Range Rovers have a well-deserved reputation for forging through diverse terrain, climbing mountains, fording swamps, and carting British royalty to Buckingham Palace. But the 2010 Range Rover Sport finally lives up to its promise of also speeding over twisted and winding blacktops, keeping pace with dedicated sports cars.
Previous Range Rover Sports, although shorter and lower than their full-size Range Rover cousins, felt a little wobbly in the corners. They didn't hide their bulk well. But the new version uses a few tech tricks to become downright tossable, almost competitive with the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5 M.
Getting into the 2010 Range Rover Sport Supercharged model that showed up in our garage, we were immediately impressed by Land Rover's improvement to the cabin. Previous generations suffered from great swaths of plastic down the console, not something you want to see in a supposed luxury SUV. The 2010 model mixes leather, wood, metal, and covers the remaining plastics with a nice finish.
Buttons along the dashboard allow quick access to navigation, phone, and the stereo.
Likewise, the navigation system underwent an improvement, although not quite as drastic. Rather than the previous archaic system, the Range Rover Sport now gets the same system as found in Jaguars, which we most recently saw in the Jaguar XFR. This navigation system handles the basics reasonably well, but doesn't catch up with luxury competitors who now all offer live traffic and other advanced features.
In one important way we like this navigation system's interface better than that in the Jaguar XFR; there are buttons below the LCD that give quick access to the map, along with the phone and the stereo systems. The onscreen interface is the same Flash-based system as in the XFR, and though it still looks like late 1990s Web design, the menu items are more responsive, probably because of a faster processor in the Range Rover's hardware.
Similar to the XFR, we found that browsing an iPod library using the onscreen interface required too much attention away from the road. Besides iPod integration, the Range Rover Sport also offers HD radio, Satellite Radio, an MP3-compatible disc player, and a USB port.
The iPod interface offers full library browsing, but is difficult to use while driving.
Music plays through a 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with a 480-watt amp, with surround sound through Logic7 processing. This system produces rich sound across the frequencies, with full-sounding bass and pleasant highs. There is a good amount of detail in the sound, although some background instruments get buried.
Our car also had the rear seat entertainment package, with video screens neatly set into the backs of the front headrests. Sound for the video system can play through the Harman Kardon audio system or wireless headphones that come with the package. There are also audio and video jacks so external devices can be plugged into the rear seat system.
Also sharing the dashboard LCD is a Bluetooth phone system. It downloads a connected phone's contact list, making it available onscreen, although you can not dial by name through the voice command system.
Powerful, but thirsty
Along with the navigation system, the Range Rover Sport and Jaguar XFR also share a power train, the supercharged direct injection V-8. This engine makes 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque, which gets this SUV to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Hitting the gas, it feels like there is no end to the power.
But this power comes at a price in the bulky Range Rover Sport, namely 12 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. We turned in a final, and dismal, fuel economy of 13 mpg after driving along freeways, city streets, and pushing the car over mountain roads.
Land Rover added a Dynamic setting to the Range Rover Sport's Terrain Response system.
Like its brethren, for the past five years the Range Rover Sport has had an adaptive suspension and Land Rover's Terrain Response system, which lets the driver select an appropriate traction control program with a dial on the console for whatever surface the car is traversing. Next to that dial are controls to change the ride height, engage hill descent, and put it in low range.
We ran the Range Rover Sport over some muddy and rutted roads, setting the dial to the mud program. It automatically put the vehicle in its low range, and it faithfully pulled and pushed its way along the course. We got some sideways slip in the mud, so the program isn't foolproof, but it felt like the Range Rover Sport could tackle a lot worse.
Down a dirt road with hill descent on, it maintained a nice, slow speed as it came down the slope evenly. The air suspension gives the Range Rover Sport good ground clearance, raising it more than 2 inches from 6.8 inches in standard mode to 8.9 inches at its top height. This clearance helped it over some of the rutted roads we ran. We were also impressed with its stability on a section of slanted dirt road that tilted the car sideways.
: The Range Rover Sport handled our short off-road course easily.
With a Range Rover, off-road prowess is to be expected, but we weren't quite prepared for the curve-handling of this model. We wouldn't normally have pounded the Range Rover Sport through the corners if it weren't for the transmission's sport mode and the Terrain Response system's Dynamic setting.
Engaging both of these tech tricks, and taking advantage of the engine's ridiculous power, we pushed the Range Rover Sport into the corners. We took it carefully at first, but jumped up the speed when we felt how flat it remained as its almost 3-ton bulk tried to obey inertia. At greater speeds, we felt a little rotation in the corners, giving us even more confidence in its speed.
Its main failing in this type of driving came when we braked hard before a corner, causing the whole vehicle to pitch forward. The suspension does a good job of controlling roll, but forward and back motion isn't damped as well.
The Dynamic setting not only adjusts the suspension, but also increases engine response. The transmission, a six-speed automatic, has an aggressive sport setting. Hitting the brakes before a turn, it downshifted fast, keeping the engine speed up and letting us tap most of that 510 horsepower, which peaks at 6,000rpm, as we accelerated out.
There is also a manual mode, shiftable with the stick or the paddles on the steering wheel. Shifting this way gave reasonably quick gear changes, although torque converter slushiness was evident.
During normal cruising, the Range Rover Sport was a delight, the suspension delivering a comfortable ride and the cabin contributing to a luxury experience. If it weren't for the dismal gas mileage, it would make a very nice road trip car.
There aren't many places the 2010 Range Rover Sport can't go, as its Terrain Response system tailors driving dynamics for a wide variety of driving surfaces. The addition of excellent sport driving capabilities helps the truck earn an outstanding rating for performance tech, with the only downside being the poor fuel economy.
However, the vehicle's cabin tech is just satisfactory, with the Harman Kardon audio system giving it an extra boost. The navigation system lacks traffic or other external data sources. The cabin tech interface design is also rough, and doesn't lend itself to selecting music from an iPod while driving. Holding up the design score is the Range Rover Sports iconic styling, along with the luxury improvement to the cabin.
|Model||2010 Land Rover Range Rover Sport|
|Power train||Supercharged direct injection 5-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||12 mpg city/17 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||13 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-disc player|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, Satellite Radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||Harman Kardon 480 watt 14 speaker surround sound system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, backup camera|
|Price as tested||$79,645|