Land Rover Range Rover Sport: Driving Impressions – Odd as it may seem, a comparison can be made between a Honda all-terrain vehicle (a.k.a. ATV, four wheeler, quad, etc.) and the 2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport. Having decided that I wanted to reintroduce myself to the ATV fun I enjoyed as a kid, I spent a few nights last week perusing internet classified ads looking for a clean, reasonably-priced unit. Surprisingly, it wasn’t long before I found a four-wheel-drive Honda quad within 20 miles of my home in paved-over Southern California: a 4WD quad that purportedly had next to zero miles on it and sat cleaner than any 2007 model I might find at the local dealer.
When faced with characterizing the 4WD Range Rover Sport, that spotless Honda came back to mind – I figure both have about an equal chance of ever getting dirty or being fully utilized. The mud- and stream-seeking Honda sits handcuffed in its urban cage, while the Range Rover Sport will most likely go from the fake rock-crawl course at the dealer to a reserved parking space or climate-controlled garage within a gated community. It might get parked on the grass at the stables or when the country club parking is maxed out, but that just may be the extent of its off-pavement excursions. Yet, unlike the $2,600 ATV, one can understand why Land Rover buyers may be hesitant to mar the exterior of a $56,000 – $70,000 ride. That’s too bad, because with a somewhat disappointing supercharged version, questionable interior materials, horrible gas mileage, and a tight rear seat, the 2006 Range Rover Sport, in true Land Rover fashion, truly shines only when tackling the dusty, rutted road less traveled.
Despite a name that suggests otherwise, the 2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport is actually less powerful than the regular and larger Range Rover by as much as 10 horsepower and 10 lb.-ft. of torque. The Sport is available as an HSE with a 4.4-liter, 32-valve, dual overhead cam V8 pushing 300 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 315 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm, combining with a six-speed manually-interactive automatic transmission to return an EPA-estimated 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. That’s the base variety. Drivers seeking a bit more verve behind the pedal will want to consider the Supercharged model, with its 4.2-liter, 32-valve, dual overhead cam, supercharged V8 cranking out 390 horses and 410 lb.-ft. of torque, which when coupled with the six-speed automatic would offer 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway if we lived in a world where EPA numbers mirrored reality. But, we don’t, so our combined rating of 13.4 mpg didn’t cause any staffers to die of shock.
Among the other hardware fitted to the Range Rover Sport is a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case, a center limited-slip differential, and Land Rover’s Terrain Response variable suspension for sure-footed on- and off-road ability. Enhancing the Sport’s traction is a hill descent control system and ABS tied to vented discs, the likes of which are created by Brembo for Supercharged models. An independent suspension with air springs smoothes out the ride while a variable-assisted rack-and-pinion steering assembly works to keep either 19-inch (HSE) or 20-inch (Supercharged) alloy wheels pointed in the correct direction. That’s important stuff when piloting a 5,500-lb. rig with a 7,718-lb. load tagging along behind.
Besides the behind-the-scenes underpinnings and technology that make the 2006 Range Rover Sport a true off-roading Land Rover, there’s plenty to offer prospective buyers with heightened tactile or visual senses. Starting with the base HSE, priced at $56,800 including a $715 destination charge, the standard features list includes a 550-watt Harmon Kardon sound system with an MP3 player and six-disc CD changer; leather upholstery; wood interior trim; a touch-screen navigation system; a power sunroof; voice-activated controls; power-adjustable front seats with memory; and rain-sensing wipers. A Cold Climate Package with heated seats, heated washers, and heated windshield glass is optional. Also available is a Luxury Package featuring high-intensity discharge headlights, cherry wood trim, and upgraded leather seats. Other options include a rear locking differential, a rear DVD entertainment system, Sirius satellite radio, a phone, 20-inch alloy wheels, and a stability control system.
Given that the alloys are $4,000 alone, you may decide to just pony up $69,800 for the Range Rover Sport Supercharged since it comes standard with most of the HSE’s options as well as an extra 90 horsepower. Along with that lofty base price comes stability control, 20-inch alloys, those blinding headlights, heated front seats, the Cold Climate Package, the rear DVD entertainment system with two 6.5-inch screens, and access to optional intelligent cruise control and oak trim. Available only on the Supercharged is a Special Edition Package offering unique 20-inch alloy wheels, oak trim, the rear DVD system, Sirius satellite radio, and special floor mats and sill plates.
At $76,150 (including a $715 destination charge and $100 for California emissions equipment), our 2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged arrived fully loaded with the exception of oak interior trim and the Special Edition Package.
