2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport
Back on the beaten path.
By Shaun Bailey
Land Rover is a backwoods, mountain-climbing, river-fording and rock-crawling go-anywhere-do-anything vehicle manufacturer. The fact that few buyers ever venture beyond a dirt path has compelled the company to add road performance to its stellar off-road heritage. The result is a new model, the Range Rover Sport, which at a glance appears to be a Range Rover HSE with wider and lower profile tires. It is not; it's much more.
The Sport is built on the Discovery 3 platform, known as the LR3 in the U.S. The result is a chassis 7.2 in. shorter than a Range Rover with a nimbler 108.0-in. wheelbase. The powertrain is shared with the Range Rover, which for 2006 replaces the BMW V-8 with a Jaguar-supplied 4.4-liter normally aspirated V-8 from an XJ making 300 bhp, or a supercharged 4.2-liter variant from the R-series that bumps the output to 390 bhp. The results are 0-60-mph times estimated at 8.2 and 7.2 seconds, respectively. That's a good bit quicker than the 8.9 we achieved in a 2003 test of the Range Rover.
Each engine has been altered for off-road duty with an oiling system that can handle steep inclines. Improved seals keep water out during fording, and engine accessories have been remounted in less vulnerable positions. A new ZF 6-speed automatic transmission with low range and full-time 4-wheel drive is standard.
Interior design and quality are exceptional. A handy little knob between the front seats controls the 4wd system, electronic center differential and stability functions as well as adjusts throttle mapping. Thankfully, the driver doesn't have to worry about what adjustments are made to the software, just what terrain is to be crossed. The knob has five settings: tarmac, grass/gravel/snow, mud, sand and rock crawl.
For the curious, a display mode on the navigation screen will show ride height, wheel travel, steering direction and how the differentials are locking. A rear-locking differential is available. Other controls include adjustable ride height and hill-descent control. Most owners will never touch the buttons, but they are nice to have if you need them.
The thick steering wheel is a clue that the Sport is more than a dirt-road-loving SUV.
As for off-road ability, it's as good or better in some ways than the big Range Rover's. The only downside are 40-series low-profile tires, which aren't optimal for off-road but give a better feel when on pavement. The non-supercharged HSE has 19-in. wheels with 20s as an option.
Our test drive in the Catalonia region of Spain took place on classically narrow European mountain roads. For a 5500-lb. fully off-road-capable SUV, the Sport can be a lot of fun to drive on pavement. The transmission features a slap-shift option and on downshifts will aggressively blip the throttle to match rpm for smooth gear changes. The supercharged version with its powerful Brembo brakes can be driven like a large sedan, although it's not the fastest or best for getting around corners.
A Dynamic Response system that helps control vehicle roll is standard on the supercharged Sport and optional on the HSE. Fully independent double-wishbone suspension at each corner with electronically controlled air springs is tuned for on-road driving, some of the development work having been done at the Nürburgring.
Steering response and feel are on par with a Jaguar sedan. There is no slop or delay and it tracks straight with ease. I was lucky to experience a snowstorm going over a mountain pass and while lesser cars were stopping or sliding off the road, the Sport glided by completely unaffected.
The aptly named Range Rover Sport will be on sale this summer, with pricing placed squarely between the LR3 and Range Rover. The naturally aspirated V-8 HSE will start at $56,750, and the supercharged variant will command $69,750. When you don't know where the road ahead is leading, there isn't a better vehicle around.