Land Rover is legendary for its off-roading capabilities - and the 2009 Range Rover Sport is no exception.
Granted, most people will probably never tackle the great outdoors in this SUV - the closest they might come is driving over a curb. But rest assured if you want to go off the beaten track, it can handle it.
Whether you're climbing rocks or plowing through mud, it's little challenge thanks to a Terrain Response System that maximizes traction and control depending on the ground surface. Just turn a dial to select general, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, sand, or rock crawl. The system does the rest; it adjusts the throttle response, sets the centre and rear differentials for the terrain, and positions the air suspension for the correct ride height.
You can see it all on the 4x4 information display on the LCD screen; it identifies the settings such as the gear, front-wheel position and the suspension.
A two-speed transfer case has an electronically controlled, infinitely-variable locking centre differential that automatically distributes torque to both drive axles. Shifting-on-the-fly between low and high ranges is also possible without stopping.
The Range Rover Sport is filled with a variety of safety features - EBA, ARM, HDC, EBD, TPMS, and DSC. But what do all the acronyms mean?
EBA or electronic brake assist provides an extra boost during an emergency stop; ARM is active roll mitigation, which predicts unbalanced weight shifts to stabilize the SUV; HDC is hill descent control, which helps the SUV creep slowly down steep grades; EBD or electronic brake-force distribution balances the stopping traction on all four wheels regardless of how the vehicle is loaded, TPMS or tire-pressure monitoring system warns of deflated tires, and DSC or dynamic stability control helps maintain directional control.
The SUV also has six airbags, a collapsible steering column, bi-xenon automatic headlights with power washers, a LATCH (Lower Anchor and Tether for Children) system for child seat attachments, and child locks for rear doors and windows.
And if a crash occurs, the engine automatically shuts down, the fuel pump is disabled, the doors are unlocked, and the hazard lights are activated.
Of course, all these goodies don't come cheap. The 2009 HSE base model costs $71,600; while the Supercharged trim is $85,500. Be cautious of options as well. They add up fast.
My supercharged tester has adaptive cruise control, which costs $2,800. It adjusts automatically to the traffic ahead and applies the brake and throttle for the driver to maintain a safe distance between other vehicles. While my tester is $90,770 as is, it's easy to push the price north of $100,000 if you go for the HST Limited Edition Package.
It costs $10,700 and adds, among other things, premium ebony leather with contrasting ivory stitching, a DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system, Sirius satellite radio and adaptive front lights. A unique front grille, body-coloured lower side panels, extended rear roof spoiler and rear chrome exhaust tips are also part of the package. Personally, I'd skip it - after all, the exterior and interior are already lavish and upscale as is.
The Range Rover Sport is massive with undeniably menacing good looks. Plus it has serious muscle power. Under the hood is a 4.2-litre supercharged V-8, which delivers 390 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. It has three modes - automatic, sport and CommandShift, which lets you change gears manually.
The supercharged model is powerful and the acceleration fast; it can hit 0-100 km in only 7.6 seconds, which is impressive for a 2,614-kg SUV. The fuel economy isn't as impressive. Official numbers are 17.7 litres/100 km city and 11.4 highway - but I averaged higher at 18.8 L/100 km combined driving.
The deep grumble from the exhaust is also music to the ears. The ride isn't as agile or sporty as some of its competitors, such the Porsche Cayenne, but it's still pleasant. There is some body lean when cornering. And reliability isn't the best, either; it has been below-average in quality surveys.
The step-in is high, but large grab handles give you a much-needed boost into the cabin. From the driver's seat, you have a commanding view of the road ahead.
The front bucket seats are supportive and eight-way power-adjustable. High bolsters offer excellent lateral support, too. A three-driver memory for the driver's seat, power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and exterior mirrors makes it easy to save favourite settings when you're switching between drivers.
Upscale materials such as tasteful real wood, supple leather and chrome accents are everywhere. But the console is busy - littered with knobs and buttons for every function imaginable.
A DVD-based GPS navigation system can be operated via the seven-inch LCD touch screen or by voice command. The sound system, a premium 550-watt Harman/Kardon with six-disc in-dash CD/MP3 changer and 14 speakers, is excellent and easily accessible via the steering-wheel buttons.
The rear seats fit three people comfortably and offer excellent head-, shoulder- and leg-room, even for passengers taller than six feet.
A rear-seat entertainment package with two front headrest displays, a six-disc DVD changer, a remote control device and a touch screen interface, is optional.
New features for 2009 include clear lenses on the tail lamps and side turn signal lamps. Body-colour paint replaces a matte-black finish on the lower tailgate. New exterior colours include Bournville (a.k.a. dark brown metallic), Santorini Black and Galway Green. Two new 20-inch wheel trims with 15-spoke designs are also available - one has a silver finish and the other has a diamond appearance.
This is a luxurious ride - even if you don't venture off the beaten track.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
2009 LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT SUPERCHARGED
Type: Premium large SUV
Base Price: $85,500; as tested, $90,770
Engine: 4.2-litre, DOHC, supercharged V-8
Horsepower/Torque: 390 hp/410 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Permanent four-wheel-drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 17.7 city/11.4 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56, Lexus LX470
- Cool technology
- Safety features
- Good looks
- Powerful supercharged engine
- Reliability issues
- Busy console