2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport
2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Expert Review:Autoblog
Driving a Range Rover Sport is like wearing an Izod circa 1980-anything: everybody immediately knows what you're about. And that's not a bad thing. We never wore Izods, but we'd drive this thing all day long -- and in fact, we did. The sport is supposedly the Range Rover for people who just want to go from work to the golf course to the watering hole, and don't need to traverse the Andes do it. Turns out, though, that it's suitably equipped for both. Follow the jump for the rest of the Rover story, and check out the gallery of hi-res shots below.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
Back in 2006, the Range Rover Sport was part of a new response to a multi-part question: what if I want a Land Rover that's not as expensive and full on as the Range Rover, still has some Land-Rovery-ness to it, but could do the business off-road if I needed? Previously the Discovery was the only answer to that question, and it was a fine SUV, but it was a steep step down from the Range Rover.
So Land Rover split things up, creating a Range Rover Sport for the road-going trendy Rover set with (almost) no off-road aspirations, and gave the LR3 an even heavier dose of chunky Land Rover looks for those who probably still wouldn't go off road, but wanted to look like it.
And the Sport has become an accessory par excellence. There is no question as to what it and its drivers are about. And again, that's not a bad thing -- we are fans. In making the RR Sport what it is, and keeping it distinct from the Range up top, Land Rover didn't rob it of the characteristics that define the brand. The Sport is a Land Rover all the way, which is both good and not-quite-so-good-but-certain-to-get-better.
First and foremost, you can take the Sport through the muck and it will do its duty. We took it for a spin at the Land Rover Experience in Carmel, California, which is slow-going expedition-like off-roading. At 6.8 inches of ground clearance, it has about two inches less than the Range Rover in its normal guise, but that jumps to nine inches when in off-road mode and almost 12 inches in emergency situations. The Sport will climb, ford water (up to almost 28 inches), surmount, and descend with the capability you expect.
The styling is all Rover, all the time: brick-like aero, upright stance, slab sides, clamshell hood, roof with eaves, and a black, blade-like D-pillar. Several people commented that they thought the long rear overhang made the Sport look old, or outdated. True, you wouldn't call the aesthetics up-to-the-minute, but Range Rovers have looked like this forever. Not the latest in hip, it does have staying power, though; 15-year-old Range Rovers are still good looking vehicles... if you like Range Rovers.
The interior finish, though, is fantastic. The same people who commented on the long-toothed exterior design then got in and said they loved the fit and the wood and leather. The hides feel thick, the lumber feels stout, the brightwork is muted, the knobs and buttons are solid and move without play.
However, the long rear overhang doesn't translate into much rear seat room. It's fitted back there -- comfortable, but fitted. We could even do a long haul and relax, but we'd still be thinking, "If there were just a couple more inches back here, things would be perfect."
It was in some of those other interior details that the trials of Land Rover (and Jaguar) came out. The trial in question being a lack of money from the parent company to make the truck what, we believe, the boffins and Land Rover would really like it to be. The Sport starts at $59,000 and comes with air suspension and power everything. The armrests are height adjustable. You can get things like full-color navigation, in-dash 6-disc changer, adaptive cruise control, and rear-seat entertainment. It's got five terrain modes that will automatically set the truck up for the condition you're trying to get through and the climate controls are ridiculously easy to use.
But the radio screen is a green, monochrome affair that took us back to our eighties-era PC. The horn is employed using only the thin metal bars on the steering wheel, which is not ideal when trying to express your displeasure with that guy who just cut you off. The navigation screen is beautiful, but it needs a deeper hood; it washed out almost entirely in numerous daylight situations. There's no place to plug in a portable device -- the 'Aux' button is for XM Radio. There's an aux port in the rear where folks get screens and headphones, though. The rear liftgate is manually operated and it's heavy, and there's no indentation in the lower inside edge for pulling it down. You simply grab the top of it where copious amounts of road grime have collected due to the enormous vacuum back there, and pull... then wipe your hands. Also, the dome light is just in front of the rear view mirror. At night, because the rear view mirror darkens in response to headlights, it goes completely black when you turn the dome light on.
