What's New for 2008
The 2008 Land Rover Range Rover Sport gains power-folding exterior mirrors, an eight-way power passenger seat, a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel and slight interior detail improvements.
As legend has it, globe-trotting adventurer Sir Dalton Hudson-Hodges ventured deep into the Congolese jungle in his Range Rover searching for the mythical great apes of Uele Gangu. It was there that he came across a seemingly harmless old man who, unbeknownst to the khaki-clad Brit, was in fact a head-shrinking witch doctor entrusted with guarding the apes against fame- and fortune-seeking adventurers. When the mustachioed Sir Dalton emerged from the jungle four months after he entered, his beige safari helmet was now several sizes too large and his beloved Range Rover had shrunken as well -- to rather sporty proportions.
Fact or fiction? Well, at the very least there is a smaller, sportier Land Rover -- the 2008 Range Rover Sport. But it's not a shrunken version of Land Rover's flagship SUV. In fact, despite the name and appearance, it's based on the company's LR3 SUV. The Sport is Land Rover's first attempt at an on-road-focused vehicle meant for style-conscious suburbanites -- a vehicle for exploring central London rather than central Africa. It still has a full arsenal of mountain-trail-tackling technologies, but retuned steering and suspension components and available active roll technology create superior handling on paved roads. Although it may seem like an oxymoron, this really is an athletic Land Rover.
There are two available V8 engines (shared with the Range Rover), but it is the more powerful supercharged mill that produces the needed thrust to challenge such SUV thoroughbreds as the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5. Still, don't expect blistering acceleration from a vehicle that weighs a whopping 5,670 pounds. The Sport is smaller in every exterior dimension compared to the Range Rover, but curb weight is similar-- apparently a witch doctor can't do the work of Jenny Craig. On the upside, interior space is also about the same as its big brother, lending the Range Rover Sport a fair amount of practicality despite its tapered roof line and sleeker, more aerodynamic shape.
Before signing on the dotted line, however, we'd closely consider one of the Sport's competitors like the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Going against the Range Rover is a hefty price tag and the aforementioned curb weight that hampers acceleration, agility and fuel economy. Also, modern Land Rovers suffer from notoriously poor reliability, which is more than ironic considering Land Rover's reputation for ferrying adventurers into the Congo and beyond.
Nevertheless, among the luxury performance SUV set, the 2008 Land Rover Range Rover Sport has the power and handling credentials to keep it competitive against models donning iconic performance nameplates. Land Rover is a pretty iconic nameplate itself, but in an entirely different way, which adds to its undeniable attraction as a vehicle that's impressively adept on and off the road. The legend of Sir Dalton Hudson-Hughes and his shrunken Range Rover may be a great load of ape dung, but the idea of a sporty Land Rover is certainly not.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Range Rover Sport is a midsize SUV available in HSE and Supercharged trim levels. The HSE comes standard with 19-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, an adjustable air suspension, front and rear parking sensors, power front seats, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 stereo with CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack. The Supercharged adds 20-inch wheels, the Dynamic Response suspension system that enhances on-road and off-road handling, adaptive headlights, heated front and rear seats, heated windshield and washer jets, walnut wood trim, a center console cooler box and satellite radio. All of these items are optional on the HSE. Adaptive cruise control is optional on the Supercharged only. Both trims can be equipped with a rear differential lock, upgraded leather upholstery and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with LCD screens mounted in the front headrests.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard Range Rover Sport HSE is powered by a 4.4-liter V8 that generates 300 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque. The Supercharged model features a blown 4.2-liter version of this engine that ups the power ante to 390 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift logic that adjusts itself to road conditions and your driving style. In performance testing, the Supercharged version went from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, which isn't much quicker than the larger non-Sport Range Rover Supercharged.
Both trims get Land Rover's permanent 4WD system with two-speed transfer case and the Terrain Response System that automatically sets powertrain, suspension and electronic systems to optimize traction based on five different settings: general, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, sand and rock crawl. Properly equipped Range Rover Sports can tow up to 7,700 pounds. Both engines get 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway.
The 2008 Land Rover Range Rover Sport features antilock disc brakes (more powerful Brembo brakes are fitted to the Supercharged model), hill-descent control, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Rollover-mitigating stability control is also standard on all models.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Range Rover Sport is fitted with a first-class cabin trimmed in buttery English leather. It's best suited for four adults, but five will fit in a pinch. A commanding driving position and elevated stadium seating give both driver and passengers a clear view of the scenery rushing by. The dash offers a simple geometric appearance, with switchgear that's kept to a minimum and integrated technology that minimizes the need for much driver input. Many of the buttons look alike, though, and some are harder to reach than they should be. Despite technically having about the same rear seat space as the regular Range Rover, the Sport's contoured bench seat is much less comfortable, with headrests that dig into your back if not raised and a sunroof cutout that juts toward occupants' heads. Maximum cargo capacity, at 71 cubic feet, is average for this class of vehicle. The Sport's sloping rear glass limits the ability to load large or bulky items.
Unlike the standard 300-hp 2008 Range Rover Sport HSE, the torquey Supercharged version certainly lives up to its more sporting, high-performance pretensions. There's plenty of power and traction available underfoot regardless of location or conditions. Dynamically, its ride and handling is a near equal of the leading performance unibody SUVs and vastly superior to full-frame, truck-based competitors. If you're simply looking for balanced and confident performance on road or off, we recommend you ante up for the Range Rover or focus on the Range Rover Sport HSE equipped with the available Dynamic Response System. But if you want to seriously and confidently run with its racier performance SUV rivals and you have a penchant for agile, high-speed travel amidst British clubroom splendor, the Range Rover Sport Supercharged remains a hot item.