As for software, the steering assistance is electronically speed-variable, so it weights up at speed. There's also a different electronic-control map for the progressive lockup of the center and rear diffs. That means the car's handling balance is under the control of the engineers: Sensors detect untoward slip and set some lockup for stability, so torque can be channeled to the wheels that can make best use of it. Otherwise, an open diff allows agility, and, thanks to the anti-roll system, there's more grip on dry pavement. The electronic air suspension lowers itself at speed for more stability and improved aerodynamics. Another software tweak: The manual override in the six-speed auto box actually blips the throttle on downchanges for a sportier feel--a technology taken from Land Rover's associates at Aston Martin, which presented the feature on the elegant new DB9.
Land Rover insists the Sport can still act the off-roader, saying it'll be best-in-class. If that class includes the Cayenne, it's quite a statement because, once you put off-road tires on the Porsche, it's as effective as its sister VW Touareg. But don't bet against the Range Rover Sport: Its suspension travel is just as long as the LR3's, and the air springs can jack it up to amazing ground clearance. It also crosslinks its air suspension so it can ride huge side-to-side lumps and holes. As you'd expect, there's a low-ratio transmission and the brilliant hill-descent control system.
Finally, there's Land Rover's killer application, Terrain Response. As on the LR3, this alters several driving parameters: throttle response, ride height, traction-control thresholds, gear-change points, diff locking, and stability control. On different terrains, just twist an electronic knob to tell it what's beneath the tires, and the vehicle reconfigures to suit. For example, while the "grass, gravel, and snow" setting keeps the traction control reined tight, the "sand" setting allows far greater wheelslip and a more aggressive throttle and transmission strategy. "Rock crawl" sets maximum ground clearance, minimum allowed wheelslip, and a soft throttle map. The LR3 proves it's far from just a gimmick.
Available equipment includes all the usual top-end luxuries from Range Rover: touch-screen DVD navigation, DVD back-seat entertainment, full power memory seats, and Xenon lights that point around corners. What's more, this is the first Land Rover with the option of radar cruise control. More to the point, the ambience is more Germanic, less traditional-British woody than a Range Rover. You can see which vehicles Land Rover has in its gunsights.
Although many of its visual cues are shared with the existing Range Rover, the Sport is a lot more compact. The flanks show more curve and the fenders more flare, while the roof is lower, the glass shallower, and the front and rear windshields are at faster angles. Land Rover claims among the best aerodynamics of an SUV, but because the Sport is so much more oval in plain view than the square-cut Range Rover, a repeat of that vehicle's famous flat, downward-opening rear lower tailgate wasn't possible. So there's a conventional hatch door, with a separate lifting rear window for dropping in small items. Within the cabin, the feeling is considerably more snug than in the Range Rover. Folding itself around the occupants, the dashboard is more cockpitlike and the console closer. The seats are more contoured to hold you against strong cornering forces.