Those are details, and while they were important enough for us to notice, they weren't dealbreakers. There's plenty of room in the driver's chair, and the Sport was smooth and quiet enough for two 5-hour driving stretches with nary a hint of unease. We also like that you get a Hold On! handle above the driver's window. And when you put the car in reverse, both side view mirrors point downward, not just the one on the right. It's a boon on one-way streets and off road.
When it came to driving, the phrase was civilized, stable progress. Instead of the supercharged version, we drove the standard HSE with a 4.4-liter V8. The 300 English ponies are charged with lugging 5,468 pounds and they neither slouch nor raise hairs. Via the 6-speed automatic, sixty comes up in 8.2 seconds, about a second slower than the supercharged model.
When you have to get on it, kickdown comes quickly. The Sport doesn't shoot and squirt, but if you drive it like you're driving an SUV, you'll get into the space you're aiming at and you won't need a pocket watch to measure your progress.
The air suspension also remained firm enough to give a driver confidence during high-speed turning maneuvers, like sudden lane changes or trying to catch that turn you almost missed. Again, you don't want to throw it around, but you won't be afraid to do so when the time comes. This was additionally surprising because the adaptive steering rack is, well, rather good at adapting. There are only 3.1 turns-to-lock and the turning circle is a paltry 37.7 feet, but the Sport never feels anything close to nervous or snappy.
And all of these things -- stately, air-suspended, leather-bound progress -- is why the Range is a success at what it does and what it represents. As with many other luxury vehicles, few of its buyers will discover its limits (and frankly, we could say that of a fair number of not-so-luxury vehicles, since cars have simply gotten that good). And with all that you get, you won't need to make absurd compromises in order to justify buying one. It isn't an everyman vehicle, a fact which is only incidentally related to its price, in the same way Izod -- or rather, Lacoste, these days -- isn't an everyman brand. But like that little alligator, for those the Range Rover Sport does represent, it speaks very well and in no uncertain terms.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Agile on road, capable off road.
The Range Rover Sport fits between the full-size, top-line Range Rover and the entry-level, family-friendly LR3.
The Sport looks sportier than either the purposeful LR3 or the stately Range Rover and those looks are not deceiving. It is, in fact, spirited, sporty, and relatively agile. And while it offers impressive off-road capability, it's designed as an on-road vehicle comfortable cruising at high speeds and negotiating crowded urban streets.
As its name suggests, the Sport's emphasis is on handling. Its design supports this.
The Range Rover Sport is built on a shorter wheelbase than the LR3 and Range Rover. Though all three share the same basic structure, the Sport stretches just 108 inches from the front to the rear wheels compared with 113 inches for the other two models. And while the LR3 and Range Rover offer seven-passenger seating, the Sport seats five people.
The Sport falls between the LR3 and Range Rover from a pricing standpoint, also. The $58,000 Sport costs $20,000 less than the full-size Range Rover, and about as much as a fully loaded LR3.
The Range Rover Sport was all-new for 2006. Land Rover has made no changes since then, except to add more standard equipment each year.
New for 2008 are standard power folding exterior mirrors, an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, power tilt-and-telescope steering, and some new interior trim and materials.
The 2008 Range Rover Sport comes in two models: HSE ($57,725) and Supercharged ($71,175).
The HSE comes with a 300-horsepower, 4.4-liter V8. The Supercharged model features a supercharged V8 displacing 4.2 liters and making 390 horsepower. Both engines drive through the same six-speed CommandShift automatic transmission (also fitted in the top-of-the-line Range Rover). Full-time four-wheel drive with a two-speed, shift-on-the-fly, electronic transfer case is standard, as is an electronically controlled, locking center differential.
