Depress the button on the Volkswagen-aping switchblade key, pull the meaty handle, and climb aboard. Acrophobics needn't sweat an awkward wardrobe malfunction when clambering in-- the Range Rover Sport can be thoughtfully trained to rest low on its airsprings, as a camel might relent to accommodate its Kalahari master.
Inside, occupants are greeted with the warm glow of the sat-nav screen (thoughtfully displaying Land Rover's logo, lest one needs reminding) along with a hit of premium cowhide heady enough to give PETA members reason for pause. Ease one's posterior into the driver's seat, and cheeks register a slightly more supportive squab than one might reasonably expect to encounter in an SUV. With a myriad of power adjustments set to whir into motion at a finger's extention (including a trio of memory positions and power lumbar), comfortable seating for the long haul is all but assured.
(Climb aboard with almost 20 pictures and full commentary after the jump!)
As our Landie arrived equipped with Rover's 'Luxury Interior Package,'real cherry trim takes up residence on the doors, dash and transmission tunnel, warming what otherwise might be a dark interior due to the vast expanses of ebony-toned leather. The tiered ziggurat of a center console bisects driver from passenger, blanketed with no less than 50 buttons and switches of all description (not including reams of virtual touchscreen menu 'buttons' awaiting on the monitor). Incorporating everything from HVAC to audio to sat-nav, suspension settings, parking sensors, Hill Descent Control, electronic parking brake and central locking (among other gewgaws), it's genuinely advisable to familiarize oneself with the fundamentals before casting off.
For reference, an Autoblog colleague (who shall remain nameless) took the HSE on a loop of several hundred miles, and never even located the Byzantine location of the power lock switch (under the LCD screen, adjacent to the hazards). He can hardly be faulted, however. As is Range Rover's way these days, there are more puzzling glyphs displayed than might be found on a prehistoric cave wall. And never mind the sat-nav or rear-seat entertainment... unless you have an eleven-year old tech wizard on retainer (mine was sadly unavailable for consultation), it's best to view the leather-bound 2" thick portfolio of manuals as required bedside reading. Mercifully, one could always negotiate the manuals with the aid of a frosty beverage-- Rover's thoughtfully incorporated a small powered cooler between the seats-- yet another perk of the $2,750 luxury package. On the whole, mastery of the controls appears to be a rewarding endeavor, but everything could be significantly more intuitive and just as powerful.
At least the gauges are rationalized and clearly marqued. A flood of green lighting and steering wheel-mounted audio and voice-activation controls look set to ease the strain of nighttime cross-country running.
Slot the key into the ordinary ignition slot and give her a crank (no frivolous start-button theatre here), bringing the 4.4-liter V8 to life, set up your chair to your liking, whir the elephantine leather-wrapped wheel into place (the column is both height and depth adjustable), snap on the safety belt, and you're ready to rock(climb). For those enduring colder regions, the Sport's Luxury Package quickly becomes one's best friend, adding thermonuclear bun warmers, quick-clear electronic-defrost windscreen and heated washer nozzles for windshield and lights-- complementing the standard-issue dual zone climate control that gets to the point with commendable speed.
But before going any further, pause and give thanks to Dr. Sidney Harman and Mr. Bernard Kardon. For without them, the auditory experience that is the Range Rover Sport's glorious stereo wouldn't be nearly as entertaining. The harman/kardon install in question pumps out 550-watts to 13 speakers via its Logic7 surround processor- a bit of silicon trickery that converts two-channel signals into five or seven channels, and five-channel into seven channels. In other words, it kicks sonic booty with everything from junior's loathsome Wiggles DVD collection to the heavenly South African harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo or Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. It even makes nice with Tom Morello's Audioslave fretwork, come to think of it... which is nice, as six cds-worth of sonic diversity can coexist in the in-dash changer. Redundant steering wheel and voice-activated controls make mincemeat of most basic functions, and ours was also bundled with Sirius satellite radio, a good long haul companion (yet pricy at $400)
Back seat passengers don't have life half bad, either. With their own seat heaters, high-mounted supportive headrests (that abridge rearward visibility, natch), and on luxury package optioned models (as ours), dual LCD screens with DVD changer and RCA inputs, life is good. Unlike in the seven-seat LR3 upon which our Rover is based, five-up is the maximum, but four is the preferred capacity for all those involved. Legroom for those in the back is certainly adequate, as well.
Accessing the cargo area to load the Louis Vuitton can prove an exercise in frustration, however. The round button for the electronic catch release on the right side of the tailgate is intuitive enough, but the only obvious place to lift from is the handle just above the license plate. Grab the middle, and you'll inadvertently hit the switch that releases the rear glass (which opens independently of the hatch). Adding insult to injury is the fact that the glass, once released, barely stands proud of the frame, so one might not even notice it's ajar. Of course, the Landie will inform you of your ineptitude when you re-enter the vehicle via chime and a warning on the small info screen in the main gauge binnacle, but it's frustrating stuff. For the record, our rear glass didn't close terribly easily, either (it could've been the cold), and on several occasions the cumbersome hatch latch resulted in an annoying double/triple-check scenario.
Once open, at least, a wide and flat cargo area invites - replete with window-shade style retractable cargo cover and fine carpeting. Unlike many SUVs that force the third-row issue, this one has plenty of luggage space, and a split-fold rear seat adds further flexibility. Oddly enough, the DVD changer resides beneath a small covering on the right-hand wall of the cargo hold. Remove the lid (it isn't hinged and removes completely), and it's an awkward reach adjacent to a nest of wires and sharp metal to fish out the cartridge. A much cleaner option would have to mount it within the dashboard, or perhaps between the seats.
On the whole, fitments and material quality all appear to be top-drawer stuff. Usually, upon closer inspection of a vehicle, there's an area or two that betrays visible evidence of cost-cutting-- a substandard plastic trim bit here, an uncultivated control motion there, but in the Rover, everything is remarkably well executed and tastefully done. Now, if someone could just peer inside a garden-variety Honda to see how to execute a proper navigation system and rationalize some of the secondary controls, we'd be talking world-class stuff here. As it is, the complexity remains off-putting at best, confounding at worst.
(In our next installment, we'll release the [electronic] parking brake and head out on the road!)