Land Rover’s 2006 Range Rover Sport defies categorization... and as a result, some might view it as a skosh conflicted. Based on the company’s LR3 mechanicals, it looks for all the world like a rakish version of its top-rung Range Rover (with which it confusingly shares its namesake), yet costs almost $20,000 less. It claims to be a top-flight on-road SUV, but it packs the gubbins of a serious off-roader, along with a badge that screams "Paris-Dakar." So what exactly is the Green Oval's newest trying to be? We’ve wrestled the keys to an HSE-spec tester from Land Rover for a weeklong test, and aim to find out.

Before getting all hot and bothered about performance statistics and dollar signs, hang on, and just soak in the Sport’s aesthetics for a hot minute. It’s gorgeous. Boasting square-jawed, aristocratic good looks, an imposing stance courtesy its standard-issue split five-spoke 19” alloys, and a racier greenhouse than its upright brethren, the Sport presents a look that’s at once more cohesive and upscale than any Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes-Benz M-Class could ever muster. It’s the sort of four-wheeled panache that sends valets jockeying for position, and garners stoplight respect with everyone from pensioners doddering about in their Lincoln Town Cars to wannabe ballers gingerly negotiating potholes in their $1,000 whips rollin' on $3k rims. The Sport commands street-cred without effort, and from all corners. Hell... we hadn’t even had our Landie for 24 hours when a Civic Hybrid driver gave us a once-over and subsequent thumbs-up. That, friends, is cross-genre appeal.

(Much more after the jump!)

Okay. So the tail lamps are a shade fussy, but other than that, there’s not much to complain about. Perhaps the rear overhang is a bit long, but the ‘floating’ roofline, three-slat ‘wholey’ grille and fender vents just aft of the strong front wheel openings… they all look the business.

 

And it isn’t just the Rover’s badge or appearance that commands respect. Despite the company’s assurances that this package represents their best on-road steer yet, Rover’s boffins have ensured that the Sport still possesses the full Camel Trophy’s-worth of off-road undergarments. Full-time four-wheel drive, all-terrain dynamic stability control, Hill Descent Control, two-speed transfer box (with electronically-governed center locking differential), all-conditions anti-lock  brakes, fully-independent air-suspension at all fours and an off-road enhanced GPS system are all standard-issue. Oh, and lest we forget, the Sport comes with Terrain Response, the company's version of the dial-a-nap knob found on nicer vacuums-- though instead of catering to berber or hardwood, Rover's governs how the Sport shags various topography, from sand dunes to rocky shoals and icy b-roads.

Underhood, Rover’s Blue Oval parent has raided the PAG executive-class parts bin, nabbing Jaguar’s sequential fuel-injected 4.4-liter V8, tuned to provide 300-horses and 315 ft.-lbs. of torque in our HSE. Certainly not a paltry sum, but with a 5,500-pound curb weight and a ‘Sport’ moniker, it’s got its work cut out for it. Better, perhaps, to plump for the top-shelf Supercharged iteration, which promises to curry further favor with enthusiasts via its intercooled, DOHC 4.2-liter mill (liberated from Jaguar’s S-Type R). With 390 horses and a stout 410 ft.-lbs. of twist, the Supercharged Sport strikes as a much safer bet for eluding pursuers (be they paparazzi or amorous rhinos). Regardless of powerplant, a six-speed ZF automatic rules the roost, complete with a tip-shift sequential manual mode (though no paddles are on offer). And as it’s essentially the same unit that sees duty in PAG-mate Aston Martin’s DB9, it ought to be a good piece.

As mentioned before, despite aping the Range Rover, the Sport gleans a version of the LR3’s frame (shortened by some 5.5.”), along with its suspension componentry, and much of its drivetrain. For the record, the Sport is also lower and wider, which suits its more athletic intentions on-road intentions. Land Rover also offers something it calls Dynamic Response on the Sport, which is effectively a computer-controlled anti-roll system that electronically adjusts the vehicle’s stabilizer bars front and rear to minimize roll, but ours wasn’t so equipped.

With the Range Rover Sport, Land Rover is hoping that its unique take on platform (and aesthetic) engineering will help the brand find new audiences, swiping a few sales from BMW’s venerable X5, Infiniti’s FX45, Porsche’s Cayenne and Benz’s revitalized M-Class. When comparably equipped and priced against such competitors, the Rover appears down on gumption, so it will have to make up for its shortcomings via opulent luxury, off-road prowess, and perhaps a dose snob appeal. Does it have the goods? Stay tuned.