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2006 Range Rover & Range Rover Sport - First Drives

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on July 1, 2005 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Courtesy Land Rover North America

Last year, Land Rover unveiled the LR3 (Discovery 3, in Euro-speak), a midsize luxury 4x4 SUV that marked the company's first all-new offering as a member of the Ford stable. Based on a two-piece hydroformed chassis code-named T5, the LR3 boasted such new developments as four-wheel independent air suspension and a dial-actuated "Terrain Response" four-wheel-drive system, that allows the driver to literally tune the vehicle's performance parameters to best suit the terrain at hand.

This year, Land Rover returns with two more entries. One vehicle, already safely ensconced in the pantheon of 4x4 legend, sports enhanced levels of performance and refinement; while the other, brand new for '06 and based on the T5 chassis, takes the Land Rover brand in a radically new direction-the rarified high-performance sport/touring segment previously thought the province of SUVs from Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche.

2006 Range Rover
The senior statesman of the Land Rover stable, the Range Rover has been the ride of choice for Hollywood notables, Saudi princes, and the English gentry for over three decades. The original "luxury-utility" vehicle, it has always placed a premium on go-anywhere, off-pavement ability-sometimes at the expense of on-road ride and handling. Later incarnations of the Range Rover have largely addressed this concern, and the newest Rover-extensively refreshened for the 2006 model year-is far and away the most streetable yet.

Beneath The Bonnet
Introduced last year on the LR3, the Range Rover's Jaguar-sourced 4.2L all-alloy V-8-punched out to displace 4.4 liters-is the base HSE-trim powerplant, capable of delivering a peak 305 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. In most 4x4 applications, this would be power aplenty, but Range Rovers are heavy vehicles, approaching three tons in full-tilt trim, so Rover engineers, in partnership with Eaton, have equipped the '06 Rover with a supercharged version of the 4.4-a 4.2L which employs a fixed-rate camshaft in lieu of the variable valve timing used by the naturally aspirated version to optimize torque output across the rpm band. (Ironically, the motor reverts back to stock displacement with the addition of the supercharger, due to the 2mm-thick cylinder liners that are added to reinforce the block. Why? Read on.)

The belt-driven (off the crankshaft) Eaton supercharger utilizes twin impellers, to compress incoming air via a serpentine "Cobra Duct" intake, and twin intercoolers to cool it down to best optimize charging of the increased airmass being forced into the cylinders via higher-capacity injectors. The result of this forced induction is a significant power boost-now a rated 400 hp at 5,750 rpm, and 420 lb-ft of torque at 3,500.

The benefits of the supercharger over, say, a turbo? Primarily, the supercharger is always "on"-that is to say, there's no dreaded "turbo lag" or spool-up time needed for the supercharger to deliver instant power under throttle. Letting our test unit's standard six-speed ZF automatic transmission do its thing with the V-8, our own seat-of-the-pants testing suggested zero-to-60 times in the mid-sevens-not too shabby for a 5,800-pound vehicle with not the sleekest aerodynamics. The only telltale sign of the 'charger's presence is a smooth whine directly off idle, and a lusty-but-not-overbearing exhaust note.

Over, Under, Sideways Down
As in years past, the Range Rover uses a full-time transfer case with a 2.93:1 low-range; overall crawl ratio is very good for OE issue-45.57:1 with the stock engine, 43.25:1 with the supercharger. (Eaton-equipped units get taller ring-and-pinions-you lose some crawlability but gain a stronger gearset.) An electronic locking center differential works automatically to manage torque transfer front to rear, and an optional electronic rear locking diff splits power to the rear wheels when tractive needs demand.

The Range Rover rides on four-wheel independent suspension utilizing double wishbones and driver-adjustable air springs at each corner. At maximum suspension height, the Rover's ground clearance improves from a stock 8.9 to 10.8 inches. Braking has been upgraded for 2006 in the form of massive 14-inch Brembo units, which come standard with the supercharged Rover. On HSE models, 55-series Continental Crosstrack radials on 19-inch wheels are standard; SC Rovers get 255/50R20 Continental 4x4 Crosstracks rollin' on 20s.

The Rover's interior and exterior have both been refreshened for 2006. A user-intuitive touch-screen stereo/NAV system, rearview camera, onboard tire-pressure monitoring system, extra jacks for MP3s, and optional in-car Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone are all new creature comforts, and the front side glass has been laminated to reduce NVH levels. Outside, the Rover sports adaptive headlights, a new bumper and grille, and massive side air vents-the blower, after all, likes Big Air.

Two-Lanes And Green Laness
On pavement, simply put, the newest Range Rover is far and away the best riding, best handling, best performing incarnation of this storied marque to date. As mentioned, the supercharged 4.2 eliminates previously sluggish acceleration characteristics; the vehicle tracks remarkably straight; electronic upshifts are virtually imperceptible; and the independent suspension, 50-series tires, and variable-ratio ZF power steering make it a joy to drive on mountain twisties, with only slight hints of understeer at high speeds.

