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2008 Range Rover Sport Supercharged - Review

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2008 Range Rover Sport Supercharged

A "Grand Touring" car is one that is fast, comfortable, and luxurious, and meant for long-distance travel at a high average speed. The category originally applied to two-seat, or perhaps 2+2, coupes that offered performance equal to or better than the sports cars of the day, with far greater comfort. This still may be the purist definition, but over the years there have been a number of sedans that could be considered for the category as well.

And one SUV.

If the idea of grand touring is fast, comfortable long-distance travel, the Range Rover Sport can accommodate very well, thank you, especially in supercharged form. And pavement is not strictly necessary. It is a Range Rover, after all.

The Range Rover Sport Supercharged is also a very high-tech Range Rover, almost as far removed from the ancient Land Rovers seen in BBC nature documentaries as an F22 is from a Spitfire. Cast iron and solid axles are long-gone, replaced by high-strength steels and aluminum and magnesium alloys - and a highly sophisticated electronically-controlled active air suspension that is the key to the Sport Supercharged's fine road manners.

There are two models of Range Rover Sport. The HSE is equipped with a 300-horsepower 4.4-liter naturally-aspirated V8, while the Supercharged model has a namesake 4.2 liter supercharged and intercooled V8 with 390 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are matched to a multi-mode six-speed ZF automatic transmission and then to a full-time dual-range four-wheel drive system, also electronically-managed.

While there is a ladder frame underneath the Sport, it is built with hydroforming technology. And it is mated, by means of small dampers to a monocoque body structure to give the benefits of both body-on-frame and unibody construction. Solid axles belong to the past - the Sport has independent double wishbones at all four corners, with monotube dampers and electronically-controlled air springs. The Dynamic Response system, optional in the HSE and standard in the Supercharged, consists of active anti-roll bars that minimize body motion during cornering, acceleration, and braking. It is the key to the Range Rover Sport Supercharged's impressive handling.

And it is most impressive on the road, with reflexes and responses that belie its considerable weight. I started my week with the Sport Supercharged expecting a typical overweight, sluggish-handling SUV. I couldn't have been more wrong. No laws of physics are actually broken, but the Land Rover engineers appear to have found some loopholes. There is plenty of sport with the utility and all-surface, all-weather capability. The Dynamic Response system keeps the big beast flat and stable, even when driven in the spirited manner encouraged by the supercharged engine. The interior is outfitted and equipped as expected in a top-line luxury vehicle, with first-class comfort and plenty of room - but it's not so large as to be unwieldy in traffic or while parking. The Range Rover Sport Supercharged is a fine vehicle for a long, fast journey almost anywhere. Pavement optional.

APPEARANCE: Range Rovers have had a readily-identifiable look since Day One, and the Sport doesn't break the mold. It is the box - or two boxes, really - that it came in, with only minor modifications for styling purposes. The corners and edges are slightly rounded, and an incised character line sweeps back on the sides from the bottom of the hood. That line becomes the beltline, as at the front it separates the hood from the grille, while at the rear it tops the large rectangular taillights and then becomes the lower edge of the rear window structure. The grille is made of satin-finished perforated horizontal slats, flanked by multiple headlights under plastic covers. Bumpers are car-like, with body-colored plastic covers and foglamps are inset into the front. Chrome trim is minimal. Where one might expect running boards, at the bottom of the doors, are "aero kit" sill extensions that look like they came right off a sports car, and the lower bumper styling is also far more sports car than sport-utility. It says "to the track!" more loudly than "to the veldt".

COMFORT: Sport buckets in a Range Rover? Believe it. And they are wonderfully comfortable and supportive, too. Interior decor is wood and leather, but in a modern style that is less opulent, more Continental, than some older Range Rovers. The Sport is as fully-appointed as expected from Range Rover, which invented the luxury sport-utility in 1970. Anything that can be power-operated is, materials and construction are first-rate, and there is no shortage of head, leg, or shoulder room - even in the rear seat. Commonly-used controls and systems are simple and self-explanatory to use, even the touch-screen navigation system - which thankfully does not integrate the audio and climate system controls. As in other Land Rover products, the monitor screen can also display 4x4 information, more for passenger amusement than anything else. The rear seat folds 60/40 for cargo, and useful cabin storage spaces include a dual glovebox.

