With 390 horsepower, the V-8 Sport redeems itself a little with its behind-the-wheel experience, although boxy suspension and sharp brakes will mean that chief executives and movie stars will not be falling asleep in the backseat. And the Sport's appalling gas mileage--just a little more than 10mpg in our experience--is an expensive caveat that every potential emptor should heed.
Our test car came fully loaded with all the options: adaptive cruise control ($2,000), rear differential lock ($500), Land Rover's Personal Telephone Integration System ($400), a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($2,500), and a Sirius Satellite Radio tuner ($400). Added to the supercharged Sport's base price of $69,535, a gas-guzzler charge of $100, and a delivery charge of $715, it came to a grand total of $76,150.There is regular sport, which involves running, jumping, and chasing a ball around, and then there's SUV-style sport, which involves taking a standard model, tuning the engine, and installing plastic fixtures in the cabin.
Drivers of the supercharged 2006 Range Rover Sport don't need any kind of athletic prowess (other than the ability to get in and out of the cab on a regular basis at the gas station), but they should be warned that this car's interior won't set their hearts racing either. Sure, the Sport looks fabulous from the outside, with its spoiler, gleaming chrome vents, pugnacious front grille, floating roof, and arch-filling alloy wheels. But once inside, the view is very different.
On paper, our 2006 Range Rover Sport seemed to have an admirable armory of cabin luxury and technology: cherry-wood accents, voice-enabled GPS satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone integration, a 550-watt Harman Kardon stereo with optional satellite radio, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. And while all these things are indeed present in the flesh, Range Rover's execution doesn't seem to live up to the marque's luxury reputation or the car's price tag.
Hard perforated leather seats extend an inhospitable welcome to the driver, and a glance about the plastic-lined cabin does little to soften the experience of having just parted with $76,000. Like its predecessors, the 2006 Sport gives the driver the impression of sitting in an aircraft cockpit, with a huge center console dividing those behind the wheel from the navigator--sorry, front passenger.
Dual-zone climate control ensures that those on either side of the divide can set their own temperature, and the supercharged Sport comes with Range Rover's Cold Weather package as standard, which comprises two-stage heated front seats, heated rear seats, and heated front windshield and washer jets. From the driver's seat, the view is predominantly one of black plastic, offset by slivers of what Range Rover calls cherry wood but which look and feel more like leftover laminate flooring. The only relief from the black plastic in the center console is a big yellow button for hill-descent control.
A square armrest in the stack opens up to reveal a removable coin tray, under which is one of the--literally--coolest features of the interior: a refrigerated box for drinks, activated by its own rocker switch. The black plastic theme is continued with the Sport's stereo head unit, which also acts as the car's Bluetooth interface. A numeric keypad (black plastic) sits alongside the audio source buttons (black plastic) and the volume and EQ control dials (both black plastic).
Harman Kardon's 550-watt, 13-speaker Logic 7 audio system generally sounds good in the Range Rover, especially from the backseats when watching DVDs. However, at higher volumes, the bass can overwhelm subtler sounds to give a slightly muffled effect. The stereo plays regular and MP3 CDs without a problem, although no ID3 tag information is given for the latter, and there is no auxiliary jack to be found for those wishing to hook up an iPod or an MP3 player. Our car also came equipped with the optional Sirius Satellite Radio package. With disappointing regularity, the Range Rover's voice-recognition system misunderstood or failed to recognize instructions for the audio system.
There is apparently no integration between the black-on-green dot-matrix stereo head unit display (which looks like it was designed in the 1980s) and the Range Rover's in-dash LCD touch screen, which is where we expected to find the car's Bluetooth interface. However, the car's Personal Telephone Integration System is controlled via the low-tech stereo head unit, with a cradle in the center console enabling compatible cell phones to be plugged in and charged while on the move. We had no trouble pairing our Bluetooth phone wirelessly to the unit or making calls using the keypad and steering-wheel mounted phone buttons, and voice and signal quality (via the car's roof-mounted antenna) were good.
Unfortunately, the navigation system was not so problem-free. Unlike with more intuitive systems, we had to spend quality time with the manual before we got to grips with the specific format of the touch-screen program and the voice-command format. When locked onto a destination, the unit performed reasonably well, recalculating quickly for the most part, although taking a few minutes to find its bearings on a couple of occasions.
The default voice guidance comes through in a posh male British accent, which sounds like that of a World War II RAF squadron leader and adds to the aircraft-cockpit feeling. While we had no problem understanding the Range Rover's clipped Oxbridge tones, the voice-recognition system did as badly with our navigation instructions as it had with our audio commands. We even had difficulty making it understand that most rudimentary of requests: help.