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A reimagined version of the Range Rover, on a different platform and without the ultimate set of off-road talents, the 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Sport is nonetheless our ideal substitute for the ritzy SUV with the big royal following. Why? Almost shocking acceleration for a vehicle of its size and weight, with enough of the off-pavement ability to uphold the promise its name makes across savanas and veldts worldwide.
The smaller, sleeker Range Rover Sport has something in common with the utilitarian Land Rover LR4 under its skin, but it's a completely different look--far more kin to the big Range Rover, with the most significant departure being its scaled-down proportions and the slant of its tailgate. It comes across as a little more defined, even inside, where the very cozy cockpit is divided by a wide center console into nacelles for four passengers. It's a blend of utilitarian controls with luxury finishes, and it works, particularly well since a major renovation in the 2010 model year.
The Sport sports a choice of two drivetrains, either one a fitting source of power. There's a naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 with 375 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque version in the HSE. With a supercharger, it twists out 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is brisk--especially for something that weighs well in excess of 5,500 pounds. The HSE scoots to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, the Supercharged in a scant 5.9 seconds. Either is teamed with a brainy all-wheel-drive system and a six-speed automatic transmission.
Outfitted as such, the Sport makes its talents known in the mud as well as it does in corners. It's truly surprising how tenaciously it clings to the road, and how deep a stream it can ford, but sometimes the ride quality gets a little rough and bouncy, reminding you that the gulf between its extremes is a vast one. The available adaptive suspension goes a long way to soothing ruffled ride motions.
Inside, the Range Rover Sport wavers between snug and tight. It's not a roomy cabin by any means, and four adults will find comfortable spaces for relatively long road trips--but not much additional space for their belongings or the occasional yawn and stretch. The cargo hold's especially small, with a high floor.
Neither the NHTSA or the IIHS has crash-tested the Sport, but it offers blind-spot monitors and a rearview camera, along with the stock and trade stability control and all-wheel drive. What it can't do is much for your carbon footprint--gas mileage is abysmal on an absolute scale, and low even for its luxury class.