After weeks of anticipation, we finally got the supercharged 2006 Range Rover Sport into our garage today, and we lost no time in taking it out for a test-drive. I wanted to love this beautiful car, but on first impression, it looks like the relationship is more likely to be one based on lust followed by disappointment.
From the outside, the Range Rover Sport is drop-dead gorgeous, with dashing lines, gleaming chrome vents, a pugnacious front grille, and arch-filling alloy wheels. It felt like Christmas had come early when the nice man from Land Rover handed over the key fob. However, just as Christmas presents are less exciting after they're opened, there was a faint air of anticlimax on climbing into the raised cabin. First of all, the seats did not provide the soft, leather-bound embrace I had been expecting. While they are wrapped in perforated leather and certainly seem sturdy and sufficiently expensive (they can also be heated), they just felt a bit hard and inhospitable.
The second disappointment was the look and feel of the dash and the huge center console. Aside from a few slivers of cherrywood trim--which seems artificial--the dash and console surround the driver in a sea of black plastic. Black plastic rocker switches for most of the main cabin controls and black plastic cup holders add to the impression that Range Rover could have provided a little more refinement for the $76,000 price tag.
Salvaging some respectability is an in-dash touch-screen LCD, which acts as the control panel for the car's voiced-command-enabled navigation unit, as well as a control for the optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system. When fired up, the navigation system works indifferently; voice recognition is hit and miss, the audible turn-by-turn directions did not give city road names; and the unit struggled to put us back on track after we willfully disobeyed its directions. We would be very surprised if this were the same unit that Land Rover used to navigate an airplane from France to Corsica last month.
On a positive note, the Range Rover Sport is compatible with Bluetooth cell phones for hands-free calling. We managed to pair our phone to the unit very easily, and making calls via steering-wheel-mounted buttons was straightforward. Curiously, the Bluetooth interface is controlled via the stereo head-unit display, which appears to have no interoperability with the main LCD and is woefully low tech for a car of this price.
On a first listen, we can't grumble with the sound quality of the voice-controllable, 13-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 stereo system, which supports MP3 CDs, but the stereo display gives no ID3-tag information, and an auxiliary input jack is nowhere to be found.
Other foibles that cooled our infatuation with the Range Rover Sport included hard-to-read speedometer and tach dials, a lack of tech in the instrument panel, and a rougher-than-expected suspension system.
Around town, we found the Range Rover responsive and predictably capable, as well as able to tackle steep inclines in its sleep. On the open road, the 4.2-liter supercharged V-8 felt spunky when called into action, especially in Sport mode.
However, despite the reasonably fun ride and a number of endearing factors such as front and rear park-distance control, one final issue sealed the end of the affair. In a mixture of highway and city driving (with a bias toward the latter), we observed an average mileage of just more than 13mpg, which is atrocious by any standards.
It may have been that my expectations were just too high, but on a first drive, the Range Rover Sport was positively underwhelming.