With its smaller size and on-road focus, the Range Rover Sport is the sportiest of Land Rover’s SUVs. Thanks to some improvements for 2010, it’s now quicker and sportier than ever, as well as classier inside. (See 2009 and 2010 versions compared.)
The Land Rover Range Rover Sport is sportier than you might expect a large, squarish SUV to be, but it doesn’t compete well against its sleeker competition — though it provides an off-road capability the others lack.
Unfortunately, its gas mileage remains poor — and then there’s the troubling notion that it’s not really a Range Rover.
I feel obligated to pull back the curtain on the Range Rover Sport because it’s arguably not a “real” Range Rover. The Range Rover is Land Rover’s flagship; it’s a large, impossibly luxurious yet remarkably off-road-capable SUV with a starting price of $78,425. The Range Rover has a platform all to itself, developed when BMW owned the Land Rover brand at the end of the 1990s. Though it also received significant upgrades this year, the current Range Rover was last redesigned and re-engineered for the 2003 model year.
The Range Rover Sport, on the other hand, came out in 2006 and was based on Land Rover’s more affordable LR3, which had debuted on a new platform for 2005. (The LR3 was upgraded and renamed the LR4 for 2010.)
What all this means depends upon your perspective. If you think of the Sport as a sportified Rover based on a newer platform that is priced $17,930 less, you might feel pretty good about it. If you see it as a shrunken LR4 that’s been marked up $13,245, you might be less enthusiastic. And if you paid close to 80 grand for a Range Rover and then saw lesser models trading off the Range Rover cachet, you’d probably get snooty (or perhaps snootier).
| Key Differences
| Starting price
| Length (in.)
| Width (in.)
| Height (in.)
| Wheelbase (in.)
| Ground clearance (standard/off-road mode, in.)
| Front headroom (in.)
| Front legroom (in.)
| Rear headroom (in.)
| Rear legroom (in.)
| Cargo volume
(behind backseat, cu. ft.)
| Cargo volume
(backseat folded, cu. ft.)
| Roof rack capacity (lbs.)
The Sport is shorter in overall length than the Range Rover, and it sits lower. As the photos illustrate, the Sport’s roofline tapers down, and the rear window has a shallower angle, giving it a sportier look. The Sport has less headroom in front, but because the two models don’t share a platform, the inside dimensions aren’t predictable. The Sport has much more front and rear legroom than the larger Range Rover, and no sacrifice in rear headroom.
The upside is that the Sport boasts some dramatic improvements for 2010, and so does the Range Rover. That means the Sport is now worthier of its name, but there’s still a distinction between the two. The Sport’s biggest improvements are to its drivetrains.
| 2010 vs. 2009 Drivetrains
| V-8 engine
(lbs.-ft. @ rpm)
| EPA-estimated mpg (city/highway — combined)
| Recommended gas
As the table reflects, the 2010 model’s output increases by 75 horsepower and 60 pounds-feet of torque, and the Supercharged gains 120 hp and 51 pounds-feet. The torque peaks also come lower in the engines’ rev ranges, which means there’s more oomph when accelerating off the line. The new direct fuel injection provides a combination of power and efficiency to benefit acceleration over mileage. Based on Land Rover’s tests, the entry level Range Rover Sport HSE now does zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, which is roughly what the 2009 Supercharged model did. The 2010 Supercharged makes the sprint in 5.9 seconds. Those are impressive numbers for large, squared-off SUVs. There’s no overall mileage penalty: Estimates are up 1 mpg in the city for the HSE and down 1 mpg on the highway for the Supercharged, but the combined figures stay the same. That being said, 14 and 15 mpg won’t set any records.
The improvement in acceleration is palpable. Zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds is quick for any vehicle, and it feels more than adequate in the Sport. In fact, I submit Land Rover would have been smarter to split the difference and also improve mileage for 2010 rather than just its acceleration.
The transmission responds reasonably quickly to demands for passing power, kicking down a gear or two with minimal hesitation. The automatic sport mode, which you activate by sliding the gear selector to the left, makes the transmission hold lower gears further up the engine speed range and makes it easier to provoke a downshift. Drivers who want to shift for themselves can then push the lever forward or back, which cancels sport mode and activates a manual mode. Supercharged models add shift paddles to the steering wheel.
The Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged also adds numerous other enhancements, not the least of which is a new mode for the Terrain Response knob. Land Rover was the first to simplify driving in various conditions with a system that uses pictographs on a selector knob to match what you might see out the windshield. Rather than coping with new terrain by having to, say, change a transmission setting, set the dual-range transfer case, lock a differential, raise the SUV’s air suspension and activate Hill Descent Control — much less know these are the correct steps for a given situation — when drivers see boulders that must be traversed, they need only turn the Terrain Response knob to the icon showing the SUV going over an obstacle.
All told, Terrain Response can also vary the throttle response, transmission and stability system behavior. It also adjusts the adaptive suspension and Dynamic Response systems, which are standard on the Supercharged but not offered on the HSE. Dynamic Response employs computer-controlled active stabilizer bars, which use hydraulic pressure to counter body roll. For off-roading, the bars decouple to optimize suspension travel.