HSE standard features include dual-zone, automatic climate control; cruise control; eight-way power front seats; power tilt-and-telescope steering column; power folding outside mirrors, central locks and windows (with one-touch operation from the front passenger's position); three memory settings for driver's seat and mirrors; digital, 14-speaker, surround-sound AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six-disc, in-dash changer and auxiliary audio inputs; sunroof; front and rear park assist; five function-programmable key fob; Personal Telephone Integration System with Bluetooth capability; and a DVD-based GPS navigation system with voice recognition and dash-mounted, seven-inch, touch-screen LCD display incorporating a picture-in-picture monitor of 4X4 settings and status.
Ride and handling features include Dynamic Stability Control and Active Roll Mitigation, which combine to heighten directional control and rollover resistance; Hill Descent Control, which automatically applies appropriate braking on steep downhill inclines; Terrain Response, a manually selectable set of four pre-programmed suspension and engine management settings for various off-road conditions; and, of course, Land Rover's trademark load-leveling, height-adjustable air suspension.
Options for HSE include Sirius Satellite Radio ($400, plus subscription fee); and 20-inch alloy wheels ($4,000). The Cold Climate package ($1,300) adds heated seats front and rear, a heated windshield and heated washer jets. The Luxury Package ($3,000) includes the Cold Climate package but upgrades the leather upholstery and includes a choice of straight-grained walnut or dark Zebrano wood trim, a center console cool box, and adaptive headlights that pivot when you turn the steering wheel. The Dynamic Response Package ($2,000) combines high-performance Brembo front brakes with the Dynamic Response System, which electronically adjusts the stabilizer bars for optimal cornering.
The Supercharged model, or S/C, comes standard with everything on the HSE plus the Luxury, Cold Climate, and Dynamic Response packages; Sirius Satellite Radio; and 20-inch alloy wheels. Optional Stormer alloy wheels ($1,000) of equal size but with a different design are available, as is Adaptive Cruise Control ($2,000). S/C buyers can also choose straight-grained walnut or dark Zebrano wood interior trim with no extra charge for either.
Optional on both models is an infinitely variable electronic rear differential lock ($500), and a rear-seat entertainment system ($2,500) consisting of two displays integrated into the back sides of the front seat head restraints, a six-disc DVD changer, touchscreen interface, two wireless head sets and a wireless remote control.
Safety features on the Range Rover Sport comprise twin, dual-stage front airbags; front seat-mounted side airbags for torso protection; full-coverage side curtain airbags to protect against head injury in side-impacts and rollovers; child safety seat anchors (LATCH); antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; and all-terrain traction control.
Casual observers may mistake the Range Rover Sport for the top-of-the-line Range Rover, but it's shorter and there are some styling cues that differentiate the two.
The Sport is based on the Land Rover LR3, but the Sport is two inches shorter than the LR3 in overall length; and the wheelbase of the Sport is shorter by more than five inches. It's not as tall, by three inches. The width of the two differs by less than half an inch and the track (the distance between the left and right wheels) is identical to that of the LR3.
Appearance-wise, the Sport looks similar to the top-of-the-line Range Rover, though it's built to a slightly smaller scale. Only the most discerning and trained eye will notice the hood is mostly flat, missing the full-size Range Rover's longitudinal humps running along the top outer edges back from the headlights. Or the presence of understated side skirts, front air dam and rear spoiler. Maybe the front quarter panels' side vents are more obvious, being closely patterned after the LR3's and in stark contrast to the Range Rover's vertical louvers. The most noticeable difference is the windscreen and backlight (rear windscreen) are faster, or more raked.
Because, other than striking a slightly more rakish pose with its rounder, more tapered lines, the Sport contains all the major styling elements of the full-size Range Rover. The compound headlight clusters are indistinguishable. And the grille finishes are similar, with the HSE's a matte gray and the S/C's a bright metallic. The roof gets the marque's trademark floating look, achieved by blacking out the roof pillars. A similar character line runs the length of the body side, but with the door handles positioned beneath it to reinforce the Sport's lower profile. Taillights repeat the larger Range Rover's stacked look, only not quite as tall and with the elements staggered from the vertical. And just like the full-size Range Rovers, the Supercharged Sport has chrome-tipped dual exhausts in place of the HSE's bare, single exhaust.
