It was a dark and stormy evening in the spooky town of Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and I drove a dark and stormy (well, technically "java black") 2006 Range Rover Sport through pouring rain and thick fog. We had been meandering through the twisted hills of the Hudson Valley searching for that Ichabod Crane character and a way to kill a blah Saturday afternoon when the heavy drops became a wicked mess.
I'd previously tested the Sport's brilliant Terrain Response System on Land Rover-sanctioned courses in the LR3, but never in mildly perilous real world circumstances. To use it, all you do is spin a dial to the little black-and-white drawing that matches the outdoor conditions, and the right off-roading mode kicks in. I turned the knob to the mud/ruts mode, which seemed logical at the time even though I was on pavement. The Sport gripped the road and proceeded at a cautious crawl. (An after-the-fact query to Land Rover revealed that leaving it in the normal mode would have been the better call.)
The stability may have been due more to the ever-present four-wheel Electronic Traction Control, which adds traction by limiting the engine and putting the brakes on individually spinning wheels. But whatever the Sport did, it kept our carload from being the least bit frightened. And that includes passing a hydroplaning yahoo on the left and catching a glimpse of what may have been the Headless Horseman chucking fiery jack-o-lanterns at us from atop his steed.
Price: $69,085, $72,650 as tested. Available: Now. Vital Stats: 4.2-liter 390-hp supercharged V8, 410 pounds-feet of torque, 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, curb weight of 5,778 pounds, 13/18 mpg.
Good stuff: This is the fastest Land Rover ever (0 to 60 in 7.2 seconds -- provided the roads aren't flooded). It's agile for its size and has a computer-controlled anti-roll system that, thankfully, I can only assume was working. The extra three grand gets you Sirius satellite radio and a six-disc DVD player for the dual screens in the front seat headrests that ensures rear passengers can catch the entire first season of Deadwood while driving the 829 miles from Chicago to the Black Hills of South Dakota on a pilgrimage to the show's spiritual homeland. If you're into that sort of thing.
Drawbacks: The storage area between the front seats is pointless. The easily accessible top part doesn't hold an overstuffed wallet, and it requires two hands to pull it out to reveal the hidden cooler beneath it. Most drivers need space for their digital cameras, golf balls and wadded-up napkins, not a tuna on rye. Plus, for the same off-roading capabilities, you'd have to plunk down $12,000 more for this arched five-seater than you would for Land Rover's boxy, seven-seat LR3.
Rainy-Day Wanderlust: This is the fastest Land Rover ever constructed with a top speed of 140 mph, and 0-to-60 in 7.2 seconds. Thanks to Mother Nature, I never came near spitting distance of hitting these marks, but just the idea brought heartwarming daydreams of myself decked out in safari gear leaving giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, lions, gazelles and even cheetahs to eat my dust out on the Serengeti plains.
Second Opinion: "The Range Rover Sport has enticing lines, speed, and design," says Ken Panton, president of eCityofAutos.com. "By combining style cues from its bigger brother, the Range Rover, with the platform of the LR3, Land Rover created a stylish machine that has the best of both worlds."