Why do we call them SUVs? That’s probably a very good question, since most vehicles that fit the category are more like a pair of traditional golf trousers than sweatpants when it comes to sportiness. One that isn’t, is the aptly named Range Rover Sport. Along with a handful of mostly European 4,500 lb plus conveyances, it proves that relatively big and heavy doesn’t have to be boring.
|1. A new 5.0L V8 engine delivers 375-hp in HSE models and 510-hp in the Sport model, enabling a 0-60 mph time of just 5.9 seconds.
2. Despite its name, the RR Sport is built off the LR4 architecture, not that of the Range Rover.
3. Pricing ranges from $59,645 for HSE and $73,345 for the Sport.
4. An updated Terrain Response system with improved Sand mode for 2010 is geared towards Middle-Eastern markets, where the Sport is very popular.
For 2010 the Sport has been given a significant update, designed to make it even more fun than before. It all begins on the outside. Compared to little brother LR4, the grille and headlight changes are a little more subtle, but follow the same pattern. Perhaps most obvious are the gimmicky glowing LED lights, though the grille is actually different and perhaps a bit busier than before. The fenders are also new, largely to clear the new 19 and 20-inch rolling stock, but you’d probably never know from looking at them. Out back mild tweaks to the taillights lend a more contemporary look. If there is one thing that impresses about the exterior, it is the attention to detail, fit and finish – it’s exemplary.
Inside it’s the same thing. The cabin is light, airy, very well appointed and tastefully designed. It’s also a lesson in how luxury vehicle interiors should be done, not a stitch out of place and a quality feel to just about everything, from the seats to the door handles and mirror controls. Unlike the Range Rover, the Sport retains a traditional analog speedometer and tach – the Thin Film Transistor screen instead being a small unit sandwiched between them that highlights functions such as outside temperature and vehicle operation. The center console features rotary controls, a minimum of buttons and a refreshingly easy to use touch screen for the navigation and in-car entertainment. An optional five-camera viewing system is a welcome addition, especially when parking and venturing off the beaten track.
The driving position is also excellent, with good outward visibility and a nice steering wheel to seat relationship. The seats are also sumptuous, without being too soft and this applies both to the front chairs and the second row, which is a lot more comfortable than it looks.
The Range Rover Sport comes in two flavors for 2010, spicy and ultra hot. The spicy version, the HSE (which starts at $59,645), is almost as powerful as last year’s Sport, thanks to enlarged V8 engine, now displacing an honest 5.0-liters. It utilizes direct fuel injection and not only does it qualify as an ultra low emissions vehicle, it’s also vastly more efficient than the old 4.4, cranking out a sizeable 375 horsepower and 375 ft-lbs of torque and comes teamed with it a ZF six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is strong, the V8’s soundtrack memorable. The ZF gearbox features adaptive algorithms, which tailor shift timing to an individual driver’s particular style. For more fun, you can also switch to manual mode, tapping the lever to change up or down – particularly good for overtaking and charging up hills.
The ultra hot version, the Sport (with a MSRP of $73,345) adds an updated Eaton/Roots style supercharger to the mix, along with other changes, that result in a whopping 510 horsepower and 461 ft-lbs of torque. Combined with steering wheel mounted paddle shifts to operate the gears in manual mode, it’s perhaps about the most fun you’ll have this side of a proper sports sedan. Goose the loud pedal and it launches… hard!
Big heavy trucks have no right to go this fast, but the Sport Supercharged accelerates almost quickly enough to tear the tarmac to shreds in its wake. And it never gets old. At nearly every stoplight you find yourself wanting to just mash the gas. But remember the golden rule, that power brings responsibility. Manufacturer stats quote the 0-60 mph dash taking 5.9 seconds (7.2 for the HSE), which for a 5,800 lb vehicle is very quick, all things considered. But the trade-off of all this of course if fuel economy: HSE models get between 13/18 miles per gallon city/highway on average, while the Supercharged version will manage 12 to 17.
FROM TARMAC TO SAND DUNES
Along with its sprinting ability the Sport has also been given some help in the handling department. The all-independent suspension now boasts shocks with Adaptive Dynamic Control, where by twisting the console mounted Terrain Response knob, the valving firms up and is automatically adjusted to suit the road conditions. Combined with the bigger wheels and wider tires (standard 19s on the HSE, 20s on the Sport, optional on the HSE), the result is a very capable handler. We took it on some quite winding roads and threw it about with considerable aplomb – not once did it protest. The steering has also been retuned and is firmer, with better on center feel. Ride is firm, but not unduly harsh.
Sport gets new brakes too – the HSE benefits from new four-piston front calipers and larger discs, while the Supercharged gets monster six-pot clampers. Panic stops present no problem at all and the blown car brakes hard enough to cause nose bleeds – in fact stopping distance is almost halved compared with last year’s rig.
Because the Sport is built off the LR4’s architecture, it’s also far more capable off the black stuff than it’s competition, namely the Cayenne and BMW X6. Besides Dynamic mode, the Terrain Response system includes specific settings for Tarmac, Gravel and Snow, Mud and Ruts, Sand and Rocks. Although the Sport features decidedly on road biased tires, it will still scramble over rough terrain with ease and thanks to intelligent throttle mapping and plenty of torque, it never struggles. Although too much torque can become a problem, especially on loose or slippery surfaces, the Sport features and improved traction control system, which really comes into its own when encountering heavy gravel or sand. If you live in the South West, consider it an asset if desert camping is your thing – and even if you’re used to five stars, it doesn’t hurt to get back to nature once in a while.
It’s very hard to be all things to all people, but in vehicle terms the Range Rover Sport comes very close. Blindingly fast, fun to drive, yet able to get rough when called upon, it’s perhaps the closest thing to true all-rounder you’re likely to find. And if you ask us, it’s one of the few machines that truly deserves the title ‘Sport Utility Vehicle.’