Land Rover is one of those automotive makes that bring to mind the 90’s song “Things that make you go Hmmm." Land Rovers are common on the Discovery Channel as paleontologists drive them through remote deserts in search of the next great dinosaur discovery. These rough and tough cars of choice are synonymous with adventure a la Indiana Jones. But as a luxury suv, the majority of which will never see a muddy waterhole or a hint of rocky terrain, what exactly is the purpose of owning a Land Rover other than as a bit of ego stroking? Despite my skepticism, I couldn’t suppress an excited twinge at the prospect of driving one for myself.
While the guys took the Land Rover Range Rover Sport through its 4WD paces, my sedate spin on city streets and congested highways proved disenchanting for reasons other than the way it drove. The handling, braking, and acceleration are its only sterling qualities. As I backed the Land Rover out of its parking space, I was pleased with its nimble turning and ability to maneuver in a crowded parking lot. It was by no means as maneuverable as a Volkswagen Jetta, but for its size and purpose, it handled well. Braking in crowded street traffic was a breeze, though its size necessitated cautious maneuvering among hair brained commuters.
Steering was also pleasantly responsive, not too stiff or too sensitive, while getting up to freeway speeds was as easy as applying pressure to the gas pedal. Merging in and around traffic was not a problem, though the ride quality was stiff if not unexpectedly so. On twisty roads, the Land Rover Range Rover is rock steady around sharp turns with absolutely no discernable body lean. Overall, the SUV inspired confidence in its ability to take on any driving situation.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Ron Perry’s Driving Impressions:
I’m afraid I was expecting a lot more from the Range Rover Sport. For north of $70K, there are things that definitely need improvement for a vehicle with this reputation and distinction. To start off, a smoother ride is a must have. The Range Rover Sport roughly transfers the irregularities of the road to the cabin and the likely culprits are the twenty-inch wheels shod with low profile rubber. The cabin is well insulated, keeping wind and tire noise to a minimum, thus providing a quiet environment. Dip into the go pedal and the supercharged engine comes alive but doesn’t launch the Range Rover Sport with the expected veracity. Steering is right on but the big Brembo brakes seemed a bit too grabby. Entering the freeway on a 360-degree on-ramp, the Range Rover Sport held its own, cornering flatter than most SUVs, but don’t plan on challenging the Nissan 350Z in the next lane. I also feel that for this kind of money you should get electric folding rear seats, an electric tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and an electric tailgate. The tailgate is heavy and if you weigh less than 125 pounds you’ll likely find yourself hanging from it as you attempt to pull it down. I also hated the heating wires implanted in the front windshield. I can’t believe buyers will stand for this distraction; it gave me a headache. I was also appalled at the awful fuel economy
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Christian Wardlaw’s Driving Impressions:
On pavement, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport’s optional supercharged engine builds adequate power, transferred to the road surface through an automatic transmission and full-time 4WD system. Shift the automatic for yourself, and the Range Rover Sport proves to be a lively machine – otherwise, you may find yourself wishing for more oomph. Brembo brakes scrub speed, but pedal feel doesn’t inspire confidence upon application, and I thought the system added progressive, and unexpected, levels of braking even with steady pressure applied to the pedal. The brakes take some getting used to. Steering is slow and sloppy, which is good for four-wheeling but not when maneuvering about the parking lot at Ralph Lauren. I liked the thick steering wheel and the syrupy assist level, though.
In terms of handling, the driver is constantly aware of how heavy and tall this vehicle is, and because it rides on 40-series rubber, the ride is stiff. Thankfully, the tough underpinnings filter most of the road rash before it reaches the cabin. I took our Range Rover Sport off-roading, and it tackled difficult terrain that would have rendered most other vehicles useless. After a performance like that, it’s easy to change your tune about this luxury SUV. The question: is a stellar off-roading experience worth the trade-offs in terms of on-road handling and fuel economy?
Much like sitting in an upright chair with leg room to spare, the front seats of the Land Rover Range Rover Sport are high with an unimpeded view through the windshield, something any driver would appreciate. They are wrapped in soft and supple leather with large cushioned headrests and automatic controls that allow for maximum adjustability. On a sour note, my elbows would have fit comfortably on the padded armrests except for the deep bolsters on either side of the contoured bucket seats that dug into the back of my arms. The steering wheel is nicely rounded and thankfully lacked thumb rests which interfere with a secure grip. After adjusting the driver’s seat, the steering wheel required no tweaking for comfortable arm positioning. Though I liked the seating, the front cabin space is claustrophobic with a center console that rises from the floor in a solid wall between the driver’s and front passenger’s seat. The bolsters on either side of the bucket seats add to the confined feeling.
Surprisingly, I found the rear seats to be a bit snug in leg room (with the driver’s seat adjusted to my preferences), though swathed in luxurious leather in all directions. The headrests are large and well padded with DVD screens set into the front headrests, sure to delight those dying of back seat boredom. Unfortunately, these headrests also block the view to the front for back seat drivers who like to watch the road as they are chauffeured from place to place. Though there was no flip-down center console for the rear, the back of the front center console offered two large cupholders, power outlets, and independent climate controls. Entering and exiting was done with ease through either the front or back doors, which were wide and sturdy.
