
The Range Rover Sport costs $20,000 less than a Range Rover and is slightly smaller, which makes it more nimble. It uses the same great Jaguar V8 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission as the Range Rover. The cornering is remarkable for a vehicle this size. The stitched leather seats are sporty and supportive, and the interior is classy and functional. Its offroad capability is unsurpassed, which means flexibility and safety in winter.
Sam Moses contributed to this report after his test drive of a Range Rover Sport in Colorado; with Jim McCraw reporting from Edinburgh, Scotland.