- Life Style
Newest Range Rover is built for off-road and street
by Mark Maynard
But all that also makes it a good road vehicle.
In the Land Rover family, the Sport is the third SUV and the second in the Range Rover line. Compared with the Range Rover, the venerable flagship, the Sport is the younger sibling that is just as handsome, more athletic and better at socializing with the opposite sex.
The Sport shares an architecture with the Land Rover LR3, but has a shortened wheelbase and technology not available on the LR3. It has the classic Range Rover silhouette, but it's more aerodynamic and tough-looking. It was built for handling and compliance in all situations, the company says.
It is sold in two models with two engine choices. Pricing starts at $56,750 for the HSE with a 300-horsepower, 4.4-liter V-8.
Standard equipment includes a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode, a 4WD system with a two-speed electronic transfer gearbox, an electronically controlled locking center differential and an optional rear differential lock.
A power sunroof is standard, as is the killer 13-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system.
The base vehicle is still a truck that could get dirty and desert pinstriped. With the optional luxury packages, however, the leather upgrade is so refined it would be negligent to scuff it up off-road.
And, how many owners would risk scrubbing one of the 19-inch Continental CrossContact tires or alloy wheels on an off-road whim?
"For people who come to Land Rover, there is some desire to have off-road capability in their vehicle, but whether they use it or just boast of it is up to debate," says spokesman Larry Rosinski. "It's the heritage that is important to them."
Today's test truck was equipped for Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and had an as-tested price of $64,900. As equipped, it was as luxurious and inviting as the full-size sedans from Jaguar, Lexus or those German marques - but cheaper. Free scheduled maintenance is part of the four-year warranty.
The supercharged model starts at $69,750 and comes with 20-inch wheels and most available option packages for the HSE.
Its 4.2-liter supercharged V-8 puts out 390 horsepower and 410 foot-pounds of torque. The supercharged engine can push this heavy hauler, which weighs 5,764 pounds with all the options, to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, a full second quicker than the HSE. Fuel mileage is 13/18.
It's painful pumping the premium into this rig, but the truck overdelivered in pleasure. And on a long drive in the test truck, I was averaging 15.7 mpg, according to the onboard computer.
The high-octane rumble of the V-8 is provocative. The cabin is so well sound-isolated that all worries are shut out, and it just feels good to throw this SUV into a sweeping off-ramp or backcountry curve.
The air suspension adjusts and balances all weight management and leaves no chance for unsettled tippiness. Even when pulling into an angled driveway, there is little to no head-toss for passengers. That's an accomplishment for a truck with a 7,700-pound tow rating.
The handling is credited to the Dynamic Response system of electronically controlled anti-sway bars that stiffen up the vehicle in the corner, but fade into the background off-road for maximum articulation.
Ground effect spoilers (part of the lower body trim) at the base of the front doors are functional to help keep the vehicle grounded at speed. And they are not as easy to tear off on a woods road as you might expect.
The interior dimensions are close to the flagship Range Rover. The Sport is about 7 inches shorter and has a few inches less shoulder room. Front head and shoulder room are good, but leg room can be close for those taller than about 6 feet 3 inches, front or rear, but that's true in either truck.
The driver has command seating. There are good sightlines out the front, over the fenders and over the shoulder. Front and rear park sensors help greatly in tight spots. Put all that together and the 38-foot turning circle makes the Sport handier in most urban situations than a large sedan.
One gripe involved the heated windshield at night. Its array of micro-tiny heating elements made driving, especially in the rain, somewhat blurry.
SUVs are terrific for space to build-in conveniences. The Sport's broad center console (with some slim storage) allows room to work the shifter in manual mode and use the cup holders.
The front seats have pull-down armrests on the inboard side that can be adjusted for angle. Too restricting? Just push them up and out of the way and spread out. There are dual glove boxes, too, and a dashboard tray on the passenger side and dual storage slots in each front door.
Wide door panels - leather-covered with wood trim - give two levels of arm-resting comfort. The wood trim looks real, and the brushed aluminum trim pieces have an aircraft-quality appearance.
The instrument panel has well-integrated features and intuitive placement of controls.
The navigation system has a user-friendly learning curve, and it's not necessary to page through the screen display to adjust audio or temperature.
Too hot? Reach for the fan knob. Want the airflow away from your face? Well, look here, there's a dial right at hand. That's simplicity and sophistication to the man-machine interface. And it's the beauty of designing amid the space of an SUV.
Passengers in back get raised seating, a headrest for all, a center armrest, grab handles with coat hooks and reading lights, but no cup holders that I could find.