Off the tarmac, on mountain trails comprised of loose dirt, rocks, and shale, we opted to drive an HSE Rover to see what the vehicle could do at stock power levels. We weren't disappointed-there was still enough power on tap to crest steep hills, and that 40-plus crawl ratio and ample engine compression let us ease down rutted downslopes with nary a tap of the brakes. (Weary of the cacophony of traction-controlled brake groan, we turned off the Hill Descent Control to see what the vehicle could do on its own. Quite splendidly, thank you.) The Rover's locking diffs and electronic traction control (when we wanted it) lived up to billing also, keeping us moving on uneven stretches of loose dirt when one tire or another momentarily lost a grip. As with many newer, electronically controlled SUVs-the LR3 and Volkswagen Touareg being prime examples-suspension articulation is not the key to forward movement on the trail: Traction and gearing are, and as long as one tire is in contact with the trail, the Range Rover will likely keep ambling down the green lane, wherever it'll fit.

2006 Range Rover Sport
All new for 2006, the Range Rover Sport could just as easily be called the Rover GT, as it's built with the "Grand Touring" concept in mind: smaller, lower, cozier inside, and sportier on pavement than the Range Rover. Five inches shorter in wheelbase (via a chopped frame), 7 inches shorter in length, and 2 inches lower in ground clearance, with 40-series radials on 20-inch rims (get over it already!), the Rover Sport aims to expand Land Rover's presence in the luxury SUV segment. And while the Sport may have the looks of an AWD sport-tourer, it has all the four-wheeling hardware found on the Range Rover-and quite a bit more.

The Shock Of The New
A peak at the body specs alone provides a hint of the degree of technology that went into the Rover Sport's development: Aluminum bonnet and tailgate, zinc-coated steel doors, new die-cast magnesium crossbeams and magnesium alloy front body panels for reduced weight and better crash protection, and brand-new body dampers which supplement the factory body mounts and bushings to reduce on-road vibrations at lower speeds.

Or consider the all-new Dynamic Control system, a mind-boggling ride and handling assist that employs sensors in the A-pillar and steering-to gauge levels of body roll and steering input under throttle-to engage pump-driven front and rear antisway bars (via an internal motor in each sway bar) to compensate for excess body lean. Additionally, the system shuts off automatically in low-range-unless, of course, it senses the vehicle tottering precariously on a sidehill. Simply put, the Rover Sport is the most technologically advanced vehicle Land Rover has built to date.

Down The Driveline
The Rover Sport utilizes the same power- and drivetrain as the Range Rover, with both naturally aspirated and supercharged versions of the 4.4/4.2 V-8, slightly de-tuned for the RS application, with the ZF six-speed transmission and two-speed transfer case with 2.93:1 low-range. Height-adjustable, wishbone-located air springs-with graphite knuckles and re-engineered bushings-are at all four corners, with locking center and rear differentials monitoring wheelspin and torque transfer. The Rover Sport comes with premium tires: HSE versions get 255/50R19 Dunlop Grandtreks on 19x9-inch rims; Sport SCs get 20s and 275/40R20 Michelin M + S Synchrones. The tires are V-rated-a good thing, as the Rover Sport's top speed is a governed 140 mph.

Because it squats lower to the ground and has a poorer ramp breakover angle than the Range Rover, it is a good thing that the Sport version is additionally equipped with the Terrain Response System, which debuted last year on the LR3. The system, which is activated by a dial on the center console, essentially reprograms the vehicle's ECU on the fly to re-adjust a slew of vehicular functions to best suit the demands of diverse terrains: mud, ice, snow, rock, sand, and pavement. With a flip of a dial, throttle tip-in, transmission shift points, suspension movement, torque bias and hundreds of other functions are electronically recalibrated to provide optimal performance on whatever surface the vehicle happens to be driving on.

Pavement, Mud, Rocks And Snow
On highway, the supercharged Rover Sport provides an outstanding ride-quick and nimble, crisp and precise, unmistakably carlike. Our test unit showed excellent lateral stability when pitched into high-speed turns, and brake feel in particular was exceptional-no grabs or twitches, with progressive, predictable response to pedal input. Caught in a nasty snowstorm on a high mountain two-lane, we piloted the Sport in 1st gear for about half an hour-downhill all the way, 12 miles' worth-with no rear-wheel slippage, loss of handling, or need to ride on the brakes-we didn't use the brakes at all, in fact. The Sport's racing-style bucket seats are smaller and narrower than the seats in the Range Rover; they envelop the driver's body with form-fitting leather side bolsters, providing outstanding support and bestowing a sportier feeling to the Sport's interior.

Off-pavement ... well, we were a bit worried about those 40-series tires and quasi-dub rims, but our fears turned out to be unfounded. Our testing this time took us through rain-soaked gulleys, muddy trails, and even a Mini-Rubicon-style rockcrawling course. As with the Range Rover, the Rover Sport relies on its locking diffs and electronic traction controls to keep the vehicle moving, and they worked flawlessly in mud and on rocks. The "Rocks" setting on the Terrain Response dial radically remaps the Sport's throttle and gearing algorithms-you can rev the V-8 up to nearly two grand in 1st gear, and still keep vehicle speed at near-idle levels in low-range. (A couple of vehicles in our test group suffered sidewall punctures-tough to do, we reckoned, as there's not much sidewall to mess with-but this happened not on the rocks but in a rainy sluice littered with sharp stones and tree branches. Other, more "trailable" tires would likely have suffered the same fate at the street pressures we were running.)

