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2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport review

March 28, 2006 04:14 PM EST | Land Rover , SUV's | Email to Friend

View large imageIt's still not the sportiest SUV in its price range, but if you want Land Rover capability and style packed into a slightly less boxy package, the Range Rover Sport is the perfect setup.

Pros
Solid road manners, off-road ability worthy of the Land Rover name, usable interior space, powerful V8 engines.

Cons
Standard model still not very sporty, less interior room than the standard Range Rover.

What's New for 2006
Land Rover takes a jab at performance SUVs from BMW and Porsche with its all-new Range Rover Sport.

Introduction:
Over the past 50 years, a small British company with a simple green and gold logo has become legendary in the world of off-road exploration. While other marques such as Jeep and Hummer have tried to emulate the mystique and reputation of the venerable Land Rover brand, none have been able to match its reputation for providing luxury and go-anywhere capability in the most extreme conditions known to man. In recent years, Land Rover has sought to make its vehicles more palatable to a mainstream audience whose safaris rarely take them out of suburbia. Most of the credit goes to a short-lived buyout deal with BMW that lasted just long enough to produce the highly desirable Range Rover, a vehicle as opulent as it is rugged. The BMW deal came undone before the same magic could be worked on the midsize Discovery, an outdated dinosaur that arrived in the U.S. in 1995 slotted beneath the Range Rover. Ford came along a few years later and snapped up Land Rover, hoping to apply the same formula that has proven successful at Jaguar and Aston Martin. The LR3 was the first product born out of this relationship. The LR3 is a success by most accounts, but Land Rover also needed a BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne fighter. A real departure from Land Rover's singular focus on the off-road lifestyle, the Range Rover Sport is the company's first performance SUV. Even though it shares the Range Rover badge with its luxurious big brother, the Sport is actually a shortened and 450-pound-lighter version of the LR3. The exterior styling echoes the Range Rover, and the engineers placed much significance on aerodynamics and smooth lines. A shorter wheelbase and a steeply raked rear hatch give the Sport a more dynamic stance. The steering and suspension were sharpened for better on-road performance with a variable-ratio and variable-assistance ZF Servotronic steering system and monotube shocks. Two engines power the Range Rover Sport. A V8 borrowed from the Jaguar parts bin channels 300 horsepower through a six-speed automatic transmission in the HSE. The supercharged model boosts the horsepower to 390. The Range Rover Sport's fully independent suspension utilizes air springs at each corner, and a new Dynamic Response System automatically adjusts the sway bars for maximum roll control whether you're on-road or off. Although its tires, stance and suspension are tuned for life on pavement, the Sport still carries its low-range gearing and the adaptive Terrain Response system first introduced in the LR3. Although the idea of a fast and sporty Land Rover may seem like a contradiction, the new Range Rover Sport has the acceleration and handling dynamics to make it a serious player in the high-performance SUV market. It also has the class-leading off-road capability you'd expect of a Land Rover.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The five-passenger Range Rover Sport is offered in two trim levels, HSE and Supercharged. The HSE comes standard with leather upholstery, 19-inch alloys, fold-down rear seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 14-speaker, 600-watt Harman Kardon audio system with a six-disc CD changer. Options include heated front and rear seats, adaptive headlights, premium leather seating and wood trim. The Supercharged model gets all these goodies, plus 20-inch alloy wheels and the Dynamic Response active suspension system.

Powertrains and Performance:
The standard Range Rover Sport is powered by a 4.4-liter V8 that makes 300 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque. As you'd expect, the Supercharged model features a supercharged version of this engine that ups the power to 390 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift logic that adapts to road conditions and driving styles. Likewise, they both get Land Rover's Terrain Response System that adjusts everything from throttle response, traction control, electronic stability control to varying off-road conditions. The Supercharged Sport also features active roll control to improve cornering performance on the pavement.

Safety:
Safety features include four-wheel antilock Brembo brakes, traction and stability control, hill-descent control, side-impact and head curtain airbags and even an electronic parking brake. The Supercharged model includes adaptive headlights that "look" around corners and adjust up and down to counter the effects of hard braking and heavy cargo.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The Range Rover Sport features a spacious cabin packed with clever storage solutions, as well as seats trimmed in English leather. A commanding driving position and elevated stadium seating give the driver and passengers alike a clear view of their surroundings. The dash has a simple, geometric look that is very similar to the elegant design employed in the Range Rover. Switches are kept to a minimum, thanks to built-in technology that minimizes the need for driver input, and every tactile surface is thickly padded, as one would expect in a vehicle of this caliber. Overall, the cabin isn't quite as luxurious or spacious as the Range Rover, but the Sport is designed to impart a more cockpitlike feel for the driver to emphasize its driver-focused intentions.

Driving Impressions:
With 390 horsepower on tap, the supercharged Range Rover Sport lives up to the performance moniker. Combined with its sophisticated four-wheel-drive system and the adaptive six-speed transmission, there is always plenty of power and traction available underfoot. If you're looking for serious capability on the pavement, go with the Supercharged model or at least an HSE equipped with the active roll control suspension as the standard setup is much less capable than a comparably priced X5 or Cayenne.

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