As capable on pavement as it is off the road, the Range Rover Sport fulfills the current Land Rover mission better, possibly, than any of its vehicles--to be a refined driving experience, no matter what the conditions.
No 5,500-pound vehicle has the right to be as exceptionally quick, composed, or grippy as the Sport. Like the Cayenne, X5 and ML, the Sport does an astonishing thing in bridging the gap between real SUV credentials and sport-sedan driving talent.
Even base Sports have very quick acceleration, coming from a smooth, strong 5.0-liter V-8. The 375-horsepower engine has 375 pound-feet of torque, and coupled to a six-speed automatic, it's enough to pull the Sport to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. Adding a supercharger to the equation lifts output to 510 horsepower (identical figures to those in the Jaguar lineup), and 0-60 mph times drop to 5.9 seconds. It's not quite as fast, by the stopwatch, as a Cayenne Turbo or X5M or ML63 AMG, but in driver perception it's right in the thick of it.
Ride and handling rise to nearly the same lofty levels. The stiff suspension of the Sport makes it somewhat less comfortable than the standard Range Rover, however, and the street-tread tires don't do as well when grip is minimal. Ride quality can be a bit stiff, but that's the price paid for so much handling and performance. Once you've mentally factored in the added ride height and body roll--much of which is factored out by the adaptive suspension--the Sport hangs into corners with the best of these high-performance SUVs.
Both Range Rover Sport trims come with standard all-wheel drive and advanced dynamics and traction control systems. While the Range Rover Sport, and the Supercharged model in particular, give up some off-road capability in trade for superior on-road handling and speed, both are still capable of impressive off-road feats.
Perhaps best of all, however, is how easy Land Rover makes it to access all of this performance. Behind the scenes, a symphony of differentials, electronics, and sensors combine to do amazing things to manage traction, speed, and driver control--but the driver doesn't need to understand how they work in order to use them. Just turn the knob or press the touch-screen button to suit the conditions and you're set.
A word about the off-roading: As high-tech as it is fast and luxurious, the 2012 Range Rover Sport relies on a pair of screens--one 5-inch TFT mounted in the instrument panel, and a larger touchscreen in the center of the dash--for driver-vehicle communication. These interfaces provide a wealth of information, access to settings, and control over the vehicle's function and features.
For off-roading or performance driving, the Adaptive Dynamic System and Terrain Response System readouts are particularly useful, displaying real-time workings of the differentials and wheels. The instrument panel shows even more information, and can be driver configured to display trip, speed, and other information. The Dynamic program is controlled by a center-console knob, allowing the driver to choose the drivetrain setting to suit the surface.