THERE ONCE WAS a time when four wheel drives were honest, hard working, bare-bones, down-to-earth kinds of vehicles. If you wanted a premium off-road experience, you had one option: Range Rover.
The times however, they are a-changin’. The premium SUV category is now stuffed to the gills with lounge-room-luxury mobile powerhouses. And, as Lexus, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi, Porsche and others have found, it's a profitable category.
They're all big, they're all loaded; all that varies is their mud-slinging prowess and luxury fit-out.
But there’s still the original contender. Though now in Indian ownership, Land Rover has maintained its typically British ‘stiff upper lip’. It also hasn't lost sight of its off-road origins: the Range Rover division has expanded to a two vehicle line-up offering the best of cosseting luxury and genuine 4x4 ability.
Late in 2009, the Range Rover Sport (as well as the larger Vogue and platform-sharing Land Rover Discovery) underwent a series of enhancements covering engines, appearance, interior and drivetrain technology.
TMR took the entry-level Range Rover Sport turbo diesel V6. We threw it at the jagged trails of the Victorian High Country as well as Melbourne’s leafy, cosseted suburban crawl to unearth what this leather-lined, mountain-ready contender was capable of.
Was the 2010 Sport up to these two disparate tasks? The comfort and ability on offer certainly did manage to show themselves in some surprising places.
By now the Range Rover Sport is no stranger to Australian roads. The updated model maintains the familiar traditional Range Rover styling cues while adding a new technical edge.
There’s still a bluff, chunky look. The kind of style that is equally at home in the car park at the theatre as it is pounding rural back roads.
To achieve this, the Sport wears a solid but stylishly refined square-cornered body. Slab-styled bumpers and body sides mean business. The blacked out pillars, clamshell bonnet and floating roof speak of trademark Range Rover style.
As part of the styling revisions, the Range Rover Sport carries a ‘two-bar’ theme across its bodywork. This means the grille, headlights, tail-lights and front-guard vents all carry a horizontal twin-bar look.
Those lighting units are cleaner and fuss-free in style. LED lighting is featured in the park lamps and tail lamps: circular elements contained in square housings.
The slab-sided coachwork is relieved with a single, deep crease running from front to rear and with a softer line swelling between the blistered wheel arches, providing a visual break.
The lower bumper and door trims feature a matte finish, as do the mesh-filled two-bar side vents, door handles and front door mounted side indicators, adding styling depth to the Sport’s flanks.
Some manufacturers seem to miss the point that the single place where the owner spends the most time is inside a car... not staring it its exterior. The previous Range Rover Sport missed this point - its sublime exterior was let down by less-than sublime interior style.
But not any more. The MY2010 upgrade brings with it a new interior, with an almost concept car-like design and a bevy of exquisite leather, wood and metal finishes.
There is gentleman’s club-like ambience inside: the leathers, trim and finishes exude the kind of exclusive luxury befitting the Range Rover Sport's premium positioning.
From the driver’s seat, the Range Rover Sport presents a large leather wrapped steering wheel, adjustable for tilt and reach. Trip computer, Bluetooth operation and audio controls are all situated on the wheel, which is finished with brushed metal accents.
Looking forward, a clear and legible twin-dial instrument cluster with a monochromatic five-inch TFT screen takes care of ancillary displays, warning messages and trip computer functions.
Across the top of the dash and also in the door trims sit stitched black leather facings. The lower trims and seats are available in matching black or a choice of optional hues.
The wood-bordered centre-stack angles away from the centre console and into the dash surface, layering itself behind the facia. There are chunky, rubberised circular controls for climate control and audio system functions, backed up with large, clearly labelled buttons for minor functions.
Door cards are dressed in a combination of leather, wood panelling and real metal highlights. Metal and leather grace the gear-shifter and metal surrounds the air-vents; the whole combination of premium materials is a tactile delight.
High-quality leather trim comes standard on the seating surfaces with a choice of five colours, two leather finishes and a selection of contrasting stitching options depending on specification level.
Despite feeling smaller inside than the exterior dimensions suggest, there’s no shortage of room to move inside, with plenty of head and elbowroom front and rear. The only dimension that feels a little short is legroom for rear-seat passengers, but only with front seats at their rear-most position.
Cargo space measures 958 litres and can be enhanced by folding the 60:40 split fold rear bench. A high loading lip, thanks to the tall off-road suspension and under-floor spare tyre, can make loading heavy items awkward.