The Verdict
Comparing these vehicles is a little like apples and apples-similar in DNA and design, but divergent enough in taste to appeal to many palates.

For traditionalists, the new Range Rover offers all the creature comforts and off-pavement prowess the vehicle is known for, as well as a level of street performance previously unfamiliar to the marque. It also comes with a premium price tag: nearly $75,000 for the base-model HSE. It's rather a bit rich for our blood, but we suspect that for the typical Range Rover buyer, this would be of secondary concern.

The Rover Sport, however, ups the ante in the upscale sport-touring segment considerably, with Teutonic-level ride and handling characteristics on pavement, all the green-lane aptitude of the LR3, and a price that makes it an instant competitor: As one media wag put it, "For $60K and change, who would buy an X5 anymore?" Not the most tactful comparo, perhaps, but one we'd imagine would leave some Land Rover aficionados-and perhaps a few LR execs, in private-licking their chops with malicious glee. We'll have both vehicles in hand for our 2006 Four Wheeler of the Year test, coming in our February 2006 issue. They both figure to be serious playas-stay tuned for all the results.

Quick Specs
Vehicle:2006 Range Rover HSE/SC
Base price:$74,950/$89,950
Engine:Aluminum 90-degree AJ V-8
Displacement (liters):4.4/4.2
Bore x stroke (in.):3.47 x 3.56/3.39 x 3.56
Aspiration:Twin-impeller Eaton supercharger
Valvetrain:DOHC/; 4 valves/cyl.
Max hp @ rpm:305 @ 5,750/400 @ 5,750
Max torque (lb-ft) @ rpm:325 @ 4,000/420 @ 3,500
Transmission:Six-speed automatic
Ratios (:1)1st: 4.17
2nd: 2.34
3rd: 1.52
4th: 1.14
5th: 0.87
6th: 0.69
Rev: 3.40
Transfer case:Full-time two-speed
Low range ratio (:1):2.93
Axle ratio (:1):3.73/3.54
Crawl ratio (:1):45.57/43.25
Suspension:Four-wheel independent; double wishbones, adjustable air springs
Differentials:Locking center; locking rear
Steering:ZF Servotronic rack and pinion
Brakes, f/r:
HSE: 13.5-in./13.9-in. Bosch four-channel
SC: 14.2-in. Brembo/13.9-in. Bosch four-channel
Wheels/Tires:
HSE: 19x8 alloy/255/55R19
SC: 20x8.5 alloy/255/50R20
Wheelbase (in.):113.3
Length (in.):195.7
Width (in.):86.3
Max height (in.):75.0
Base curb weight (lb.):5,474-5,849
Max ground clearance (in.):10.8
Max approach/departure angles (deg.):34/27
Max breakover angle (deg.):30
Max towing capacity (lb.):7,716
Interior cargo capacity (cu. ft.):74.9
Fuel capacity (gal.):23.3
EPA mileage estimates, combined (mpg):8.5/17.5
Seating capacity, persons:5

Quick Specs
Vehicle: {{{2006 Range Rover}}} Sport HSE/SC
Base price:$56,750/$69,750
Engine:Aluminum {{{90}}}-degree AJ V-8Displacement (liters) 4.{{{4/4}}}.2
Bore x stroke (in.):3.47 x 3.56/3.39 x 3.56
Aspiration:Twin-impeller Eaton supercharger
Valvetrain:DOHC 4 valves/cyl.
Max hp @ rpm:{{{300}}} @ 5,500/390 @ 5,750
Max torque (lb-ft) @ rpm:315 @ 4,000/410 @ 3,500
Transmission:Six-speed automatic
Ratios (:1)1st: 4.17
2nd: 2.34
3rd: 1.52
4th: 1.14
5th: 0.87
6th: 0.69
Rev: 3.40
Transfer case:Full-time two-speed
Low range ratio (:1):2.93
Axle ratio (:1):3.73/3.54
Crawl ratio (:1):45.{{{57}}}/43.25
Suspension:Four-wheel independent; double wishbones, adjustable air springs
Differentials:Locking center; locking rear
Steering:ZF Servotronic rack and pinion
Brakes, f/r:
HSE:13.5-in./13.9-in. Bosch four-channel
SC:14.2-in. Brembo/13.9-in. Bosch four-channel
Wheels/Tyres:
HSE:19x9 alloy/255/50R19
SC:20x9.5 alloy/275/40R20
Wheelbase (in.):108.0
Length (in.):188.5
Width (in.):75.9
Max height (in.):69.6
Base curb weight (lb.):5,468-5,670
Max ground clearance (in.):8.9
Max approach/departure angles (deg.):34/27
Max breakover angle (deg.):25
Max towing capacity (lb.):7,716
Interior cargo capacity (cu. ft.):71.0
Fuel capacity (gal.):23.3
EPA mileage estimates, combined (mpg):18.5/17.5
Seating capacity, persons:5

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