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Range Rovers have a well-deserved reputation for forging through diverse terrain, climbing mountains, fording swamps, and carting British royalty to Buckingham Palace. But the 2010 Range Rover Sport finally lives up to its promise of also speeding over twisted and winding blacktops, keeping pace with dedicated sports cars.

Previous Range Rover Sports, although shorter and lower than their full-size Range Rover cousins, felt a little wobbly in the corners. They didn't hide their bulk well. But the new version uses a few tech tricks to become downright tossable, almost competitive with the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5 M.

Getting into the 2010 Range Rover Sport Supercharged model that showed up in our garage, we were immediately impressed by Land Rover's improvement to the cabin. Previous generations suffered from great swaths of plastic down the console, not something you want to see in a supposed luxury SUV. The 2010 model mixes leather, wood, metal, and covers the remaining plastics with a nice finish.

Likewise, the navigation system underwent an improvement, although not quite as drastic. Rather than the previous archaic system, the Range Rover Sport now gets the same system as found in Jaguars, which we most recently saw in the Jaguar XFR. This navigation system handles the basics reasonably well, but doesn't catch up with luxury competitors who now all offer live traffic and other advanced features.

In one important way we like this navigation system's interface better than that in the Jaguar XFR; there are buttons below the LCD that give quick access to the map, along with the phone and the stereo systems. The onscreen interface is the same Flash-based system as in the XFR, and though it still looks like late 1990s Web design, the menu items are more responsive, probably because of a faster processor in the Range Rover's hardware.

Similar to the XFR, we found that browsing an iPod library using the onscreen interface required too much attention away from the road. Besides iPod integration, the Range Rover Sport also offers HD radio, Satellite Radio, an MP3-compatible disc player, and a USB port.

Music plays through a 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with a 480-watt amp, with surround sound through Logic7 processing. This system produces rich sound across the frequencies, with full-sounding bass and pleasant highs. There is a good amount of detail in the sound, although some background instruments get buried.

Our car also had the rear seat entertainment package, with video screens neatly set into the backs of the front headrests. Sound for the video system can play through the Harman Kardon audio system or wireless headphones that come with the package. There are also audio and video jacks so external devices can be plugged into the rear seat system.

Also sharing the dashboard LCD is a Bluetooth phone system. It downloads a connected phone's contact list, making it available onscreen, although you can not dial by name through the voice command system.

Powerful, but thirsty
Along with the navigation system, the Range Rover Sport and Jaguar XFR also share a power train, the supercharged direct injection V-8. This engine makes 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque, which gets this SUV to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Hitting the gas, it feels like there is no end to the power.

But this power comes at a price in the bulky Range Rover Sport, namely 12 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. We turned in a final, and dismal, fuel economy of 13 mpg after driving along freeways, city streets, and pushing the car over mountain roads.

The good: With its Terrain Response system, the 2010 Range Rover Sport tackles the back country and tricky asphalt turns equally well; the automatic transmission shifts aggressively in sport mode. The Harman Kardon audio system produces a rich sound.

The bad: Fuel economy from the supercharged V-8 is dismal, coming in at the low teens. The navigation system lacks traffic, and the iPod interface is not easy to use while driving.

The bottom line: The 2010 Range Rover Sport fulfills its promise of excellent on-road and off-road performance, but the cabin tech is just a little better than average.

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