Equipment and Features
The term ‘base model’ is one to apply very loosely to the Range Rover Sport TDV6. This is certainly no stripped out price-special flogging itself to fleets.
Listing from $99,900 (plus on-road charges), the Sport answers the premium call with bi-xenon headlamps and front fog lights, a soft-close tailgate, height-adjustable air-suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and automatic lights and wipers.
There’s also a hard-disc navigation system integrated into the touch-screen Harman Kardon sound system, featuring eight speakers, a subwoofer and amplifier. MP3 playback and iPod connectivity also come standard.
Leather trim, heated, electric folding mirrors, rear park sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, and keyless start also join the list.
Making up the Sport’s off-road package is a system dubbed ‘Terrain Response’. This system, which, at the twist of a dial, can select a range of programs for the suspension, traction, engine and transmission, allows the Sport to take on any surface from snow to sand to rocky trails and more.
The safety list also impresses with dual front and side airbags plus curtain bags, ABS brakes and dynamic stability control incorporating brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, hill start and descent control, trailer stability assist and enhanced understeer control.
With turbo diesel V6 and V8 engines, as well as petrol V8s in naturally aspirated and supercharged flavours, there’s an engine to suit just about any application in the Sport range.
After piloting the TDV6 in a variety of applications the need for the other engines almost becomes questionable. Strong acceleration, decent fuel economy and fantastic flexibility are all provided by the entry-level engine.
The 3.0 litre V6 takes the place of the previous 2.7 litre turbo diesel unit. With 180kW @ 4000 rpm and a stump-pulling 600Nm of torque on tap from just 2000 rpm, representing increases of 40kW and 140Nm over the smaller, single turbo engine.
That works out to plenty of shove to move the 2530 kilogram kerb weight of the Range Rover Sport. Twin sequential turbo chargers and direct injection ensure plenty of power and mountains of torque with the added bonus of being able to run smoothly to the 4000 rpm redline without running out of puff.
A factory fuel consumption claim of 9.2l/100 km is certainly nothing to scoff at for such a heavy vehicle either. On test we recorded a higher 10.4l/100 km but considering the amount of time spent off-road and doing stop-start runs it was hardly a disappointing result.
In support of the engine, the sole transmission available is a six speed CommandShift adaptive automatic with manual mode that can be optioned with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
Thanks to the clever adaptive intelligence the manual mode is little more than a showpiece, with the transmission computer barely faltering in picking the correct gear ratio for conditions. Be it meandering around town or scrambling up a mountainside.
Permanent four-wheel-drive channels drive to the wheels, varying torque between the front and rear axles on demand.
Four-wheel air suspension offers self-levelling and three driver selectable settings for standard driving, easy loading or added ground clearance as required. The system can also soften or stiffen the air springs depending on road conditions, and the springs are cross-linked to allow greater wheel articulation for serious four-wheel driving.
Massive ventilated disc rotors front and rear provide huge reserves of stopping power. While the pedal itself is of the long-travel variety at allows for a good range of adjustability depending on the stopping conditions and the ABS calibration is one that works as effectively on gravel as it does on sealed surfaces.
Land Rover boldly claims that the 2010 Range Rover Sport is its most performance-oriented offering yet.
As a two-and-a-half tonne vehicle with raised suspension, the performance intent of the V6 model is perhaps somewhat limited. Sure, the 375kW supercharged petrol V8 will likely tell a different story, but in TDV6 form its a harder claim to justify.
That’s not to say it isn’t well sorted in most areas - for indeed it is.
Engine performance is strong, with enough urge to propel the TDV6 from standstill to 100km/h in 9.3 seconds. Sure, it’s not record breaking, but it certainly isn’t hanging around either. It is also quiet and composed in nearly every driving situation.
Most importantly it means nimble runs around town, stress-free highway merging and overtaking, and plentiful ability should your chosen road turn into a goat track.
The six-speed CommandShift automatic transmission isn’t always as clever. While the transmission at no stage managed to catch itself in the wrong gear (with an almost telepathic ability to read driver demands and match road conditions), if carrying a leisurely pace through to half-throttle acceleration, the upshifts blundered slightly.
Demand a little more from the engine and the transmission responds more suitably, shuffling off silken shifts.
There are a few other things that expose some minor performance compromises. Pushing the Sport into a corner on tarmac shows that it falls a little short of the 'sport' promise.
The steering, while well-weighted, is vague. And while the low profile tyres do their best to offer cornering feedback, there’s just the slightest hint of delay between steering input and reaction from the front hoops.
