By on March 3, 2006

An LR3 in Range Rover drag.   The Range Rover Sport arrived just as Britain's Parliament banned fox hunting. Call it fortuitous happenstance. At the precise moment Britain's shotgun-wielding aristocrats lost their main motivation for chasing each other over hill and dale, the Ford subsidiary came plying more on-road aggression. If these frustrated followers of British blood sports looked upon the new Landie Sport as an opportunity to blow off a little steam in less mucky surrounds, it's a goal they share with America's wealthier PTA MILFs. So, does the Sport have what it takes to get the blood pumping for aristocrats on both sides of the Pond?

The Land Rover Sport HSE looks like a top-shelf Range Rover with its hair slicked back. The Sport shares the exact same two-box profile with its big brother– complete with Rover's trademark 'floating' cantilevered roof. The more rakish Sport's canted greenhouse (both fore and aft) is the model's main distinguishing feature, and its only real attempt at a skosh of street cred. In the name of differentiation, Gaydon's designers replaced the Rangie's classy aluminum front-fender vent slat with a more traditional aperture, and substituted some overly ornate taillights in place of the bigger Rover's refined rounds. Details aside, the Sport remains the very picture of 21st-century shooting brakedom, albeit one rockin' a set of air suspenders.

Throne, throne on the range.Inside, there's plenty of timber and hides to remind urban hunter/gatherer types of pastoral pastimes, even when trundling about city centers. Equipped with Rover's must-have luxury package ($3k, my liege), silken cherry wood fillets grace the doors, dash and center console, lightening what would otherwise be a dour exercise in ebony. The main stack is capped with a touchscreen and carpeted in more buttonry than all the hunting jackets in Scarteen. There's a phone pad, switches for dual-zone HVAC supervision, seat heaters, parking distance control, navigation, and controls for the sublime harmon/kardon surround stereo. The list of electronic creature comforts is suitably comprehensive, but activating and tweaking any given feature remains as counter-intuitive as cricket, voice activation or no.

The SUV's omni-adjustable thrones sit a peg lower than Rover Senior, but they still provide a lofty perch from which to survey one's land holdings. As in the Rangie, elevated rear seat passengers are privy to magisterial views to port and starboard, but (available) headrest screens reiterate the Sport's urban marching orders. Out back, the lift gate opens to reveal plenty of room for vintage shotguns, Louis Vuitton shin pads, bondage gear, deceased quail, whatever. Just mind the electronic glass hatch latch, as the pull points are near-as-dammit the same.

Wobbly whoopsy.The controls for the Sport's off-road prowess lie adjacent a small powered cooler (perfect for hunters' flasks of Glenfiddich, vials of deer piss, etc.), nestling underneath Ye Olde Screw-Type Armrests. Owners can manipulate their station in life via the air-suspension rocker switch, or muck about with the Terrain Response's Fisher Price-style controller, girding the beast for whatever topography lies ahead. If it's gravel, ice, precipitous inclines, mud– it's strictly press and play.

If the road ahead is paved, well, this beast may be Sport IN nature, but it's not Sport BY nature. In other words, despite strenuous assertions by Land Rover's marketing folk, the Sport's LR3-derived underpinnings do not a Nordschleif legend make. For starters, the Sport's 4.4-liter Jaguar-derived V8 develops just 300hp and 315 ft.-lbs. of torque. While that's not an inconsequential amount of oomph, it's hardly the kind of thrust capable of transforming a 5600-pound SUV into a bluff-faced rocket ship, even when equipped with a silken six-speed ZF tranny. Yes, Rover will sell you a Supercharged variant, but prices encroach on Daddy Rover and it still isn't intrinsically entertaining enough. More involvement courtesy a manual cogswapper or DSG-box would go a long way toward separating this Rover from the rest of the Range.

Rakish roof reason to live?  Turn a wheel in anger, and the Sport's steering is as vague as shoulder shrug (largely due to 19' M+S-rated Goodyears). Put your posse in the back, throw the Sport into a corner and you'll be rolling with the homies, big tyme. The [optional] active anti-sway bars would help matters, but it bears repeating: the Sport isn't as involving on road as it could be, or should be. At least the binders are up to snuff, hauling the Sport back from the brink without hesitation or complaint.

If the Land Rover Sport performed with more on-road élan, it would make an excellent case for itself as the city-bound sportsman and harried housewife's SUV of choice. But it is smaller and significantly pricier than its equally capable, luxurious and more practical under-skin twin, the LR3. It just goes to show: you can take the fox out of the woods, but you can't take the woods out of the fox.

[Range Rover provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.]

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