SAFETY: Passive safety comes from sturdy frame and body structures with hydroformed steel frame rails for front, side, and rear protection. Controlled-deformation crumple zones in the front and rear also protect, as do front, front side, and side-curtain airbags. On the active safety front, credit excellent road manners and antilock brakes, with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, dynamic stability control, and active roll mitigation.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Competition-developed active suspension technology reaches its peak not in a sports car but in a sport utility? Surprising, but true. The Range Rover Sport "Integrated Body-frame" hybrid ladder/monocoque structure provides a solid base for the fully-independent double wishbone suspension, and combines the ruggedness of a ladder frame with the rigidity and refinement of a unitized body structure, for off-road use and all-around passenger comfort and quiet. Electronically-controlled air shocks, with three ride height adjustment levels, and monotube shocks are standard fare in both models, but the Supercharged gets the Dynamic Response active anti-roll bar system as standard equipment. It controls body roll in cornering, acceleration, and deceleration by increasing stiffness when and where necessary. If a roll bar at one corner needs to be stiffer, momentarily, it will be stiffer, but only for the time necessary. Result? Flat cornering, and a smooth, comfortable ride. The bars are relaxed in off-road mode, allowing the necessary greater suspension travel. The Terrain Response system, controlled by a console-mounted knob, controls the settings of and interactions between the engine, transmission, shocks, roll bars, differentials, stability and traction control systems, antilock brakes, and hill descent control systems. Modern electronics (and software) at work. Cornering behavior is exemplary, and the ride quality is as good as any comparable European luxury sedan. With 40-profile tires and expensive alloy rims I'd be leery of any serious off-road work, but snow and improved dirt and gravel should pose few difficulties.

PERFORMANCE: Under the Sport Supercharged's hood sits 4.2 liters of supercharged and intercooled twincam, aluminum alloy V8. 390 horsepower, 410 lb-ft of torque, instant acceleration. With torque like that, a transmission is hardly needed, but the Sport's ZF six-speed automatic contributes to the vehicle's prowess and civility. With 0-60 acceleration in the low 7 second range, passing and merging are no problem. There is a manual-shift mode, but rarely is there the slightest necessity as torque comes in early and strong, peaking at 3500 rpm. With its 5700-pound mass and the available power, stopping a Range Rover Sport takes strong brakes, and the Dynamic Response Package's are up to the task. Four-piston Brembo calipers grip large vented discs in front, with smaller calipers and rotors at the rear. Fuel economy? Do the math... 5700 pounds + 390 horsepower != "economy". The laws of physics are always obeyed, no loopholes here. At around 13 mpg overall, it's no different from most other SUVs.

CONCLUSIONS: High-tech sport combines with comfort and utility in the Range Rover Sport Supercharged.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2008 Range Rover Sport Supercharged

Base Price			$ 71,175
Price As Tested			$ 72,050
Engine Type			supercharged and intercooled
				 dual overhead cam,
				 32-valve aluminum alloy V8
Engine Size			4.2 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower			390 @ 5750 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			410 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed electronically-controlled
Wheelbase / Length		108 in. / 188.5 in.
Curb Weight			5671 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.5
Fuel Capacity			23.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				275/40 YR20
				 Continental Conti 4x4 Sport Contact
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBA, EBD, DSC, ARM standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double-wishbone with
				 air springs
Ground clearance		6.8 to 8.9 under differential
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine,
				 permanent multi-mode
				 dual-range 4-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		12 / 18 / 13
0 to 60 mph				7.2  sec

CA emissions			$ 100
Inland Transportation		$ 775