By Jim MacPherson
Logic suggests that vehicles such as the Range Rover Sport might be facing some challenges in this underwhelming economy.
So much for logic.
Sales of these $60,000 plus vehicles are setting records, with volume up nearly 40 percent in some months this year compared to 2010.
Last year, Land Rover made significant changes to the Range Rover Sport. Styling was updated, though it would take a sharp eye to spot the differences from across the parking lot, and the engines were upgraded. Out went the smooth and powerful 4.4-liter V-8 in base models. The Supercharged model also lost its more powerful 4.2-liter V-8.
In their places came an even more powerful and refined pair of 5.0 liter, V-8 engines. Buyers of the non-supercharged models saw engine output jump from 300 to 375 horsepower. Meanwhile, the new supercharged version produced 510 horsepower, up from 390.
This year, Land Rover has made some less sweeping, but still significant, changes. "They have simplified the technology in the navigation and audio systems," says Adrienne Leader, sales manager at Land Rover Farmington Valley. "Voice command has been added back and it now comes with a power liftgate. Customers have been asking for that."
Several variations of the 2012 Range Rover Sport are available. The base HSE has no options but is luxurious . Nonetheless, Land Rover offers an HSE Lux version that buyers find irresistible. "Most people want the luxury package," Leader says, "so I order most of our vehicles with it."
The luxury package contents include upgraded wheels and tires, more luxurious leather upholstery, heated front and second row seats, a heated steering wheel and heated windshield.
Supercharged buyers are prompted primarily by the more powerful engine. For all but the most power hungry, however, there is little reason to step up to this model. Our review non-supercharged Range Rover Sport managed to reach 60 miles per hour in seven seconds flat, two-tenths of a second faster than Land Rover claims. That should suffice for all situations. The six-speed automatic transmission delivered a near-perfect performance. Towing capacity is 7,716 pounds. There is also a Supercharged Autobiography model that is both more costly and lavishly equipped.
All Range Rover Sports come with a full-time four-wheel drive system with an integrated terrain response system that allows the driver to specify the challenges of the road – or trail – ahead. The Range Rover Sport then tailors its throttle response, suspension height, transmission operation and electronic aids for grass, gravel, snow, sand, mud and ruts, rock crawling or paved roads.
Previous off-road treks in a Range Rover Sport have demonstrated this model’s prowess in coping with the wild. For this review, the Range Rover Sport never left pavement, where it demonstrated impressive on-road capabilities. The ride is firm but comfortable, and handling is stable and secure. New for 2012 is an addition to the stability control system that slows the vehicle if the driver inadvertently takes a corner too quickly.
Inside, there is room for five adults in the two rows of seats. Describing the interior properly, however, requires more than a rudimentary passenger count. One rather reserved male passenger, who had never been in any Range Rover before, eyed the instrument panel, ran his fingers over the smooth wooden accents on the console, felt the leather upholstery and the instrument panel and pronounced the vehicle a work of art. Merely suggesting that the interior is finished to high standards would sell the Range Rover Sport short.
"The Range Rover Sport has always been one of our best selling vehicles," Leader says. "It meets our customers' desire to have something sporty, but still have the sure footedness of a sport utility vehicle."
It also delivers most of the style, grace and panache of the flagship Range Rover for nearly $20,000 less. "It is the perfect combination of sports car and SUV, all in one," Leader says.
Vehicle: Range Rover Sport: Starts at $60,045
Engines: 5.0 5.0 Supercharged
HP 375 510
Torque (lb-ft) 375 461
EPA 13/18 12/17