A classy rock climber

2009, Land Rover, Range Rover Sport

I used to wonder why there was a luxury SUV market. If you wanted luxury, I thought, wouldn't you just drive a luxury car? If you wanted an SUV, I thought, wouldn't you want something tough and rugged?

Shows what I know.

The luxury SUV market has become a strong segment, with offerings such as the Porsche Cayenne (which we reviewed recently), Audi Q7 and Q5 (which we also drove recently) and Infiniti FX35 among the top presences in the field.

Land Rover is one of the more venerable brands of this group, and if I had paid attention to the steady success it has had over the years, I probably wouldn't have been so quick to dismiss the prospects of luxury SUVs.

Land Rover's products are known for being classy, yet rugged enough to handle serious off-roading. The 2009 Range Rover Sport can certainly be described that way. The Range Rover Sport is a few inches shorter in length and height than a regular Range Rover, and its overall styling is a bit more sleek.

But otherwise, it is very similar in appearance to the Range Rover, including its large windows and front-end styling. On the inside, high-quality leather, rich carpeting and pleasant wood trim let you know that Land Rover takes luxury seriously. Comfortable seating, a very good sound system and other amenities also make the Range Rover Sport experience a pleasurable one for passengers and driver. Practicality isn't something you have to sacrifice to enjoy the luxury.

For instance, when you fold down the 60/40 split rear seat, you get a huge cargo area. Also, with the large windows, visibility is terrific. You don't have to crane your neck every which way if you are trying to squeeze into a parking space that might be a little snug. The driving experience is solidly SUV-like, to be sure. Some of the other competitors in the field can lay claim to being a bit more car-like in how they drive.

But that's not to say the Range Rover Sport is unpleasant. The braking is steady and assured and steering is precise. The suspension is pretty middle of the road; you'll for the most part have a smooth, luxury-like ride, but you'll also be able to feel some of the contour of the surface you're traveling, especially at higher speeds.

The V-8 engine is adequately powerful, even if at times it gets a little noisy. That engine gets a little thirsty, too, with its fuel economy being pegged at 12 mpg city, 18 highway by EPA. The Range Rover Sport takes premium fuel, too, which will take a little bit more out of your wallet at the pump.

If you plan to go off road, you'll appreciate Land Rover's Terrain Response system, which adjusts the suspension, brakes and throttle to more appropriately fit with the type of surface you're driving on, such as mud, sand, snow or regular paved roads. It's a smart system that can recognize the conditions on its own.

The Range Rover Sport comes in trim levels that include the HSE version and the Supercharged. Features such as heated rear seats, cornering lights and adaptive headlights that swivel when you turn are standard on the higher trim Supercharged, but come as options on the HSE.

Other features include the navigation system and front and rear parking sensors, available on both HSE and Supercharged. There is an auxiliary jack for MP3 players and other gear, but it is placed, somewhat illogically, behind the center console. I suppose Land Rover thought the main users of the jack would be people who normally sit in the back seat.

Also, if you plan to put some stuff in that huge cargo area, you'll appreciate the rear cargo door, which is split so that it can be lifted in its entirety or so that just the glass window portion will open. The pricing bandwidth for the Range Rover Sport is as wide as the ocean.

You can get an HSE for around $57,750, but if you choose the Supercharged version, you can go as high as nearly $96,000. So choose your options and packages wisely. But overall, this luxury rock climber has a lot to offer.

Luxury SUVs? Of course, it all makes perfect sense now.

By Rob Douthit

More Land Rover car reviews?

Images of the 2009, Land Rover Range Rover Sport

2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport front view
2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport front view
2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport has a huge interior
2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport has a huge interior
2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport has all the setups for offroad navigation
2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport has all the setups for offroad navigation
2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport from the side
2009 Land Rover Range Rover Sport from the side