Land Rover's venerable Range Rover can tackle tough offroad terrain that would foil less-capable SUVs, yet still has the cachet to warrant a front-and-center parking space at upscale hotels. Fortunately, much of the Range Rover's style has carried over to the automaker's less expensive Range Rover Sport, as well as some of its offroad-ready hardware. To be clear, the Range Rover is unrelated to the Range Rover Sport, which shares its platform with the LR3 and competes with the Hummer H2 and Porsche Cayenne.
For 2008, the Range Rover Sport gets more power equipment. It now has power-folding side mirrors, an eight-way power passenger seat and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
The Range Rover Sport features an upright grille that's flanked by standard high-intensity-discharge headlights. Other design features include a downward-sloping roofline, side vents in the front fenders, rocker panel moldings and standard 19-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tires. Twenty-inch wheels are optional on the base HSE trim and standard on Supercharged models. The liftgate features an independently opening rear window that provides access to the cargo area, and the roof rack can carry up to 165 pounds. Adaptive headlights that swivel to better illuminate turns are optional.
The Range Rover Sport's five-person interior is trimmed with simulated metal pieces, but real wood trim is also available. Heated leather seats are optional, and there are adjustable inboard armrests. Interior cargo room measures 33.8 cubic feet but grows to 71 cubic feet when the 65/35-split rear bench seat is folded.
Entertainment options include Sirius Satellite Radio and a rear-seat six-DVD changer.
Two engines are offered. HSE models use a 300-horsepower, 4.4-liter V-8 that makes 315 pounds-feet of torque, and Supercharged versions have a 390-hp, supercharged 4.2-liter V-8 that develops 410 pounds-feet of torque. Both engines drive a six-speed automatic transmission with a clutchless-manual mode that sends power to each wheel through a permanent four-wheel-drive system. Both the HSE and the Supercharged version can tow up to 7,716 pounds when properly equipped.
Standard features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, an electronic stability system with rollover mitigation technology, and front and rear parking sensors. The rear seats have child-safety seat anchors, and Supercharged models can be equipped with adaptive cruise control that maintains a preset distance between the Range Rover Sport and a vehicle in front of it.
This SUV has a stable, confident highway ride, and its large windows and high seating position give the driver a commanding view of the road. The large C-pillars, however, limit visibility. There's minimal wind noise at highway speeds.
The four-wheel-independent air suspension delivers ride quality that's on the firm side; bumps and holes are felt and heard. Land Rover says the optional Dynamic Response anti-roll system works to control body roll, and it did so handily when driving the Range Rover Sport on twisty roads — especially when you consider its near 6-foot height and 5,500-pound curb weight. The rack-and-pinion steering system manages to cancel out pavement imperfections before they reach the driver's hands, but it doesn't provide much feedback.
The HSE's acceleration can only be described as adequate, and the engine works hard to propel this portly SUV. Opting for the more powerful Supercharged model drops the zero-to-60-mph run by one full second to a claimed 7.2 seconds. There's no gas mileage penalty with the Supercharged version, as fuel economy estimates are 12/18 mpg (city/highway) for both models.
The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly, but when accelerating from a standstill the transmission had an annoying tendency to upshift quickly to keep engine rpm low, a measure meant to save fuel. The transmission's Sport mode allows the engine to spin faster before shifting. Transmission kickdowns were prefaced by a slight delay.