Range Rover Sport with Meridian Sound

As much fun as it was zooming around in the Jaguar F-Type—which appeared on the cover of our last issue and which is also equipped with a magnificent audio system from Meridian—the visceral experience of driving with the top and gas pedal down made it difficult to concentrate on anything but the sound of the engine. For this writer, the roar of a big V-8 always trumps whatever tunes are playing.

But the new Range Rover Sport is an entirely different animal. With a cockpit nearly as quiet as that of a Bentley, the Sport makes for the perfect spot to take advantage of what the Meridian system can deliver. It’s a $1,950 option that you should not be without.

Joining some of motoring’s most noteworthy journalists, we sit through a presentation that an outsider might think is comprised of a bunch of unlikely tourists being pitched on the idea of vacation time-shares. It’s awfully quiet in the room as Range Rover’s best and brightest share all the techie bits about what makes this new Sport model even more Range Rover-y. They also make a point to tell us that the Sport is backordered for months—which seems to impress the highly enthusiastic audience.

The design brief concentrates on the Sport’s ability to deliver more off-road capability than Range Rover loyalists might be used to, as well as more boulevard-friendly cruising abilities for those pursuing more civil driving (i.e. Kim Kardashian and the country-club crowd). The new Sport is nearly 800 pounds lighter than the model it replaces, which becomes immediately apparent at the gas pump. Friends with the departing model tell me that they struggle to get 12 mpg; the new model will deliver close to 20 mpg in mixed driving environments—a major improvement.

But this enhanced performance is not just due to weight loss; it also comes from higher efficiency in all areas, from the engine management to the new and improved transmission, combined with better software controlling the drivetrain.

Just Get the V-8

While I truly preferred the supercharged V-6 power plant in the Jaguar F-Type—feeling that it was more lithe overall and hardly worth the gas-mileage penalty for the 0.5-second quicker 0-to-60-mph time of the V-8 version—the exact opposite is true with the Range Rover Sport. The 1-to-2-mpg penalty you’ll pay for the big motor is a small price to pay for the posh feel that accompanies it. The 6-cylinder car feels fine at cruising speed, but when it’s necessary to overtake the car next to you, the weaker engine’s struggle is apparent in the cabin, feeling somewhat labored, whereas the V-8 version jumps ahead effortlessly.

And while the extra horsepower of the V-8 only shaves about 0.5 seconds from the 0-to-60 time in the Jag, it delivers a nearly 2-second quicker time in the Range Rover. Again, it’s more about the way the power is delivered than the power itself. You never think about the engine in the V-8 model, as it should be in a luxury ride like this.

Both the V-6 and V-8 engines are based on the ones used in the Jaguar, yet in the Range Rover they are tuned more for maximum torque and a broader response curve, which benefits a wider range of driving experiences. You aren’t going to be burning rubber when the tires are knee-deep in mud anyway—what you want is smooth, torque-heavy power delivery so you can leap out of the slimy spots with ease. Yet, where the V-6 feels fine most of the time, when you put the pedal down, you still feel the engine. By comparison, the V-8 has an effortlessness of power delivery that just seems oh so much more in keeping with the sporty ethos.

That’s what the Range Rover Sport delivers: No matter how steep a hill we chose to climb or how slippery the conditions, this damn thing does not get stuck—ever. As a neophyte to off-roading (though I’ve ridden my share of dirt bikes through hellish conditions), I’m flabbergasted at the capabilities of this 5000-pound vehicle, which can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds flat—something that the Porsche Boxster in my garage cannot accomplish.

If there was ever a vehicle that can do damn near everything, the Range Rover Sport is it. Now, if we could only have the 35-mpg turbo diesel model that our European neighbors enjoy…

The Ultimate Mobile Concert Hall

Thanks to 1,700 watts and 29 speakers, all tailored to the Range Rover’s interior environment, there is no better way to take the music to the street, or wherever. Most of our test vehicles have the standard Meridian system, which is no slouch, and adds $1,995 to the sticker. For all but the most die-hard music fans, this should suffice, but if you want to rock while you’re rolling, you need the top-of-the-line Meridian Signature Audio Enhancement Package, which adds $4,995 to the MSRP—a small price to pay to be a major player.

And rock it does. Thanks to all of the DSP modeling performed by Meridian, an expert in this technology, each one of those 29 speakers is custom tuned to the Sport’s luxurious cabin. Cranking up the new Nine Inch Nails album Hesitation Marks conveys the sheer industrial energy present on this disc, and even at near maximum volume, nothing in the Sport’s cabin rattles or makes any kind of mechanical noise.

Next up, it’s classic Scorpions—Love at First Sting. It might be a little bit out of character for this proper British vehicle to be blasting “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” but again the Meridian system delivers the goods, providing maximum SPL and minimum distortion. Seriously, this system can generate major sound pressure, so we’ll leave it up to you to establish your own definitions of reasonable and prudent while behind the wheel.

Because this is a surround-sound setup, those with 5.1-channel DVD-Audio discs can take full advantage of that functionality. The 1990s classic Toy Matinee is a ton of fun on this system, with vocals seeming to come up from between the front seats and with sprinkles of synthesizer fills coming from all over the cabin—brilliant!

You Know You Want It

I come away spoiled from my time spent with the Range Rover Sport equipped with the Meridian sound system—any other SUV now disappoints. I’ve driven them all and they pale in comparison. Nothing else has the versatility, the reputation or the panache. Granted, the Range Rover Sport may not be for everyone, but if I were writing a check for seventy large, this would be in my driveway in a heartbeat.  – Jeff Dorgay