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Living large with Range Rover’s British heavy metal

Andy Stonehouse

It was a slightly unfair question, but it did strike me as I was driving to work one morning, smugly situated behind the wheel of the delightful Range Rover Sport: How different, really, was my $62,500 vehicle du jour, versus the slightly used $8,000 Chevy Aveo I followed along my commuting route?

I mean, when it comes to the very basics of getting from point A to point B, both accomplish the same task. Better yet, the tiny Chevy ” proudly driven by a young woman who looked like it was her first newish car ” kept up in traffic, was able to stop and go, and looked as though it could carry about four people with ease.

Considering that the Aveo costs just under half of what the Range Rover’s luxury interior option package does, it made me think a bit.

Those with the great fortune, panache and, frankly, disposable income to achieve the company’s middleweight offering (not a full-blown $90K Land Rover, but not an “entry level” $36K LR2, either), will, I suspect, never look whimsically at the Aveos in their path.

Rather, the Range Rover Sport epitomizes a certain station in life. It’s a vehicle for those who want the rigid largess of an SUV with a more sterling, European lifestyle image attached: A vehicle that’s sportier and sleeker than a traditional Land Rover, suited perfectly for Cherry Creek shopping excursions and, if necessary, climbing vertical chutes in the very scariest of off-road settings.

My previous intelligence had suggested that Land/Range Rover drivers were especially active in the “actually taking your expensive SUV off of the pavement” department, but more recent communications with the company’s reps say that’s not exactly the case.

The Sport, which I first drove a few years back at a marvelous off-road clinic in Moab, does absolutely everything you’d expect a Range Rover to do ” tackle insanely steep slopes, clinging like a motorized mountain goat ” at the same time offering a leather-heavy, wonderfully charming and sophisticated interior that’s just as suited for a night at the opera.

The Sport’s lower, sleeker lines and more urbanized design (including a machine gun barrel-styled grille and stylistic side vents) do suggest the vehicle is more firmly aimed at tarmac duty. As a result, those who expect to be spending the bulk of their time cruising the boulevards might opt for the Sport’s slightly more aggressive iteration: the Supercharged Range Rover Sport. The standard model’s 4.4 liter V8 cranks a hearty 300 horsepower, but if you plan on keeping up while drag racing folks in the G500s or ML63s, the Supercharged’s 390-horsepower 4.2 liter V8 will careen like a sonofagun.

I found myself a little underwhelmed by the standard Sport’s display of power, as ridiculous as it is to say that you find 300 horsepower “underwhelming.” But with 5,468 pounds of British heavy metal to haul, those extra 90 horses might not be such a bad thing. The Sport’s no slouch, but there is a certain heavy-handed nature to the machine. Steering takes more than a slender pinkie on the sternwheeler-sized, leather-wrapped wheel, and overall agility is not quite Jaguar-like (despite the engine being provided by that U.K. stablemate).

The wide-footed chunkiness means no worries about potholes, ever ” you could drive over the aforementioned Aveo and feel almost nothing ” and, as I mentioned, when hitting the trails, the Sport absolutely dominates.

Like the LR2 and LR3, the RR Sport comes standard with the amazingly complicated but easy-to-use Terrain Response System, which dials up combinations of throttle response, ride height and braking for everything from sand to snow, as well as hill descent control. You can also individually adjust the height for more clearance (almost 9 inches at its max); unlike most SUVs, the Sport’s standard height makes it unusually easy to get in and out of.

The interior is roughly half Range Rover, half LR3, with polished hardwood highlights and sumptuous leather mixed with the rubberized, marine radio-styled stack of controls. Seating position is high and infinitely adjustable and both the front and rear seats are heated (if you’ll be traveling with youngsters who are unimpressed with your mastery of Mosquito Pass, you can also get headrest-mounted DVD screens). Rear headrests are also completely unobtrusive, allowing you to actually see the road behind you.

A few quibbles: the mirror and window controls, mounted on the tops of the door panels, are hard to reach, and the auto-dipping side mirrors make backing rather disorienting.

The aerodynamic spoilers at the bottoms of the doors also look a bit goofy, but are

probably helpful when trying to drive 130 mph in Supercharged mode.

A two-stage tailgate (with pop-up glass) was, curiously, almost impossible to open and remain clean-handed when the car was covered in a thick layer of goopy mag chloride ” there’s no lift handle to be seen.

True to its very British roots, the navigation system can be programmed to verbalize directions with an accent I liked to call Nigel. And a refrigerated box in the center console is great for chilling a few cans of Boddingtons for your trip to the fox-hunt.

Mileage, however, is absolutely atrocious ” as little as 12 mpg in town and 15 during the course of my drive ” so you may want to consider that.

Price as tested: $62,500

Powertrain: 300 HP 4.4-liter V8 with six-speed automatic transmission and CommandShift

Includes: Permanent 4WD, 19-inch wheels, electronic air suspension, terrain response system, automatic climate system, GPS-DVD navigation system, 550-watt 14 speaker harmon/kardon sound system, voice control, heated leather seating, Sirius satellite radio

EPA mileage: 12 city; 18 highway


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