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.
The Terrain Response controls let you adjust the height and choose a driving program for the environment.
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.
At maximum height, the Range Rover Sport has 8.9 inches ground clearance, and can ford rivers up to 27.6 inches deep.
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 LCD in the dashboard shows navigation information, and the radio display on the instrument panel handles audio.
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.
The navigation system does standard route guidance, offering a choice of three routes to a destination. It is DVD-based, but seemed quick enough to calculate routes, although we did notice some delays when it needed to call up a list of cities, for example. Appropriate for the Range Rover Sport, the navigation system offers latitude/longitude entry for destinations, along with the other more common address and point of interest. Also accessible in the navigation system is an off-road mode, which accepts that the vehicle won't be traveling on any roads in its database, and will record a breadcrumb trail of the car's route, making it easy to find your way back out of whatever you've gotten yourself into.
This off-road information screen lets you see the relative height of each wheel as you cross rough terrain.
The navigation system also sports a compass mode, showing a virtual compass, along with location information, such as latitude, longitude, and altitude. Another useful screen for off-roaders shows a graphic representation of the car's wheel position and terrain mode. This screen complements an external spotter by letting the driver see exactly what the wheels are doing as they tackle different obstacles.
As for the stereo, the sound quality is excellent, but the audio sources are limited. There is a six-disc in-dash changer that can read MP3 CDs, but it doesn't show ID3 track information on the radio display, and there is no means of browsing folders on a CD. This system also has Sirius satellite radio as an option, but there is no iPod integration or other digital music option. On the other hand, the Range Rover Sport gets a 550-watt Harmon Kardon Logic7 audio system using 14 speakers. Audio adjustments are relatively simple, with bass, treble, and mid, but you can also set the subwoofer level. The system produces audio that is well balanced and very clear. We found no distortion or rattle with heavy bass tracks, while acoustic tracks came through with excellent clarity.
Although the disc changer plays MP3 CDs, the display only shows track numbers.
Similar to the navigation system, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration is fairly basic. We had an easy time pairing it with a Samsung phone, but its features are limited, lacking a phone book or even voice dialing.
All of the cabin tech mentioned above, except for Sirius satellite radio, is standard in the Range Rover Sport. A DVD rear seat entertainment system is optional. Our car had the Luxury Interior package, which places a small refrigerator in the console, with enough room for a couple of soda cans or a bottle of water.
Under the hood
On city streets, we found the 2009 Range Rover Sport very drivable, with a decent turn radius and good power-assist on the steering. There's no mistaking its bulk--it is a big SUV--but good visibility and responsive driving controls keep it maneuverable in traffic. The 4.4-liter V-8 didn't want for boost, using its 300 horsepower at 5,500rpm and 315 pound-feet of torque at 4,000rpm to get this heavy SUV off the line without hesitation. Land Rover also makes a version with a supercharged 4.2-liter V-8.
The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with drive, sport, and manual modes. In drive, it tries to keep the engine speed around 2,000rpm, while sport moves the tach needle up around 3,500rpm, making more power immediately available. Manual mode shifts were the usual slushy feeling change-ups afforded by an automatic transmission.
The big shifter lets you put the six-speed automatic transmission in drive, sport, or manual.
Although a capable highway driver, the Range Rover Sport feels imperturbable when faced with rocky ground. On a short crawl up to a photogenic location, we could feel how the car's wheels dig in, its four-wheel drive putting the right amount of power at all four corners. We've also witnessed another Range Rover being taken down a steep descent, with a surface composed of fist-size rocks and gravel, and were impressed by how the wheels alternatively braked, controlling the speed well.
Our model had an optional electronic locking rear differential to complement the electronic center differential, able to move torque around to the wheels that need it most. The Ranger Rover Sport is fitted with Land Rover's Terrain Response system, which gives the driver controls for choosing from five programs for handling different sorts of environments. Beyond the road mode, the car has programs for snow, mud, sand, and rock crawling. In addition, you can put it in low range, where it locks the differentials, ensuring power doesn't lag at any wheel. The air suspension lets you choose maximum clearance on the fly, and there is also descent control.
Fuel economy isn't great, as we would expect, with an EPA-rated 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway. Our average came in at 16.2 mpg for mixed driving in city traffic, mountain highways, and fast freeways. Although this number isn't great, it is still at the higher end of the EPA range, and similar to what you get in the Mercedes-Benz C63 sedan or the BMW M3 coupe. Emissions aren't too bad, as the Range Rover Sport earns a ULEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board.
At a $58,375 base price, the 2009 Range Rover Sport positions itself in the higher echelon of luxury SUVs. A lot of the tech we've described comes standard, but there are a few options we had that jacked up the price substantially. The Luxury Interior package brings in wood trim, adaptive front headlights, and heated front and rear seats, all for around $3,000, while the Sirius satellite radio option costs $400. The rear locking differential adds $500 and the Dynamic Response package, which brings in some suspension tuning and front Brembos, goes for $2,000. These options and a destination charge bring out total up to $65,150. For much less money, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is equally capable off-road, although not as drivable on pavement. For about the same money, you could get the BMW X5, with better electronics and on-road behavior, but less capable in the rough stuff.
The Range Rover Sport earns a low score for cabin tech, with minimal features only offset by a good-sounding audio system and useful off-road information. On the performance side, it scores better, helped by its impressive array of off-road gear and its general drivability, even if it doesn't quite live up to its Sport name. As there is no cohesive interface between the navigation, phone, and audio systems, the design score suffers, with the classic design of the body the only mitigating factor.