While the Range Rover Sport's exterior unabashedly mimics the top-of-the-line Range Rover's looks, the interior stays truer to its LR3 underpinnings.
The dash top, instrument cluster and steering wheel are direct transplants from the LR3, right down to the stacks of cruise control buttons and redundant audio controls next to the thin, vertical, metallic horn buttons along each side the airbag cover in the steering wheel hub. The tachometer has no redline, leaving drivers dependent on the Sport's computers to coordinate engine speed and gear selection with terrain idiosyncrasies (not that you'd normally be revving high off road). Although the center stack structure lays back at a more ergonomically friendly angle than the LR3's, the switches, knobs, buttons and display screens are the same as the LR3's, too, which while plentiful, are fairly easy to decipher. The four dash-top vents are shaped differently, but located in the same positions, belying the shared, behind-the-scenes framework. The navigation system's display is recessed in the dash at the top of the center stack and accessible to both front seat occupants.
The seat contours are more defined than both the LR3's and the full-size Range Rover's standard accommodations, although the seat bottoms could be deeper and provide more thigh support. More pronounced bolsters in front add lateral support, and the rear seat's softer cushions render it less bench-like than it looks; we appreciated this over a several hour drive from Aspen, Colorado, to the smooth red rock around Moab, Utah. Infinitely adjustable, inboard arm rests in front ease long, droning, interstate drives.
The head restraints could be better. The positioning of the front-seat head restraints favors the back-seat movie watchers. To ensure the best viewing experience, the head restraints, which double as housings for the video screens, are fixed in a vertical plane; in other words, they're adjustable only up or down and cannot be angled forward or backward. We found the head rest a bit intrusive. More vehicles are coming this way in an effort to reduce the chance of neck injuries in a rear-end collision. Reclining the front seat a bit lessened the discomfort.
A panel of auxiliary jacks for the entertainment system is set into the rear of the front center console, along with the levers for the optional rear seat heaters.
In most interior measures, the Sport fits between the more utilitarian LR3 and the better-appointed but tighter-fitting Range Rover. The Sport's front seat offers less leg and headroom than the LR3, but more legroom than the Range Rover and about the same headroom. The Sport's rear seat headroom is also less than in the LR3, but about the same as in the top model; and legroom is the same as in the LR3 but more than in the Range Rover.
In cargo space, the Sport fits where it logically should, offering almost 20 fewer cubic feet than the much more upright LR3 but less than four fewer than the Range Rover. Save for cup holders, of which there are but two, protected by a sliding cover in the front center console, incidental storage is decent. The nifty little cool box packaged with the Luxury Interior option fits in the cubby in the center console aft of those cup holders and chills small beverage bottles and snacks. The front doors have two map pockets, the rear doors, one. Pouches for magazine and headsets are stitched into the backside of the front seat backs. The bi-level glove box's upper element doubles as a CD rack. Atop this, a divided tray for odds and ends fills the space between the air conditioning registers.
Land Rovers must, by definition, be at least as adept off-road as on. The Range Rover Sport may push the needle a bit closer to the on-road end of the gauge than some of the marque's faithful believe appropriate, but most needn't worry, as it'll still go where most of us would hesitate to tread.
Off-road capability is aided by its impressive suspension articulation and angles of approach, ramp break-over and departure. It doesn't offer quite the amazing capabilities of the Range Rover or LR2, but we climbed rock faces nearing a 45-degree gradient with minimal tire slippage, thanks to the all-terrain traction control. Dangling a wheel in the air while crossing fields of boulders upset neither us nor the Sport. Hill Descent Control worked its magic on slopes ranging from loose gravel to slippery silt. The biggest obstacle we faced over an afternoon of serious off-roading was our reflexive tendency to interfere with the various terrain-sensing systems.
What impressed us is how well the Sport comports itself when the going gets paved. Both engines come from Jaguar, so urban and exurban refinement is presumed. The automatic transmission is sourced from Aston Martin, noted for high-performance polish.