The back seat easily flips and folds for cargo extension. The tailgate has a lift glass so you don't always have to heft the whole door, and this one's heavy enough that an automatic closer might be a readily purchased option.
Safety features include six air bags, including side-curtain air bags that run the length of the passenger compartment, and dynamic stability control (to help maintain the intended direction after the driver has sent the Sport into a turn).
An electronic parking brake is one of the smartest ideas in the industry. A small switch on the center console sets the brake, which makes the foot-pumper and even the hand brake seem old-fashioned and a waste of space.
The Sport is built with an Old World vaultlike solidity that not even Mercedes does any more. That robustness makes the truck feel as if it will last a lifetime.
For all the hype touting the Sport as a performance SUV, the nonsupercharged HSE is only one-tenth of a second faster to 60 mph than the full-size Rover HSE. And the big, supercharged Rover is one-tenth of a second faster than the supercharged Sport.
But the Sport packs a price tag that's $18,200 to $20,200 less. Could the Sport prove so popular that it poaches sales from big brother?
"I'd be lying if I said we didn't ask ourselves that as we were planning this," Rosinski says.
Sales would seem to show otherwise, though Sport has only been on sale since July. Both Rovers are setting monthly records. The Sport sold 1,850 in July and 1,700 in August. The big Rover, 1,509 and 1,212.
"To me that's an indication there is a market out there for both vehicles," Rosinski says.
He also says sales numbers have not been affected "so far" by the run-up in fuel prices.
"We are selling to an affluent customer who has a little flexibility in the monthly budget," Rosinski says. "But calculate it, and if gas runs up another 40 to 50 cents, the net outlay for the buyer will be insignificant relative to what he or she is paying for the vehicle. This customer doesn't place that much emphasis on fuel economy."
2006 Range Rover Sport HSE
Body style: 5-passenger integrated body-frame SUV with permanent four-wheel drive
Engine: Aluminum, 4.4-liter, 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 300 at 5,500 rpm
Torque: 315 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with CommandShift and adaptive mapping; 4WD system uses a 2-speed electronic transfer gearbox (shift-on-the-move), electronically controlled locking center differential and an optional rear differential lock
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 8.2 seconds
Fuel Economy: 14 mpg city, 19 highway
Fuel tank: 23.2 gallons; 91 octane recommended
Wheelbase: 108 inches
Length: 188.5 inches
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.4/39.1/59 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 38.4/37.6/58 inches
Curb weight: 5,468 to 5,702 pounds
Tow capacity: 7,700 pounds
Standard equipment: Keyless entry, GPS off-road enhanced navigation system with touch screen, 13-speaker (550-watt) Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system, front and rear park distance control, heated rear window with wiper, power sunroof, adaptive bi-xenon headlights with power wash, cruise control, electrochromic rear-view mirror, illuminated sun-visor mirrors, 8-way power-adjusted driver's seat, 6-way power-adjusted passenger's seat, message center and trip computer, center console with storage, dual glove boxes, front-door map pockets, front seat-back pockets, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, front and rear fog lights, foot-well and puddle lights, 2-piece lift gate
Safety equipment: 6-air-bag system, including side-curtain air bags, side-door impact beams front and rear; pretensioning and load-limited front belts
Suspension: 4-wheel independent air suspension with cross linking; computer-controlled anti-roll control
Steering: Power assisted rack and pinion; 38.1-foot turning circle
Brakes: Power-assisted 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes; 13.3-inch front, 13.8-inch rear discs; with ABS, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and electric parking brake
Tires and wheels: Continental CrossContact 255/50R 19-inch and alloy wheels
Base price: $56,750, including $665 destination charge; price as tested, $64,900 (This vehicle is not subject to luxury tax as it is classified as a multipurpose vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating in excess of 6,000 pounds.)
Options on test vehicle: Luxury package ($2,750) includes premium leather, cherry wood trim, adaptive front lighting, front and rear heated seats, heated front screen, and heated washer jets; rear-seat entertainment ($2,500) includes two integrated front headrest displays, 6-disc DVD changer, wireless headphones, touch screen and remote control; Sirius satellite radio ($400); rear differential lock ($500); and Dynamic Response ($2,000)
The competition: BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti FX, Mercedes-Benz ML, Porsche Cayenne S and Turbo
Waranty: 4-year/50,000-mile basic with roadside assistance; 6-year/unlimited mileage; corrosion coverage; free schedule maintenance
Where assembled: Solihull, England
PLUSES: Handsome, built like a vault and a pleasure to drive, until it's time to gas up.
MINUSES: Heated windshield can be blurry at night and in the rain; heavy tailgate.
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at email@example.com.