Autos: Rugged but Refined
In the one summer that Land Rover’s Range Rover Sport has been ambling among us, it has ascended promptly through that unusual—some say contradictory—portfolio of high-priced, high-performance, luxury sport-utility vehicles. In doing so, it has created consumer confusion centered on the $90,000 question of why one would pay that sum for a supercharged, 390 hp, 4.2-liter, V-8 Range Rover, when for about $20,000 less, one can purchase a supercharged, 390 hp, 4.2-liter, V-8 Range Rover Sport.
Despite the addition of a blower and significant increases in horsepower and quickness, the new supercharged Range Rover remains the elderly, overstuffed lump it always has been: luxurious, elegant, and chunkier than a cottage in the Cotswolds—a characteristic that becomes a hindrance whenever the vehicle’s maneuvering and mobility increase beyond the straight and lethargic.
The supercharged Range Rover Sport, however, travels faster, easier, and much more securely. (The Sport also is available as a less expensive, 300 hp, normally aspirated model that does not breathe as well nor pull as hard at skiing altitudes.) It is built on the same underpinnings as those of Land Rover’s LR3/Discovery, which makes it shorter, lighter, narrower, and lower than its big brother. It has all the rock-crawling, bog-fording, cliff-climbing, and dune-wading talents that have been hallmarks of Land Rovers since Spencer and Maurice Wilks of Solihull in the British Midlands took a Willys Jeep apart in 1948 and decided they could build something better.
Yet more impressive than its toughness are the considerable manners (an innovation that, for a Land Rover, borders on the miraculous) that the Sport displays while traveling interstates and country roads. Steering is tight, honest, and speed-sensitive, even when the vehicle is approaching 140 mph, but performing a slalom test at such a pace still is not recommended.
Although its profile is high compared to those of its peers, its wheelbase is short, and its center of gravity is dodgy, the Range Rover Sport, with its soft corners and gently raked windshield and rear deck, appears, well, almost streamlined. Indeed, it is the lowest-slung Range Rover ever.
Propelled by an engine transplanted from Jaguar’s XK and XJ series, the Sport reaches 60 mph from rest in a whisker over 7 seconds, which means it will not catch a Porsche Cayenne Turbo but will certainly stay with a BMW X5, a Mercedes ML55, and others in this high-grunt SUV niche. At the driver’s fingertips are buttons for controlling feet-off-the-brakes hill descent, terrain clearance for mud ruts or boulder-strewn trails, low gears, and traction supervision, and an adaptive cruise control removes any worries about line-astern travel and louts who might cut in.
As for the question of why anyone would opt for the more expensive Range Rover over the Sport, count us among the confused.