2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE: In the Autoblog Garage Day 5

Land Rover's Range Rover Sport borrows liberally from the Green Oval's internecine parts bin, and as such, it's got some work to do to justify its premium pricepoint. As laid out in 'Day 1-2'  and 'Day 3-4', we've established that the newest Landie cribs the lion's share of its mechanicals from the significantly less-expensive LR3, while trading on the big daddy Range Rover's aesthetics and badge. But beyond the obvious styling ace it possesses, Rover pledges a more visceral steer and a bit more on-road competence. Indeed, the Supercharged iteration appears to make good on the promised bravado-- it's the fastest production vehicle the company has ever built... capable of a fairly remarkable 140 mph, and possessing trick bits like actively-manipulated front and rear sway bars to enable flatter cornering. But the Roots [blower] rockin' iteration whacks wallets to the tune of $70,000, and that's only about $5,000 shy of the Big Kahuna. And besides, we've got the HSE.

(Lots more photographs and the Sports' final judgement after the jump!)

While one might be inclined to think from Rover's posturing that the Sport's home is in the twisties, it's actually most in its element on the highway. On the interstate is where the 'base' 300 horsepower 4.4-liter V8 provides plenty of grunt for passing, and where its quiet interior, cosseting air suspension and supportive seats are a treat for those staring down long stretches of bitumen. This isn't to say that the Rover isn't a capable corner carver in its own right, it's merely to pronounce that the SUV's true métier is the open road, where owners can waft about in suitably imperial fashion. This is particularly true during inclement weather, where lighthouse-grade bi-xenon headlamps ('adaptive' on our luxury-package equipped HSE) set the table for swift, safe travel, and the Goodyear Wrangler F1-2 mud-and-snow rated tires grab consistently at all four corners, thanks in part to standard traction and stability control systems. In point of fact, we can't remember the last time we felt so confident driving an SUV at an elevated rate of speed during such lousy weather.

But when the tarmac turns from fettuccini to rotini, mental cumulonimbi threaten to darken the Sport's prospects. Yes, its speed-sensitive variable-ratio rack puts up the good fight, and the six-ratio automatic has a manual mode that thoughtfully gooses the throttle when rapidly downshifting (as an enthusiast might wish of a three-pedal array).  But ultimately, whether its down to the middle-of the-road cornering rubber or the occasionally grabby brakes, Sport drivers will find themselves more likely to slacken the pace and call up old friends Harmon and Kardon. Simply put, a similarly-priced BMW X5 4.4i or Porsche Cayenne S is a better dance partner when there's an uptick in the tempo. An available manual transmission, a dual-clutch setup (à la VAG's DSG system), or even a set of gearchange paddles or buttons might sufficiently increase the entertainment quotient, but Rover's option sheet affords no such provisions. Listen. We've no doubt that the more powerful Supercharged variant packing its Brembo-augmented discs and standard Dynamic Response wunder[antiroll]bars ups the ante... but as previously said, ticking that box at your Land Rover Centre might force Junior into pondering the merits of a non ivy-league existence.

Other niggles? We touched on the Sport’s electronics overkill in our last installment, but over the road, the issue chimes-in early and often. Literally. Our tester’s front and rear parking sensors stood on guard with annoyingly itchy trigger fingers, emitting only occasionally useful beeps while crying wolf entirely too often (especially when entering nose-in parking spaces). And navigating programming the navigation system was at once counter-intuitive and time-consuming, though we’ll cop to being suckers for the turn-by-turn charms of our female guide’s British accent. Given enough practice, most higher functions were learned by rote, but inputting data could be greatly simplified. We’re glad that Rover hasn't embraced the competition’s confounding all-in-one controller dictum (BMW’s iDrive, Audi‘s MMI, etc.), but hiring a few Honda or Toyota techs would be a good first step. We’ll even let them leave the off-road toys alone-- most of the controls governing the dirty gubbins are just fine the way they are, especially considering they don’t see much use in daily driving.

Of course, the elephant in the Autoblog Garage this day is off-road performance. And to be honest, in our week with the HSE, we didn't have the occasion to truly set our Landie on her pneumatic tip-toes, dial-in an apropos Terrain-Response regime, and go ford the nearest river (or climb a distant dune, for that matter). For a vehicle wearing the Range Rover badge, such an omission undeniably borders on heretical. In truth, the worst we inflicted on our Landie was asking it to cope with a few rutted, rock and root strewn two-tracks, where it performed with predictably brilliant poise. Of course, there were a few epic chuckholes, but we're reasonably inclined to take it as a given that the Sport would claim the rockhopper merit badge against a comparably-spec'd BMW X5, Benz ML or Volkswagen Touareg.

Mileage? Considering the HSE's not inconsiderable heft and the parasitic drag that accompanies such a complex four-wheel-drive system, it could've been worse. We averaged just over 13 miles-per-gallon in mixed driving, but we had our Pilotis ordering the go-pedal carpetward more often than most. Granted, that probably won't please most Greenpeaceniks out there, but it's hard to see them having much regard for this timber and cow-lined roughneck anyhow.

In the end, the crux of the argument both for-and-against our Range Rover Sport HSE comes down how one judges its value equation. Admittedly, breaking out the 'V' word when discussing $60k SUVs is faintly absurd (okay, so ours rang up at $63,300), but bear with us. The Sport affords buyers the lion's share of technical capability of the top-drawer Range Rover, along with its visual panache (and badge-appeal) at a cut-rate price. Conversely, a step down the pedestal, the LR3 can be outfitted with the same drivetrain and nearly as many sybaritic touches, for almost $13,000 less than the asking price of our Sport... with two extra seats. Render it all down, and perhaps the Sport's greatest achievement is that it reveals the LR3 to be the outstanding value that it is.

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