The Range Rover Sport reaffirms its status as the most exciting and dynamic member of the Land Rover range
What was tested? 2010 Range Rover Sport Supercharged ($73,345).
Options: Rear differential lock ($600), HD digital radio ($350), extended leather package ($1,000), rear seat entertainment ($2,500), 20-inch alloy wheels ($1,000).
Price as tested (including $850 destination charge): $79,545.
Pros: It has all the quality and luxury of a Range Rover in a sportier, more fun-to-drive package. The supercharged engine is mind-blowing.
Cons: Its immense weight makes it get poor gas mileage, and its starting price is over $60,000.
Every time I drive a Land Rover, I'm left with the same impression: This is what it's like to drive a real SUV.
There's something genuine about driving a Land Rover -- especially the big, hulking Range Rover -- that you don't find in other vehicles.
Maybe it's because they're so phenomenally heavy that they feel military grade. Maybe it's because everything on them is built so solid -- from the door pulls to the knobs on the dash -- that they seem like they'll survive a direct nuclear blast. Or maybe it's how these off-road vehicles are so unwaveringly, undeniably British.
Whatever the case, I expected to come away with the same Royal Marines feeling when I drove the Range Rover Sport this week. But this particular vehicle came with something I'd never experienced in a Land Rover before: a supercharger.
Land Rover engineers managed to cram a 510 horsepower 5.0-liter, supercharged V8 engine under the hood of the Range Rover Sport
The Land Rover engineers managed to cram a 5.0-liter, supercharged V8 engine under the hood of the Range Rover Sport, and the outcome is mind-blowing speed in a vehicle that just doesn't look like it should go fast.
It's the same engine Jaguar puts in its new XFR, so you know it's refined and immensely powerful. It makes 510 horsepower with the kind of grace and smoothness under acceleration that makes it feel unflappable as it rockets away from stoplights or merges effortlessly onto high-speed freeways.
The end result is the kind of vehicle that just doesn't seem possible: highly capable off-road, and fast as stink on pavement.
In fact, this kind of performance is so rare that it's hard to find anything to compare it to. The closest vehicle would probably be the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but even that feels like it belongs on a racetrack. This supercharged Land Rover feels like it belongs in the Serengeti.
Now, if you're not a Land Rover cognoscenti, you might be surprised to learn the Range Rover Sport is a completely different vehicle from the Range Rover. The Sport is smaller, more nimble and styled more aggressively.
The interior of the 2010 Range Rover Sport has been comprehensively redesigned, using higher quality materials, soft-touch finishes and superior craftsmanship to create a premium environment which is truly worthy of the Range Rover brand
The Sport definitely doesn't lack in luxury, though. In fact, short of buying a Rolls Royce, you aren't likely to find a cabin this nice anywhere. Nearly all the surfaces are covered in soft leather with perfect stitching -- from the dash to the door trim to the armrests. Nearly everything else is covered in real wood, which had a gorgeous matte finish in our test vehicle. It's the kind of interior you can't stop touching because everything feels so nice.
Another plus in the cabin is that Land Rover has finally managed to get rid of the overwhelming number of buttons that have plagued its older models. Now most functions can be operated through on-screen menus, while only the most important off-road options -- like suspension settings and traction control programs for different surface conditions -- are available with genuine, old-fashioned buttons.
All those settings only hint at the range of capabilities this SUV has. It can take you virtually anywhere on the planet, but at the same time it's modern, comfortable and luxurious enough to provide stylish transportation to the symphony. Just press a button, and it transforms from mountain climber to highway cruiser.
There are two downsides, though, and you can probably already guess them: cost and gas mileage.
Pricing starts at $60,495 for the Range Rover Sport, which comes in a luxurious starting package called the HSE. If you want the supercharged version, it costs $74,195. Gas mileage is rated at 13 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway with the base V8, and 1 mpg worse if you opt for the supercharger.
Still, if you want to drive a legendary vehicle that can take you anywhere you want to go in style and supreme comfort, it's hard to beat a Land Rover at any price.