When the Range Rover Sport was first introduced I didn’t much care for it. The shape wasn’t quite right, the interior was too cheap for the price tag, and for a model with “Sport” in its name, it just didn’t seem to have the thrust required even in Supercharged trim. Apparently the Landie headquarters was listening, so for 2010 the Range Rover Sport gets an overhaul, but does it take the Sport from an expensive plastic box to something Jeep owners secretly crave? The boffins at Tata lent us the keys for a week to find out.
There are hundreds of choices for the modern SUV shopper, but when it comes to the ultimate in rugged off-roading there are only two brands that spring to mind: Jeep and Land Rover. While Jeeps certainly go off-road, only one company can claim they are By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, Manufacturers of Land Rover Vehicles. Of course I have to ask who else would make a “Land Rover vehicle” other than Land Rover?
Royal warrants aside, if luxury is what you seek in your off-road conveyance, then a Range Rover is what the doctor ordered. Despite the fact that Land Rover sales have been lack luster and the brand changes hands more often than the village bicycle, it would appear that Tata (the new owners of the Queen’s favourite off-road brand) has continued where Ford left off improving the quality of the brand’s products. Back in 2004 Ford decided there should be an off-road model with some on-road performance ability and a slightly cheaper price tag. To that end the engineers in the UK took a Discovery 3, tarted it up with Range Rover look-alike sheet metal and stuffed the Range Rover engines inside. The resulting product was not-quite sporty and not-quite a Range Rover, but it did give you some designer looks at outlet pricing.
While the changes for 2010 are not terribly obvious on the outside, and Land Rover has done nothing to correct the silly sloping rear window angle, the interior changes make this a car finally worth the $82,000 price tag (as tested). From the wood trim to the beautifully stitched dashboard, this interior is now world class. Beneath the aromatic leather lies the reality that the 2010 model is merely a facelift of last year’s sport which means that the basic shapes of the dash (and the problems they cause) are still very much alive and well in the 2010.
The navigation screen’s angle makes it impossible to read the screen in bright sunlight, the horn cannot be honked by pressing the centre of the airbag cover (you have to use the two silver coloured bars on either side), and for a vehicle this large there are strangely few cubbies or compartments to stuff your stash. Also on the nag list are iPod and USB connectors that are in the lid of the centre console which means that every time you want to get into the refrigerator in the centre console (worth every penny I must say) your iPod falls into the cold abyss of the fridge. For the price, Rover could have splurged for a connector in one of the two glove boxes in the dash, especially considering that the upper glove box is small enough to make is useless for much else.
Once you press the start button you’ll notice a few other deficiencies. The navigation screen which also controls phone and car functions is far from intuitive, the method of pairing a Bluetooth phone is the most convoluted I have experienced and the process for playing a DVD to entertain rear seat passengers is infuriating. Instead of having a DVD player in the center console or under a seat, it’s stashed behind a very small panel in the rear of the cargo compartment that is completely unlabelled and barely big enough for the changer’s cartridge. Once you have a disc in the changer, you have to turn on each screen individually by means of the nav/control screen up front. Good luck figuring out how the included IR remote control works for controlling the video, we never did. After a solid 45 minutes of fiddling with the DVD player, figuring out how to operate what and setting a destination on the navigation system, I pressed the accelerator to begin my journey and what happened next is nothing short of intoxicating. This nearly three-ton wood and leather wrapped steel box tore down the highway like a wannabe M3.
Motivated by the same engine as the Jaguar XFR, the RR Sport Supercharged’s all new 5.0L V8 cranks out 510HP and 461lb-ft of twist which is some serious power, even for a vehicle of this heft (the 2009 Supercharged model churned out a measly 390HP). Channelling this power to the ground is a 6 speed ZF transmission and the requisite full time all-wheel-drive system that you would expect in a Range Rover.
The best way to describe the power that the Sport Supercharged delivers is: savage. Land Rover claims that the RR Sport Supercharged will do a 0-60 run in 5.9, but I beg to differ. Here at TheTruthAboutCars.com we speak the truth no matter what. I can honestly say I never timed a 0-60 run slower than 5.2 seconds which puts this SUV in some serious company. At first I figured that my G-Tech accelerometer based performance meter was in need of calibration, however a quick trip to my local drag confirmed a 5.15 second time to 60 with no rollout. Feeling like I had been given some crazy modified press car and feeling quite indignant, I managed to convince a local dealer to loan me one for a short while and again timed a 5.2 second run to 60. BMW has long been known to understate the performance of their cars, but Land Rover? Who knew?
This latest generation of the Jaguar AJ V8 incorporates variable valve timing and direction injection giving the 2010 a 15% improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing model. The only quibble I have is that for all the power the RR Sport is practically silent. If only Land Rover’s Indian masters had fitted the Sport Supercharged with the exhaust system out of the XFR… The one problem with the prodigious power the Sport’s engine produces is that the laws of physics still must be obeyed. Rover tried their best by fitting enormous brakes and wide tyres, but when you try to take three [tall] tons into a corner at speed, grip will be limited.
It is on the road that comparisons to the BMW X5 M are inevitable, I tried coaxing one out of BMW but came up short handed and had to visit to my local BMW dealer for an extended test drive. Compared to the X5 M, the Range Rover doesn’t handle as well, nor does it have the same feel and presence on the road, but what it does have is a greater sense of occasion. The M badge on the BMW is accompanied by bulges and flares and a reduction in off-road ability while the Rover is certainly the sleeper in this pair. Despite 510HP, the Sport Supercharged retains the adjustable height dynamic air suspension found on the regular Sport models, which means that you can still ford 27.6 inches of water, climb some rocks on the weekend and stop-light race Mustangs on the way home.
For those that must take their luxury ride where cars fear to tread, the terrain management system makes the process a cinch. Soon to be duplicated in the Ford Explorer and essentially copied by Chrysler for the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, you select the surface you wish to traverse and you let the car’s brain determine what to lock, where to send power and how loud the nannies will yell at you for playing in the mud. Since off-roading in a Range Rover means you’ll probably be dressed in your favourite tweed riding gear, 4×4 information can be commanded to appear on the Range Rover’s nav screen displaying which diffs are locked, the position of the wheels, air suspension ride height and range selection. Just be careful on those rocks, I kerbed two wheels in a parking garage in San Francisco with very little effort.
At the end of the day, the Range Rover Sport Supercharged may just be the ultimate man-wagon: rugged, capable, flashy, and insanely fast. Most owners of an $82,000 SUV may never take it off road but they will nevertheless be comforted by the knowledge that it is capable, just in case the apocalypse happens while you’re on the school run. So if you’re out shopping for a Jaguar but you’re afraid it can’t make it down your gravel drive, then the 2011 Range Rover Sport Supercharged may be chock full of flaws, but it is also just about as close to SUV perfection as it gets.
Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the 2011 Range Rover Sport Supercharged. If you would like to ask questions of car reviews in progress, or just follow TTAC, checkout our Facebook page. FB fans, here are your answer: Brett W: yes, it can climb that mountain in the background, but I took the easy way, there’s a road that goes up the back. Patrick C: It will not do burnouts, I could find no way of disabling the AWD system, but it will spend plenty of time spinning all four wheels on the grass, wet tarmac, gravel, etc. Tony J: On a 560 mile round trip to Tahoe, highway speeds of 75MPH, going from sea level to ~7,100 feet and rolling hills in-between we averaged 18.8MPG. My daily commute resulted in an average of 18.4 and while stabbing the throttle at every occasion I averaged 14.4.
Land Rover provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.