Ireland has been calling my name for more than 15 years. I'm fascinated by the Celtic culture: the music, the dancing, the delicate art of Celtic knot work, the language of a people dating back thousands of years. The land itself is captivating in its juxtaposition of quiet green hills that meet the wild sea at a jagged coastline. As luck would have it, a visit to the Emerald Isle presented an opportunity to test drive the new 2010 Range Rover Sport HSE turbodiesel, an engine we don't expect to see in the U.S. any time soon.
Since in Ireland one drives on the left side of the road, the V-6 diesel Rover is a right-hand drive. Navigating unfamiliar routes is nerve-wracking enough without the added challenge of adjusting to the vehicle layout. Pedal placement is the same, but the shift knob on my left has thrown me off a bit. I'm thankful the Rover Sport HSE is equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, reducing awkward left-handed shifts. Also to my left is the center stack, which takes on a refreshingly simple appearance this year, with a claimed 50 percent fewer buttons and knobs than in the previous generation. The center console includes an iPod-dedicated input cord and contains a small cooler for drinks and snacks. Combined with the newly sculpted leather seats, the Range Rover Sport HSE is promising to be a great road-trip vehicle.
The streets of Dublin, like those of many other European cities, weren't built with the modern SUV in mind. Amid a sea of Opels, Vauxhalls, Citroens, and Fiats, the Range Rover is a giant, towering over the microcars that dominate the old narrow roads. The Rover fills the lane and often spills over the lines of curbside parking spaces. Most parking structures are only just tall enough for the Rover to squeeze into. Plenty of passersby and fellow drivers on the road give the Range Rover Sport a long second look, which could easily be as much for the newly designed exterior as for its slightly out-of-place dimensions.
One of the key spots to visit in Dublin (which has ample-size parking) is the Guinness factory and storehouse. Dublin is the hometown of Guinness, first made by Arthur Guinness in the late 18th century at St. James Gate Brewery, for which he signed a 900-year lease. The factory tour gives wonderful insight into the production of Guinness, and house bartenders offer hands-on demonstrations of the correct technique of pouring a pint. The best part, however, is the recently added Gravity Bar at the top floor of the factory, where visitors pick up a complimentary pint of Guinness Draught and enjoy 360-degree views of Dublin.
Luckily, the Range Rover Sport comes equipped with a navigation system, as I would otherwise be lost driving through the city. Placement of street signs and the network of roadways can be confusing for foreigners, but the Rover is unfazed. With an ever-so-polite British voice (sad to say, an Irish brogue is not offered), the GPS guides me to my next destination: Trinity College, which holds the Book of Kells. My walk from the parking garage to the college takes me through the shopping quarter of St. Stephen's Green along Grafton Street. The streets are bustling with tourists and students and are peppered with street performers as well, playing flute, harp, or guitar. The art and history surrounding that small area of the city are overwhelming.