Editor's note: This review was written in February 2012 about the 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Sport. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2013, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Sport may lose some shoppers to its cheaper, equally sporty sibling, the Evoque, but it still combines traditional SUV qualities with uncharacteristic driving fun.
One of three SUVs to wear the Range Rover name, the Sport rides a platform that's distinct from the Range Rover Evoque and Range Rover, which are priced about $17,000 lower and $19,000 higher, respectively. Compare all three here. Following major updates in 2010 that carried over to 2011, the Range Rover Sport gets a slew of multimedia updates for 2012. You can compare that model with the 2011 here.
For an in-depth look at the Range Rover Sport, check out our review of the 2010. I'll focus on the SUV's more recent changes and cover how it stacks up against other luxury SUVs. Trim levels include the HSE and Supercharged, which employ a 5.0-liter V-8 in normally aspirated and supercharged configurations, respectively. Stack them up here. Permanent four-wheel drive is standard. We tested an HSE.
With its 375-horsepower V-8, the Range Rover Sport hustles; four adults onboard had little effect on our test car, which moved out just as well. As we've come to expect of Land Rover transmissions, the Range Rover Sport's six-speed automatic upshifts nearly imperceptibly and kicks down multiple gears at once. Throw the automatic into Sport mode, and it holds lower gears, providing quick, satisfying accelerator response.
Want more power? The Range Rover Sport Supercharged has a 510-hp supercharged V-8 that sends the 5,816-pound SUV — that's two Mini Cooper hatchbacks and a Steinway grand piano — to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds, Land Rover says. That's about as fast as a V-6 Ford Mustang. Serious lead-foots can spring for the quicker V-8-powered BMW X5 xDrive50i or Porsche Cayenne S, which are both at least half a piano lighter.
Despite Land Rover's venerable off-road capabilities, our Range Rover Sport felt less than confident through a Chicago snowstorm. Land Rover's Terrain Response system governs the Sport's all-wheel drive, varying drivetrain settings and ride height for the adjustable air suspension at the push of a button. Our test car had an optional automatic-locking rear differential — which augments the Range Rover Sport's standard locking center differential and ordinary traction control — to maximize grip from the rear wheels.
With Terrain Response in Snow mode and the suspension raised to a maximum 8.9 inches of ground clearance, the Range Rover Sport mastered deep-snow parking spots. A white-out commute, however, had the rear wheels slipping before the system would send more power up front, and the SUV's tail continued to come loose at single-digit speeds. Dedicated winter tires would have dug in better, but some of the simplest all-wheel-drive systems can keep their footing by forcing an equal front-to-rear split, even when equipped with all-season tires, like our test car's Michelins. Despite its elaborate technology, our Range Rover Sport underwhelmed in snow.
On dry pavement, the Sport handles like a sedan: Get into a corner, and the nose tucks in line, the body stays flat and the steering tracks well. The tradeoff comes in the Sport's firm ride. Highways are smooth, but the suspension pitches you around over potholes and other disruptions. Note that our Range Rover Sport HSE had a fixed suspension; Supercharged models have an adaptive setup and a stiffer-riding Dynamic Program in Terrain Response.
Typical of most Land Rovers, the gas mileage stinks. The Range Rover Sport HSE is EPA-rated at 13/18 mpg city/highway, while the Supercharged gets an OPEC-loving 12/17 mpg. Percentage-wise, that's well below the V-8 BMW X5 (14/20), Lexus GX 460 (15/20) and Cayenne S (16/22) — a thirsty bunch themselves. Like the others, Land Rover requires premium fuel. At least it tows a respectable 7,716 pounds when properly equipped, matching the V-8 Cayenne and out-towing the GX (6,500 pounds) and X5 (6,000).
The Range Rover Sport's driving dynamics impress in particular because it otherwise feels like a traditional SUV, with all the ungainly potential that carries. (The GX looks and feels like an SUV, too, but slaps you with the dynamics of a boat.) You drive from a high perch, surrounded by thin roof pillars and glass galore. Cabin materials are closer to the Range Rover's excellent quality than they were in the Sport's earlier years, with upholstery stitching atop the dashboard and smoked metal and real wood farther down. The climate controls — a few large knobs and buttons — are a cinch to use, if a bit plainly finished. Keep an ear out for squeaks and rattles; our test car had its share of creaky panels.
Land Rover updated the standard navigation system this year with second-generation electronics and updated graphics. The optional rear entertainment system, standard Harman Kardon audio and optional Harman Logic 7 systems have also been upgraded. Our tester had the Logic 7, whose excellent sound quality justifies its $900 to $1,650 price, depending on trim. The navigation system, on the other hand, still suffers unacceptable lag. Call up a menu, and it takes frustrating moments to populate. Ford's snail's-paced MyFord Touch system seems acceptable by comparison.
The rear seats have good thigh support and adult-friendly room all around. Folding the backseat requires tilting the bottom cushions forward before putting the seatbacks down. It's a drag, but it enables a flat load floor and 71 cubic feet of cargo volume, which compares to the X5's 75.2 cubic feet and beats the Cayenne by more than 10 percent. Cargo haulers may still want the GX, whose 91.9 cubic feet trumps the group.
Safety, Features & Pricing
The Range Rover Sport has not been crash-tested. Standard safety features include head-protecting side airbags and an electronic stability system. Options include surround-view cameras and adaptive (swiveling) headlights. Click here to see standard safety features, or here for our evaluation of child-seat provisions.
The HSE starts just over $60,000. Standard features include four-wheel drive, 19-inch wheels, xenon headlights, power-adjustable leather seats, the navigation system, Harman Kardon audio and a moonroof. Options include the supercharged V-8, 20-inch rims, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, the upgraded Harman Logic 7 system, upgraded leather, the electronic locking rear differential and a backseat entertainment system. Luxury and Autobiography editions are available on the HSE and Supercharged cars, respectively.
Check every box, and the Range Rover Sport tops out north of $90,000. Curiously, it lacks cooled seats at that level — something offered widely in this price spectrum.
Range Rover Sport in the Market
An era of expensive gas and high unemployment will limit the appeal of anything that costs $60,000 and sucks fuel like a cruise ship, so it's hard to see the Range Rover Sport outselling its competitors anytime soon. But it remains Land Rover's most popular model. The Evoque marries ride and handling better, but many will find it too small. If you can get used to pumping gas all the time, the Range Rover Sport still packs a lot of driving fun into a traditional SUV.
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