Tooling around Aspen, the HSE, with its naturally aspirated V8, felt more comfortable, more at home, than the Supercharged. Throttle response in the HSE seems more linear, shifts more subtle, the ride more compliant. The Supercharged seems occasionally to catch the transmission off guard, as if the transmission isn't quite sure what the engine wants by way of managing the gear shift. Throttle tip-in, too, was sometimes a bit more aggressive than we wanted, making difficult a calm acceleration from a stop. The ride quality of the low-profile tires was a bit harsher over rough and broken pavement. These issues hurt the Supercharged in stop-and-go traffic.
For our money, we'd choose the Range Rover Sport HSE. If our budget allowed the Supercharged model, we'd spring for the full-size Range Rover. But that's us.
Both the HSE and the S/C account well for themselves on the interstates, even when pushing the posted limits more than just a little; at highway speeds, the air suspension automatically lowers the Sport one inch, lessening drag and stabilizing the ride. At highway speeds, the speed-sensitive assisted steering feels a tad light, with not as much on-center feel as we like. Cranked up to seriously extra-legal rates of travel, though, directional stability improves markedly.
The adaptive cruise control works as promised; the Sport maintains your choice of one of four programmed following ranges, which are based on time, not distance, slowing perceptively but not obtrusively as the gap to followed vehicles closes, then gently building speed when the road is clear. No, the system won't slam on the brakes if it senses impending doom and you're too busy chatting on the cell to notice, but it will sound an alarm to get your attention.
Braking is more than adequate, much better than older Land Rovers, for which a couple of marmots scurrying across the road on a pass above Aspen should be eternally grateful. There is, however, more dive under braking, and squat under acceleration, for that matter, than we expected with a suspension as sophisticated as this one.
Range Rovers have never been known for their prowess on winding, two-lane back roads. No longer, at least in the Sport. And this holds for both the HSE and the S/C, especially now that the HSE can be ordered with the excellent Brembo brakes and Dynamic Response suspension. The engine, the air suspension and the tires play their part, but sharing top billing are the transmission and the aforementioned Dynamic Response System (DRS).
The transmission adapts to a wide variety of driving styles, from the sporty to the laid back. When it senses a heavier foot on the gas and high cornering loads, it heads toward the sporty end of the spectrum, downshifting more readily and avoiding upshifts mid-corner. In CommandShift mode, it matches engine and gear speeds during shifts. Its outstanding attribute is the ability to do the same thing when it's downshifting in automatic Sport mode, or under heavy braking, to affect a virtual double-clutch, electronically syncing engine and gear speeds to smooth the change. We experienced something similar in the full-size Range Rover Supercharged, but the Sport's system responds more readily, quicker and more crisply.
The Dynamic Response Suspension, or DRS, similar to the system on the BMW 7 Series, monitors steering angle and horizontal acceleration to anticipate when the Sport will lean in a corner. Using hydraulic motors powered by an engine-driven pump, it then stiffens the stabilizer bar at each wheel at the precise moment the Sport starts to lean. It works, as we proved to ourselves on quick runs down winding, two-lane roads outside Moab with and without the system. With DRS, it felt like the Sport was lifting its wheels just enough to keep everything on an even keel. Not to worry, though, the Sport doesn't remain perfectly flat to the limit of adhesion through corners. The engineers realized this could get inattentive or over-confident drivers into trouble. Once the lateral force reaches about 0.4g, the system allows a bit of body roll. The system decouples off-road so as not to restrict suspension articulation.
The Range Rover Sport retains the superb off-road capability for which Land Rovers are legendary, but delivers on-road performance as good as or better than the luxury-utility competition. Our preference is for the HSE model.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard drove Range Rover Sport models in Aspen, Colorado, Moab, Utah, and Carmichael, California.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE ($58,225); Range Rover Sport Supercharged ($71,675).
Options As Tested
Adaptive Cruise Control ($2,000); rear seat entertainment system ($2,500).
Range Rover Sport Supercharged ($71,175).
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