2009 Range Rover Sport HSE review:

2009 Range Rover Sport HSE

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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.

In sum
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.

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