Forty-some years ago, a famous Land Rover magazine ad tallied the record number of times one of these stalwart vehicles had been gored by a Rhinoceros: "If you know of a Land Rover that has been gored more times, or by more Rhinoceroses, please contact us. . . ." The ad was deliberate camp, and a blatant parody of a famous Rolls-Royce ad of the same period. But its point was clear, and essentially true: If you needed to drive where Rhinoceros encounters were a genuine possibility, then the Land Rover was your baby. Whereas if quiet highway cruising was your goal, well then, old boy, you might do as well to shop elsewhere.
Four decades later, Rhinoceroses are still rarely encountered in upmarket suburbs; whereas comfortable, competent, even sporty SUV-like vehicles such as the BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti FX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, and Porsche Cayenne frequently are. And competition from these vehicles, more than the occasional large horn driven angrily through an aluminum door, constitutes the biggest threat to Land Rover's territorial dominance.
So just last year (2006) Land Rover released the all-new Range Rover Sport: Spirited, sporty, agile, with a snazzy look. (OK, maybe not all that snazzy, but for a Range Rover, it's snazzy.) And frankly more comfortable on the road than off.
Range Rover Sport also plugs a gap in the Land Rover model range, between the full-size, hyper-expensive Range Rover and the entry-level, family-friendly LR3. Range Rover Sport is in fact built on a mechanical platform derived from the LR3, but with a shorter wheelbase that emphasizes handling over seven-passenger capacity. Sport also costs a solid $20,000 less than the full-size Range Rover, but only about $4,000 more than a fully equipped LR3.
New for 2007: Standard equipment levels are improved with the addition of a Personal Telephone Integration System with Bluetooth capability, and one-touch power window operation at the front passenger's position. The Dynamic Response System, exclusive to the Supercharged model last year, is now available (along with Brembo disc brakes) on the HSE. Supercharged Sports now come standard with Sirius Satellite Radio; and with a choice of Line Oak or Cherry interior wood, Lux or Sport leather, and standard or Stormer 20-inch wheels.
Land Rover makes shopping for the Range Rover Sport easy. Just two versions are available, the HSE ($57,235) and the Supercharged ($70,535). The HSE comes with a 300-horsepower, 4.4-liter V8. Not surprisingly, the Supercharged has a supercharged V8 displacing 4.2 liters and making 390 horsepower. Both engines drive through the same six-speed CommandShift automatic that's also fitted in the top-of-the-line Range Rover. Full-time four-wheel drive with a two-speed, shift-on-the-fly, electronic transfer case is standard, as is an electronically controlled, locking center differential. Optional is a rear differential lock ($500).
Standard amenities include dual-zone, automatic climate control; cruise control; eight-way power front seats; power outside mirrors, central locks and windows (now with one-touch operation from the front passenger's position); three memory settings for driver's seat and mirrors; digital, 13-speaker, surround-sound AM/FM/CD stereo with six-disc, in-dash changer and auxiliary audio inputs; sunroof; front and rear park assist; five function-programmable key fob; a new Personal Telephone Integration System with Bluetooth capability; and a DVD-based GPS navigation system with voice recognition and dash-mounted, seven-inch, touch-screen LCD display incorporating a picture-in-picture monitor of 4X4 settings and status.
Ride and handling features include Dynamic Stability Control and Active Roll Mitigation, which combine to heighten directional control and rollover resistance; Hill Descent Control, which automatically applies appropriate braking on steep downhill inclines; Terrain Response, a manually selectable set of four pre-programmed suspension and engine management settings for various off-road conditions; and, of course, Land Rover's trademark load-leveling, height-adjustable air suspension.
Options for HSE include a rear-seat entertainment system ($2,500) consisting of two displays integrated into the back sides of the front seat head restraints, a six-disc CD changer, touchscreen interface, two wireless head sets and a wireless remote control; Sirius Satellite Radio ($400 plus subscription fee); and 20-inch alloy wheels ($4,000).
There's also a Cold Climate package ($1,300) with heated seats all 'round and heated windshield and washer jets; a Luxury Package ($3,000), with upgraded leather upholstery, cherry wood trim, a center console cool box, the Cold Climate package, and adaptive headlights that pivot when you turn the steering wheel; and a Dynamic Response Package ($2,000) that combines Brembo front brakes with the Dynamic Response System, which electronically adjusts the stabilizer bars for optimal cornering.
The Supercharged model, or S/C, comes standard with everything on the HSE plus the Luxury, Cold Climate, and Dynamic Response packages; Sirius Satellite Radio; and 20-inch alloy wheels. Stormer alloys of equal size are an exclusive S/C option ($1,000), as is Adaptive Cruise Control ($2,000). S/C buyers can choose Lined Oak or Cherry wood interior trim, and Lux or Sport leather with no extra charge for either. Otherwise, the S/C offers the same options (at the same prices) as the HSE.
Safety features on the Range Rover Sport comprise twin, dual-stage front airbags; front seat-mounted side airbags for torso protection; full-coverage side curtain airbags to protect against head injury in side-impacts and rollovers; child safety seat anchors (LATCH); antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; and all-terrain traction control.