When punching the gas, engine roar intrudes into the cabin, something a friend of mine calls the “growl" of a powerful engine, a sound she loves and one I just find annoying. Road and wind noises were undetectable, even when ramping up to higher speeds. The trunk is spacious and the rear window can be opened separately from the tailgate, a convenience I wish I had with my own SUV. A leather cargo cover can be pulled over the bottom half of the trunk at adjustable lengths, effectively creating an isolated trunk space.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Ron Perry’s Opinion of the Comfort:
When it comes to the Range Rover, it is supposed to be all about comfort, right? I found the seats to be very comfortable and a suitable driving position easy to find. Not only is there a padded center console for your right arm, there is also a fold-away armrest with angle adjustment. Additionally, the door panels are equipped with nicely padded armrests. Need a cold drink? The Range Rover Sport has a fridge at your disposal located under the center console lid. It is small but will hold a couple of cans of soda. Two cupholders are provided for front seat passengers, but those riding in the back will have to do without. No water bottle holders are incorporated into the door panels, either. Entering the rear seat you will find limited foot and knee room and tight quarters for three adults, although headroom is sufficient. I was really disappointed with the rough ride and was surprised to find a suspension this stiff on such an expensive vehicle.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the Comfort:
The driver’s seat is excellent, and the driving position is perfect with a commanding view over the low, flat hood and past the thin windshield pillars. Yet, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport’s front chairs feel confining, and boosting yourself up into this rig isn’t easy. Add heavy, clunky doors to the mix, and the fact that our test truck didn’t have cooling fans for the leather seats, and it’s easy to tire of the Range Rover Sport. Still, it’s better to ride in front than in back. The rear wheel wells intrude upon entry and exit, and leg room is tight when tall people are sitting in front. Foot and head room are generous, however, and you can quit the gym if you buy one of these vehicles because raising the rear headrests requires plenty of strength.
The Land Rover Range Rover Sport looks and feels like a tank, although fortunately it doesn’t drive like one. The construction is tight, well fitted and so solid I felt safe from road rage, an assured survivor in almost any accident. With a heavy, reinforced build, the SUV looks like it can take a licking and keep on ticking. On the inside, the plastics and other materials were of high quality with a matted sheen and accents of muted silver plating.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Ron Perry’s Opinion of the Quality:
I have to give Land Rover high marks for quality. Seams and gaps were all consistent and I didn’t see any obvious fitment issues or loose covers. The cabin was quiet, didn’t have any squeaks or rattles, and the quality of the materials was top notch. My only issue was with the steering wheel. It didn’t feel like leather, offering more of a vinyl feel and look. Overall, I do feel you get the quality of fine finishing and materials with the Range Rover Sport.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the Quality:
There’s too much shiny plastic trim in the cabin, constantly reminding the Range Rover Sport’s owner that Land Rover was pinching pennies and didn’t install real aluminum. Other plastics look cheap, too, thanks to a glossy sheen and selected Ford parts bin switchgear. Plus, the navigation screen collects fingerprints, and the control stalks emit a wet snap when activated. Décor is pleasing, especially the matte-finished wood applied to the dashboard. As for build quality, the interior of our Land Rover Range Rover Sport was better assembled than the exterior. Nothing popped off, but most cabin trim gave easily under pressure, and our test truck emitted plenty of creaks and squeaks. On the outside, I spotted several inconsistent panel gaps, and the right fender vent had a broken clip.
What can I say, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport’s exterior design is, well, hmmm, you know…interesting. Akin to a stiff upper lip with a boxy, awkward front and rear, I can’t wax anymore eloquent on the subject without coming right out and calling it ugly. As for the interior design, there’s little to be said that’s positive.
While parked, the gear selector is positioned directly in front of the center stack, blocking the knobs for the climate control. But most annoyingly, the navigation screen is recessed and out of easy reach. Scooting forward, grabbing the steering wheel for leverage, and stretching one arm the distance to the screen, I nearly sprained a forefinger pressing hard enough to get the obtuse program to respond while miraculously driving at the same time. On top of that, the navigation program was far from intuitive – what in the heck did those icons stand for and was that me driving across the North American continent? Finally, the raked windshield and the correspondingly recessed and angled navigation screen exposed it to blinding late afternoon sunlight while southbound on the highway.
An aborted attempt to power down the windows also revealed that the window controls, though on the driver side door, are positioned so far forward that they are also out of easy reach. Oh, and did I need to adjust the side mirrors? Ha, forget it! Those were situated past the window controls and might as well have been on the hood. With misplaced controls for the windows, mirrors, and navigation system, the proper placement of the remaining controls seemed like a godsend.
