Seldom is heard a discouraging word when home on the range with any Land Rover. Since 1948, the name has been synonymous with superb off-roading, all forms of agribusiness, and most military forces. More than three decades ago, Land Rover introduced the Range Rover, which established a standard for luxury sport-utility vehicles that has yet to be eclipsed by BMW’s X5, Porsche’s Cayenne, Cadillac’s Escalade, or Mercedes’ M-Class.
If there was a flaw in the Range Rover, it resulted from Land Rover’s focus on driving capably in the dirt rather than motoring securely and comfortably on the road. So Land Rover, now a division of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, built the 2006 Range Rover Sport, an SUV designed to fix that imperfection. The Sport’s ability to crawl across rocks remains almost peerless, and it performs just as well on the straight and level because of its supercharged, 390 hp, 4.2-liter V-8 (borrowed from fellow PAG member Jaguar); lower, shorter, and narrower dimensions; aerodynamic shaping; and suspension tuning. The Sport achieves a top speed of 140 mph and a zero-to-60 time of 7.2 seconds.
Still, for this evaluation, the Sport was up against a pride of higher- performing, equally-or-more-expensive, just-as-prestigious luxury sedans and coupes whose off-road abilities are limited to navigating unpaved parking lots and polo fields. In such company, an SUV easily can be overlooked, unless you own a vineyard or a Sahara-adjacent subdivision. It therefore did not come as a surprise when the judges relegated the Range Rover Sport to the 12th spot.
“It is neither fish nor fowl,” noted judge Scott Kriens. “It seems to be caught between Porsche and BMW, Ford and Chevy.” William Weidner was equally confused. “Is it a luxury off-roader?” he asked. “Is it a speedy kid transport? Maybe it would be ideal for a tall, Norwegian soccer mom with a husband, Sven, who likes muscle.”
At the brighter end of the judgments, Ron Semler had only one suggestion: “Ask them to put three more seats in the back, so that we can drive this one home.” And all that supercharged power had Todd Thomson deciding that “an SUV can be fun.”
Despite Land Rover’s efforts, however, the Sport still is more fun off- road than on.
ENGINE 4.2-liter, supercharged V-8
POWER 390 hp at 5,750 rpm
TORQUE 410 ft lbs
ZERO-TO-60 7.2 seconds
TOP SPEED 140 mph
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
WHEELBASE 108 inches
CURB WEIGHT 5,670 pounds
BASE PRICE $69,750