Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing the 2011 Land Rover Range Rover HSE. It stands out in my memory as a favorite - a luxury SUV in which I felt very comfortable, safe, and stylish. I guess that's why my encounter with the 2012 Range Rover Sport feels like meeting up with a dear friend (or at least its sporty sibling).

The new Range Rover Sport carries forward many of the features that make it a perennial favorite among enthusiasts, and a perpetual head turner for the uninitiated. The classic Range Rover bodylines and 20" aluminum alloy wheels command attention right out of the gate, exuding an air of surefootedness that has long been a Land Rover hallmark.

In this case, the bright Siberian Silver paint is accented with new tailgate graphics and a Gloss Black treatment on the grill frame and headlight inners. Visually speaking the changes are subtle, but sleek and eye catching.

Performance

As for performance, the 2012 Range Rover Sport does not disappoint. Its 5.0-liter 375-horsepower aluminum alloy V8 smoothly launches this machine from 0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds - impressive considering it's about 5,500 lbs of metal, plush leather and glossy wood. Even with all this refinement, the Range Rover Sport can still climb mountains, traverse rock piles and wade through water over three feet deep.

While lack of challenging natural terrain prevented me from putting the Range Rover Sport's off-roading capabilities to the test, the ride is solid, balanced and responsive based on the varied surfaces that I encountered while driving my local streets. Speed bumps, uneven pavement, potholes, and the like are barely noticeable due in large part to four-corner electronic air suspension. This, coupled with a steering system that provides plenty of feedback, makes both low and highway speeds feel equally well controlled and stable.

The 2012 Range Rover Sport retains many performance features that are essentially brand-defining: permanent 4-wheel drive; independent front and rear suspension; 4-wheel traction control; 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with CommandShift; multiple shift modes including normal, sport and manual; and a terrain response system adaptable for general driving conditions, snow, mud, sand and rock crawling.

More Useful

A new feature worth mentioning is the power tailgate, which allows drivers to set their desired lift height by simply holding the tailgate at the desired height and pressing one of three tailgate buttons for 10 seconds. The three buttons are conveniently located on the fascia, the key fob and the tailgate itself. Other drivers can override the set height, providing flexible functionality that is virtually effortless.

New on the inside for 2012 is the "Say What You See" voice control system that enables basic operation of navigation, rear seat entertainment, phone, auxiliary input, USB/iPod, CD/virtual CD changer, satellite radio, notepad and radio. An accompanying step-by-step display on the touchscreen provides assistance, resulting in a much-improved user experience over the previous voice command structure.

Curious Ergonomics

Where the new Range Rover Sport lost me a little is in the area of driver ergonomics. While the luxury aspect is securely nailed down, the location of often-used controls for the windows, outside mirrors, door locks and the gearshift are off-kilter. Most drivers rely on a certain degree of symmetry and predictability behind the wheel. Specifically, the window/mirror buttons are somewhat out of reach. I'm 5'9" tall with limbs of average length, and I had to fully extend my shoulder to operate those controls.

On the opposite side, the gearshift lever (which I habitually use as a hand rest) is positioned several inches further back on the console than felt normal. The end result is that I felt like I was sitting askew. This is noteworthy since it affects overall driver comfort and we don't recall this being an issue in the 2011 Range Rover HSE.

The base Range Rover Sport starts at $60,045. Our test vehicle was upgraded with Anigre wood trim, a premium Logic7 audio package and a luxury interior pack that includes a heated windshield and steering wheel; premium heated front and rear seats; a cooler box; and adjustable driver's seat bolsters. It's priced at $67,595, including the $850 transportation fee. Of course the cost of gasoline is not included, but it should be factored into the budget, since the combined fuel rating is 15 mpg (13 city/18 hwy).

All features considered, the closest competitors in the luxury SUV class are the Lexus GX, the BMW X5 and the Porsche Cayenne S. To get more extensive information on a broader set of vehicles, visit our Luxury SUVs topic page.

The Range Rover Sport webpage includes the tagline "Powered by Intelligence." Overall, with everything this vehicle brings to the table, I concur. It's exceedingly capable, comfortable in spades and worth a test drive if you're in the market.

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Jesse Rhodes is a lifelong car enthusiast who has worked as a writer, editor and marketing specialist in the automotive engineering and advertising industries for more than 15 years.

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