At first glance, the Range Rover Sport could easily be mistaken for the top-of-the-line Range Rover. To the extent there are differences, they are confined to dimensions and subtle styling cues.
Although nominally based on the Land Rover LR3 (formerly known as the Discovery), the Sport is smaller on the outside in all but width, and that by less than half an inch. The Sport is more than two inches shorter than the LR3 in overall length; its wheelbase is shorter by more than five inches. It's not as tall, by three inches. In one significant measure, it's identical to the LR3, and that is its track, the distance between the wheels from side to side, which is also less than an inch narrower than the taller and longer top-of-the-line Range Rover.
Appearance-wise, the Sport so closely resembles the top-of-the-line Range Rover that it's like the Disneyland version of Main Street: It looks just like the real one built to a slightly smaller scale. Only the most discerning and trained eye will notice that the hood, or bonnet, as they call it on the other side of the pond, is mostly flat, missing the full-size Range Rover's castellations, those longitudinal humps running along the top outer edges back from the headlights. Or that the windscreen and backlight (rear windscreen) are faster, or more raked. Or the presence of understated side skirts, front air dam and rear spoiler. Maybe the front quarter panels' side vents are more obvious, being closely patterned after the LR3's and in stark contrast to the Range Rover's vertical louvers.
Because, other than striking a slightly more rakish pose with its rounder, more tapered lines, the Sport contains all the major styling elements of its full-size kin. The compound headlight clusters are indistinguishable. The grille finishes are alike, with the HSE's a matte gray and the S/C's a bright metallic. The roof gets the marque's trademark floating look, achieved by blacking out the roof pillars. A similar character line runs the length of the body side, but with the door handles positioned beneath it to reinforce the Sport's lower profile. Taillights repeat the larger Range Rover's stacked look, only not quite as tall and with the elements staggered from the vertical. And just like the full-size Range Rovers, the Supercharged Sport has chrome-tipped dual exhausts in place of the HSE's bare, single exhaust.
While the Range Rover Sport's exterior unabashedly mimics the top-of-the-line Range Rover's looks, the interior stays truer to its LR3 underpinnings.
The dash top, instrument cluster and steering wheel are direct transplants from the LR3, right down to the stacks of cruise control buttons and redundant audio controls next to the thin, vertical, metallic horn buttons along each side the airbag cover in the steering wheel hub. Curiously for a serious off-road vehicle, the tachometer has no redline, leaving drivers dependent on the Sport's computers to coordinate engine speed and gear selection with terrain idiosyncrasies. Although the center stack structure lays back at a more ergonomically friendly angle than the LR3's, the switches, knobs, buttons and display screens are the same as the LR3's, too, which while plentiful, are fairly easy to decipher. The four dash-top vents are shaped differently, but located in the same positions, belying the shared, behind-the-scenes framework. The navigation system's display is recessed in the dash at the top of the center stack and accessible to both front seat occupants.
The seat contours are more defined than both the LR3's and the full-size Range Rover's standard accommodations, although the seat bottoms could be deeper and provide more thigh support. More pronounced bolsters in front add lateral support, and the rear seat's softer cushions render it less bench-like than it looks; we appreciated this over a several hour drive from Aspen, Colorado, to the smooth red rock around Moab, Utah. Infinitely adjustable, inboard arm rests in front ease long, droning, interstate drives.
The head restraints could be better, however. The positioning of the front-seat head restraints favors the back-seat movie watchers. To ensure the best viewing experience, the head restraints, which double as housings for the video screens, are fixed in a vertical plane; in other words, they're adjustable only up or down and cannot be angled forward or backward. The way I like the driver's seat configured, in placement fore and aft, height and seatback angle, the head restraint blocked me from holding my head upright, forcing me to lean it forward. This awkward angle was literally a pain in the neck. Reclining the front seat a bit lessened the discomfort, by allowing me to hold my head upright. Still, this work-around left me wondering why, in a vehicle this expensive, I should have to be the one to compromise. Also, and as with their counterparts in the full-size Range Rover, the large head restraints block much of the forward view for rear-seat passengers. A panel of auxiliary jacks for the entertainment system is set into the rear of the front center console, along with the levers for the optional rear seat heaters.
In all interior measures, the Sport returns mixed comparisons. The front seat offers less legroom than the LR3 but more legroom than the Range Rover, and it offers less headroom than either. Its rear seat headroom is less than the LR3 but about the same as the top model, and legroom is the same as the LR3 but more than the top model.
In cargo space, the Sport fits where it logically should, offering almost 20 fewer cubic feet than the much more upright LR3 but less than four fewer than the Range Rover. Save for cup holders, of which there are but two, protected by a sliding cover in the front center console, incidental storage is decent. The nifty little cool box packaged with the Luxury Interior option fits in the cubby in the center console aft of those cup holders and chills small beverage bottles and snacks. The front doors have two map pockets, the rear doors, one. Pouches for magazine and headsets are stitched into the backside of the front seat backs. The bi-level glove box's upper element doubles as a CD rack. Atop this, a divided tray for odds and ends fills the space between the air conditioning registers.