It’s a shame that most people who buy the 2011 Range Rover Sport Supercharged with its 5.0-liter, 510-horsepower V8, permanent 4WD drive-train and hydraulic air suspension are going to banish it to glorified minivan duty hauling snot-nosed kids to math club and back in Brentwood or the Hamptons. Granted, as a parent, I see why households with high six-figure incomes would castrate this impressive all-world truck (price: $78,095) by relegating it to babysitting duty; one slam of the thick door and, damn, I felt invincible. Like Sherman Tank invincible. I’m sure thousands of moms around the world think it as well.
When you think of it – or when I think about it – this British-designed-and-manufactured behemoth likely uses the Queen of England as its ultimate target passenger and then thinks of her traveling through the far-flung corners of the former British Commonwealth (Australia, India, New Zealand — you get the idea). In that capacity, the overbuilt frame, suspension and thick sheet-metal are welcome. And what parent wouldn’t want their Muffy and Buffy to ride as safely and comfortably as the queen while they negotiate the speed bumps in front the school? In that context, this Range Rover makes sense.
A sports SUV that hauls … ass
Or does it? It’s one thing to build a near three-ton tank for hauling the tots or royalty around. It’s quite another to also make it this freakin’ fast with a reported 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds. By comparison, that’s only 0.3 seconds slower than Infiniti’s top-of-the-line 330-horsepower M37x sedan, or roughly the same amount of time it takes you to say, “one.” Then Range Rover added gooey 20-inch tires to hold the thing onto asphalt and allows you to use the air suspension to keep the chassis riding low, firm up the ride, and turn the Brit blitzer into one of the stranger performance rides on the planet.
On some tight corners, it wasn’t the tires and suspension holding me back. It was the inadequate seats that are made for luxury, not racing. The massive six-piston brakes always surprised me by how well they slowed the beast. With a little practice by a driver with more skills, I’d wager that this Range Rover could go up against Porsche’s performance-engineered Cayenne SUV and make a race out of it. Again, this makes sense. If you’ve got to get the queen the hell out of someplace fast, you want a supercharged V8 bolted to a sophisticated suspension to do the job.
A sports SUV that hauls … stuff
Where this Range Rover eats Porsche’s lunch — and many other high-performance SUVs — is with its ability to carry five people and all their crap in amazing comfort no matter what the terrain or temperature. Lucky me, I got to test the Sport during a multi-day stretch of sub-zero weather in the Rockies with two snowstorms that dropped eight inches of powder on my hometown. The Range Rover fired up on a 20-below morning; the heated steering wheel negated the need to wear gloves and the heated seats roasted my butt in minutes. Hell, even the rear seats are heated.
In a brilliant move, Range Rover installed a windshield defroster. Think of the tiny orange lines that are used in rear window defrosters running vertically across the windshield, but at a fraction of the width so they’re almost invisible. Instead of freezing my face off while scraping ice off the windshield for five minutes, I simply sat inside, let the vehicle do its thing and warm up, then flicked on the wipers, and bingo!, no ice on the windshield. Every car and truck sold north of Texas needs one of these. In Canada, these windshields should be the law.
Out on the snow-packed streets, the SUV and its 6.8 inches of ground clearance had no issues finding traction despite wearing summer tires that should’ve turned the Range Rover into an out-of-control Zamboni on ice. A large knob in the center console lets drivers change engine and suspension settings between Dynamic (twisty, dry pavement), General (day-to-day driving), Snow/Mud/Sand (aka, slick), and Rock Crawl (jacks the suspension up to 8.9 inches of ground clearance). I switched it to Snow and between that, 4WD and traction control, I motored effortlessly through slicks that sent full-sized 4×4 pick-ups sliding into the ditch. Screw hauling a queen around, in the frozen muck, I felt like I was a king.
An SUV fit for kings, weather and terrain permitting
Such is the conundrum facing guys who drive a Range Rover Sport Supercharged. Put a guy behind the wheel of this SUV in the city on an average sunny day and he can’t help but feel like he’s been relegated to driving his wife’s car, or worse, his mom’s car. I know I did. To make matters worse: Sitting in gridlock could reduce this Range Rover’s gas mileage from an already dismal 14 mph to the single digits, a figure usually reserved for semi-tractor trailers.
However, in nasty weather, gnarly road conditions, all-day, high-speed interstate runs, or bouncing over the outback, this SUV is like a testosterone injection to a man’s cerebral cortex. He can’t help but feel like the best equipped alpha-male on the road.