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Terrain crawling tech lets the 2009 Range Rover Sport HSE maintain its rugged reputation, but an upscale price means luxury elements, such as real wood trim and a refrigerator in the console. Off-road enthusiasts may think the lack of a fold-down windshield keeps the Range Rover Sport in the soft-road class, but this tank enhances its locking differentials with an air suspension that moves it into high-clearance mode. Terrain programs fine-tune the Range Rover's handling for the slippery and jagged.
The basics of cabin tech are here, including navigation and cell phone integration, but integration is poor. The navigation system gets shoehorned into the top of the dashboard, with completely separate controls and display from the stereo system. The voice command system seems to come from another vehicle entirely. But there are a few highlights, such as the Harmon Kardon audio system and the nav system's off-road mode.
Test the tech: Sport SUV
Land Rover's designation of this Range Rover as a sport model suggests that it handles on-road conditions better than its stable mates. We put this sport to the test by subjecting it to the same testing we gave the Porsche Cayenne GTS a couple of weeks earlier. The Range Rover Sport is a full two inches lower than the standard Range Rover, in both standard and off-road modes. The Cayenne GTS, also designed as a more road-worthy model, is about an inch and a half lower than the standard Cayenne. Both the Range Rover Sport and the Cayenne GTS have adjustable air suspensions and multiple off-road modes, which can be set from a cluster of controls on the console.
For our test, we ran the Range Rover Sport over the same rough section of pavement in San Francisco where we rated the comfort of the Cayenne GTS' different suspension modes. We took the Range Rover Sport over the course with its suspension in normal, road mode, and noted that it was a rougher ride than we found in the Cayenne GTS. Unfortunately, the Range Rover Sport doesn't have a Comfort mode or a Sport mode for its suspension, as the Cayenne GTS did, so our different tests involved trying out its suspension settings.
We first put the Ranger Rover Sport's suspension into its highest mode, giving it 8.9 inches of ground clearance, and drove it along our route. The ride was slightly rougher than in standard mode, delivering stronger jolts to the cabin from imperfections in the pavement and potholes. We then put the vehicle into the third of its five terrain programs, this one designed for mud. With this program, the vehicle keeps its torque low to avoid spinning tires and maximum speed is about 15 mph. The ride seemed slightly rougher than the on-road mode. We also put the Ranger Rover Sport into its most extreme, rock crawler mode. Again the speed was severely limited, and the ride quality was about the same as the mud mode.
Overall, we found these suspension tests, although illuminating as to the behavior of the car, weren't really comparable to the Cayenne GTS. For one, we couldn't drive the Range Rover Sport at 30 mph for all tests, so the comfort level isn't comparable. Also, the Range Rover Sport's terrain settings aren't about changing the ride quality for the passengers, but about getting over the rough stuff.
As a better comparison, we drove the Range Rover Sport over the same twisty sections of road we had driven the Cayenne GTS. With the transmission in Sport mode, we pushed the Range Rover hard around the corners. Where the Cayenne GTS felt like a sports car, the Range Rover Sport floated on its suspension. The big tires seemed to grip well enough, but the body of the car didn't feel screwed down, tempering our speed. And where the Cayenne GTS delivered precise handling, the Range Rover Sport showed a lot of understeer as we maneuvered our way through the turns.
In the cabin
The cabin tech in the 2009 Range Rover Sport doesn't look any different from that in the 2006 Range Rover Sport we reviewed. Although some of the features seemed impressive in that earlier model, the competitive landscape has changed. The navigation system, for example, is merely adequate when compared with what's available today.
The Range Rover Sport presents the driver with a massive console and instrument panel holding a bank of plastic buttons and a small, green monochrome display. The standard navigation system uses its own touch-screen LCD, set in the middle of the dashboard. No audio or phone information is shown on the LCD. We do like the keypad on the instrument panel, which makes it easy to dial phone numbers with a Bluetooth-paired phone. Two phone buttons on the steering wheel let you initiate and end phone calls. There is also a voice command button on the steering wheel, but it only works with the navigation system. When we delved into its help menus, it told us we could use the command "Display audio information," along with a few similar commands, but none of these had any effect.