Fetch, Sport, Fetch
By Scott Corlett
The big dog—the Range Rover made by Ford’s Land Rover division—dominates the rarefied top end of the luxury sport utility vehicle market. Land Rover’s pups, the LR3 and the Freelander, compete in the lower end of the premium SUV segment. To the dismay of Ford’s executives, Land Rover lacked a contender priced $55-$75K to vie with SUVs such as the Porsche Cayenne, the Mercedes ML500, and the Lexus LX470. In response, Land Rover created the Range Rover Sport to fetch profits in that price segment. The question is: will those formidable German and Asian breeds give up the bone?
Recently, we spent a weekend in the 2006 Range Rover Sport Supercharged. We drove San Francisco’s streets and down California’s twisty Highway 92 along fields full with the fall’s pumpkin harvest. We would like to think that, at least in the Castro, it was us who grabbed the attention of drivers and pedestrians. Unfortunately, more likely our copper-toned test vehicle brought the looks. The Sport—also available without the supercharger as the Sport HSE—is a smaller, sexier, five-passenger version of the venerable Range Rover. Size is relative – the Sport is roomier (and better furnished) than some apartments we know in San Francisco.
The Range Rover Sport is no mutt. The high profile, flat metal, and miles of glass make its lineage clear. Slightly flared fenders, a lower roof, and chrome garnish add an edge absent in the Range Rover. The interior is true to its sibling’s luxury roots. Driver and front passenger sit high in a cockpit-like cabin heavily adorned with buttons, dials, and even a small refrigerator. The firm leather seats cosset front and rear passengers while the six standard airbags stand ready to provide extra padding. Touch-screen GPS navigation, corner-angling xenon headlights, and an electronic parking brake are among the standard goodies. Available options include the rear seat DVD system which keeps backseat drivers safely entertained and the Adaptive Cruise Control system which, when engaged, maintains a safe following distance between the Sport and cars ahead.
Bred for high performance on the highway, the Sport remains a Rover at heart and is endowed with real off-road capacity. Twist a dial and Land Rover’s Terrain Response system optimizes parameters which include the fully independent air suspension, stability control, throttle response, and 4X4 drivetrain to deal with surfaces ranging from the asphalt of Macy’s parking lot to the sands of the Kalahari Desert. We found the Range Rover Sport’s steering kept us in touch with the driving surface while its suspension isolated us from the road’s larger imperfections. The Sport shares the platform of its Rover cousin, the LR3 while its engines are borrowed from Ford’s Jaguar division. A normally aspirated 300 hp 4.4-liter V-8 engine and a 390 hp supercharged 4.2-liter variant are offered. Appropriately, Land Rover’s six-speed automatic transmission has an available sport mode which holds the gears longer to favor acceleration over fuel economy.
When in competition with the likes of Porsche, cargo capacity is no longer the key metric. According to Land Rover, the supercharged version of the Sport makes 0-to-60 mph in 7.2 seconds and is limited to a top speed of 140 mph. This performance, in a vehicle weighing nearly three tons, comes at a toll. The current price of the required high-test gasoline and the 12.5 miles per gallon we experienced equate to a fuel cost of 25 cents for every mile you drive. You recoup some of the fuel cost on the front end due to the perversity of the federal tax law. Despite a base price of $69,750 for the supercharged version and a base of $56,750 for the HSE model, the Sport’s weight exempts it from the ‘luxury car’ tax.
The Range Rover Sport is well trained by its masters at Land Rover but competes in a tough pack of dogs. Even in San Francisco we can hear the executives at Ford’s Detroit headquarters anxiously calling “Fetch, Sport, Fetch.” Given the distinguished pedigree and the blend of high performance, ultra luxury, and true off-road ability, we think the Range Rover Sport can bring the bone home – but not without a dog fight.
Land Rover is a gay-friendly company.