Kickback and rack rattle are kept at bay, but true communication between the front contact patches and the driver is lacking. Body roll too, despite the best efforts of the air-suspension, mean that performance aspirations are best kept to a minimum.
That said, suspension comfort is exceptional. If your intention is to load up and hit the open road then the Range Rover Sport offers one of the most sublime ways to do so.
Wind and road noise are beautifully isolated and the opulent interior environment makes the Range Rover Sport a joy to spend time in.
Even along some of regional Victoria’s notoriously pock-marked regional highways and byways, the Sport treats all roads as of they were paved in pure velvet.
But generous space, cosseting comfort, a powerful but frugal engine and incredible cruising ability only tell part of the Sport’s story. There’s the little matter of off-road ability.
When you’re talking about a brand with over 60 years experience developing and building four-wheel-drives, it’s not hard to imagine what the Range Rover Sport might be capable of.
But, we have to admit to some nagging doubts before setting off. There was that ‘performance’ tag to worry about, coupled with the very on-road biased 255/50 R19 tyres. While the width can be useful, a lack of sidewall and tread depth is usually not at all helpful off-road.
Those fears proved unfounded, as Land Rover’s depth of experience in the off-road category shone through.
The whole procedure when faced with a challenging trail couldn’t be simpler: turn the Terrain Response dial to match the road surface, push a button to raise the suspension, another to engage low range and a third for the activation of Hill Descent Control.
From then on the driver need only worry about picking an appropriate line and controlling the throttle. The Terrain Response system then apportions drive to the wheels that need it, and locks and unlocks diffs as required while displaying wheel articulation and steering angle on the centre screen.
No doubt, our plan to push the Range Rover Sport along the loose gravel, deep wash-outs and rutted trails in the Victorian High Country - with the aim of reaching Craig’s Hut at the top of Mount Stirling - might have had some questioning the car’s suitability for this kind of terrain.
But there was no cause for concern. Steep inclines, loose stones, fire trails; nothing stood in the way of the Range Rover Sport.
Suspension travel was ample for the truly jagged terrain. And the Terrain Response Control’s gravel and rock-crawl settings provided faultless control of the transmission, Hill Descent, Hill Hold and other associated functions.
Better still, inside the cabin, occupants enjoyed the same noise isolation, seat and suspension comfort and Harman Kardon-driven audio entertainment, as they would pulling into their local arts centre carpark.
Simply put, if all you want to do is escape civilisation and vanish into the wilds of nature, there are cheaper and equally effective ways of doing so. And if you’re after supreme comfort and cosseting luxury, there are more focused options available.
But if you need to combine the two, there’s little on offer that covers all bases with such conviction. Instead of choosing either interior opulence, or off-road ability, the 2010 Range Rover Sport brings a stunning blend of both.
Adding to the temptation, a generous interior and a decent turn of on-road ability makes the Range Rover Sport an even more enticing option.
Lastly, a powerful, refined and frugal engine further contributes to a seriously convincing vehicle.
- Bluff, technical styling.
- Almost concept-car like interior detailing.
- Strong but frugal engine.
- Pillow-like ride.
- Vague steering.
- Transmission lacks finesse at low speed.
- Portly kerb weight.
Engine: TDV6 Turbodiesel V6
Bore x Stroke: 84mm x 90mm
Compression Ratio: 16:1
Power: 180kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed tiptronic automatic with dual-range transfer case. Permanent 4WD.
0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed:193km/h (claimed)
Fuel Economy: 9.2 l/100km Combined (claimed)
CO2 Emissions: 243g/km
Fuel Tank Capacity: 84.1 litres
Suspension: Air suspension, independent front and rear.
Wheels: 19 x 9-inch 15 spoke alloys.
Tyres: 255/50R19 Goodyear Wrangler F1
Brakes Front: 360mm ventilated discs, two-piston sliding caliper
Brakes Rear: 350mm ventilated dics, sliding caliper
Active Safety Equipment: ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, stability control, Rolls Stability Control, Enhanced Understeer Control, Electronic Differential Control
Passive Safety Equipment: Front and side airbags for front row occupants, curtain airbags for first and second rows.
Front Track: 1605mm
Rear Track: 1612mm
Ground Clearance: 227mm (at max height)
Fording Depth: 700mm
Turning Circle: 11.5 metres
Kerb Weight: 2535kg
Unbraked Towing Load: 750kg
Braked Towing Load: 3500kg
Luggage Space, Rear Seats Up: 958 litres
Luggage Space, Rear Seats Down: 2013 litres