These additional features allow the Supercharged model to add a Dynamic mode to Terrain Response. Designed for more aggressive on-road driving as opposed to being an off-roader, it lowers the body — and thus the center of gravity — firms up the suspension, makes the accelerator more sensitive and holds the transmission in lower gears for heightened responsiveness. A driving enthusiast might prefer to tweak these settings independently, but they’re designed to work together as a system.
Unfortunately, the HSE trim level doesn’t include the Dynamic mode, but it’s sportier than previous generations. It feels reasonably grounded when compared with the LR4, but there’s no mistaking it for a car — or a Porsche Cayenne or Infiniti FX50, whose balance and agility are more like that of a sports car, albeit a large and heavy one. The Sport’s steering has improved, providing some feedback where last year’s was numb and ponderous. Our optional 20-inch wheels probably helped sharpen the response; 19s are standard on the HSE.
One of the things that bothered me about the original Sport was that its interior was nowhere near as nice as its namesake’s. Land Rover has improved it markedly, as it has the 2010 Land Rover Range Rover; there’s still enough of a gap between the two to justify the price difference. Along with higher-quality materials throughout, including some convincing metallic finishes, the Sport’s dashboard is far less cluttered, with half as many controls as the 2009 model. The bulky center control panel has receded into the dashboard for a more elegant look.
The new seats are supportive and more contoured. In keeping with its sporty nature, adjustable side bolsters are now available for the driver’s seat. By the numbers, competitors like the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and GL-Class offer more headroom and legroom. The 2010 Porsche Cayenne trails only in backseat legroom (though the 2011 redesign will give it a roomier backseat). The FX50 trails the Range Rover Sport by 3 inches in backseat legroom. (See the 2010s compared.) Specifications aside, at 6 feet tall I found all the seats roomy enough, though I’d prefer the backseat higher off the floor. The Sport sits high, but a handy “access height” setting on the adjustable air-spring suspension lowers the whole body to ease entry and exit.
The standard navigation system now stores its maps on a hard drive rather than a removable disc, so it responds and routes significantly faster. The menus are also more intuitive. Land Rover redesigned the instrument panel, incorporating a large LCD screen between the speedometer and tachometer. Though the information it displays is useful, its monochrome presentation and graphics already look outdated, even compared with more affordable cars.
Another change I could live without is the keyless entry transmitter, which is remarkably large. The idea is to leave the transmitter in your pocket, but when it’s this big, you really don’t want to.
A new feature I wish our test car had included is the optional Surround Camera System, which uses five cameras around the SUV to give a 360-degree view that displays on the in-dash touch-screen. A similar system from Infiniti proved valuable in navigating parking spaces. In the Range Rover Sport, the feature can ease backing up when a trailer is attached.
One of the advantages of a big, heavy SUV is that it can tow serious loads. The Range Rover Sport’s 7,716-pound capacity is in line with those of the Mercedes and Porsche models. The lighter FX50 maxes out at 3,500 pounds.
The Land Rover Range Rover Sport’s boxy shape pays off in cargo volume, with 33.8 cubic feet behind the backseat and 71.0 cubic feet with the backseat folded. The cargo hatch has a large opening, and you don’t have to lift cargo over a lip. The top of the bumper is covered with a scuff guard. Unlike the Range Rover, which has a combination liftgate/tailgate, the Sport has a one-piece liftgate. The suspension’s access-height setting pays off when loading cargo as well as people.
For comparison, the Infiniti and Porsche pay a price for their sleekness; both have roughly 62 cubic feet in total volume.
None of Land Rover’s current models has been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, our preferred provider of crash data. Though a few earlier models were tested years ago, it’s possible the Land Rovers, being low-volume sellers, will not be tested by IIHS.
The Range Rover Sport has six airbags: two in front, two front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side curtains that protect the front and rear seats. Also standard are antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with four-wheel traction control. The Range Rover Sport’s stability system is supplemented by Roll Stability Control, a feature developed by Volvo and later incorporated into then-parent-company Ford’s family of SUVs. It’s the only system that senses when a rollover has begun and employs the stability system in an attempt to forestall it. Similarly described features on other cars act only in conditions that can lead to a rollover. For all the Sport’s safety features, click here.
The Land Rover Range Rover Sport does a nice job of splitting the difference between on-road and off-road use, though I wish it gave a little better mileage in exchange for the frenetic acceleration. While there are many competitors — in terms of price as well as size — luxury SUV purchases are strongly influenced by their look, their image and their brand names — both the make and the model. As for the Sport’s appropriation of the Range Rover name, it’s just a question of how you view it. Land Rover isn’t the first automaker to use this trick; for many years, Mitsubishi sold a Montero Sport model that was smaller and nowhere near as good as its flagship Montero, but neither the brand nor the model had the cachet of Land Rover and Range Rover.