A habit of mine is to throw my purse and other hand-held items into the passenger seat when I get in a car (assuming there are no passengers) which I access as needed while driving – to retrieve a ringing cell phone, for example. The 4WD controls were large and situated in the center console just before the storage bin, which worried me that I’d hit one by accident while reaching into the passenger seat. In addition, the wall dividing the driver from the passenger makes it impossible to rescue items from the passenger floor after hitting the brakes during stop-and-go traffic. If the designers had intended the interior layout to be as inconvenient as they could imagine, it’s possible that they could have done worse. One thing is obvious – wooing the female market is not one of their concerns.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Ron Perry’s Opinion of the Design:
I have to admit I love the look of the Range Rover Sport. It is a package that exudes class, distinction and wealth. Designers have done a great job with the interior and exterior of the Sport. Inside I would have liked to see the wood trim included on the steering wheel, and I longed for larger center controls. Our truck’s interior was a bright white that looked rich and elegant but definitely showed every speck of dirt. I would definitely opt for something darker. One area where designers failed is in the folding rear seats. They are easy to lower with a simple two-step process, but I had to move the driver’s seat forward from my normal driving position to gain clearance for the rear seat to fold down – anyone over 5 feet 11 inches tall will then have to drive with the seat farther forward than might be comfortable.
Outside, the Range Rover Sport keeps the distinctive styling for which it is known. The sharp angular lines are distinctively Range Rover and the 20-inch wheels and lowered stance really give it added appeal. I also loved the front grille, which resembles the heat shielding used on side-outlet exhausts or on machine gun barrels. It really gives the front end a striking appearance. The same texture is also carried into the design of the taillights.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the Design:
Thanks to an absence of chrome trim on the outside of the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, I called this SUV the “anti-Escalade." However, the Supercharged model we drove can be identified by added bling such as bigger wheels and tires, as well as a unique grille design and other stylistic elements. Blending cues culled from Range Rovers past and present, the Sport is a handsome machine that doesn’t go over the top. Inside, the décor is appealing, but the use of silver plastic is haphazard and gives the busy cabin a whiff of cheapness that isn’t helped by rubber floor mats that get dirty quickly. Controls, thankfully, are laid out in a far more logical and intuitive fashion that those of previous Land Rover products.
Driving the Land Rover was definitely an adventure, one that needs no repeating. Maybe I would have been more impressed with the SUV if I had taken it off-road and experienced its ability to drive through deep standing water or to traverse a hill of daunting proportions. I dare say that most of the consumers who would buy this SUV would drive it nowhere near what could possibly be construed as dirt. Ignoring the fact that it’s an eyesore, and despite how well it handled different driving conditions, the Range Rover Sport’s apparent disregard for ergonomics is puzzling and disappointing. Never have I been happier to park a car and walk away from it. Been there, done that, don’t need to do it again. Can I have something more fun to drive next time?
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Ron Perry’s Advice:
This isn’t a vehicle I would consider if I was shopping for a luxury SUV – my cash would get put down on the Porsche Cayenne. Even though the Range Rover line is distinctive, it is aging and needs a fresh look. I also find paying for the off-road ability of the Sport to be silly. Why would you want to drive it off-road with these large rims and low profile tires? Wouldn’t you just buy the standard Range Rover for that? I guess if money is no consideration, those wanting a vehicle to show their status will love the Range Rover Sport. It will get you where you need to go and do it with style.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Christian Wardlaw’s Advice:
Full of brute force but possessing little finesse, the 2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport aims to split the difference between a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 and a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, hoping to match the Cayenne’s performance on and off the pavement at a price closer to that of the Jeep. While I personally think either of those other two performance-oriented SUVs is more appealing, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport is one SUV that grows on you over time. It is immensely capable off-road, fun to drive on the road once you’ve assimilated to its hardware, and provides that classic Land Rover driving position and forward visibility. Fuel economy is terrible, there are several significant shortcomings, and the price tag is too high especially when you start piling on the features that make this a compelling vehicle.
Price of Test Vehicle: $76,150 (including a $715 destination charge and $100 for California emissions equipment)
Engine Size and Type: Supercharged 4.2-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 390 at 5,750 rpm
Engine Torque: 410 lb.-ft. at 3,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Curb weight, lbs.: 5,671
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 13/18 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 13.4 mpg
Length: 188.5 inches
Width: 75.9 inches
Wheelbase: 108 inches
Height: 71.5 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 39.1/37.6 inches
Head room (front/rear): 39.4/38.4 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 71 cubic feet
Max. Payload: 1,291
Max. Towing Capacity: 7,718
Ground Clearance: 6.8
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Photos by Ron Perry and Christian Wardlaw