ASPEN, Colo. - Let's get this out of the way first: The 2006 Range Rover Sport is not a Range Rover. Rather, it is a shortened version of Land Rover's new T5 platform, which is the basis of the less expensive LR3.
But Land Rover believes its customers aren't worried about what's underneath the sheet metal - so long as the vehicle fulfills the brand's promise.
The Range Rover Sport plugs the price gap between the LR3 and Range Rover.
It also gives Land Rover three distinct V-8-powered SUVs priced above $40,000 at a time when gasoline prices are soaring and full-sized SUV sales are plummeting.
Land Rover hopes the vehicle, which goes on sale this summer, will be a strong competitor against the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5 and Infiniti FX45.
The basics: Land Rover thinks it needs a sportier model that does not carry the stereotype of a vehicle for African bush safaris. Hence, the Range Rover Sport was engineered with more on-road performance in mind, right down to the 20-inch wheels and aggressive gearing of the six-speed ZF transmission.
The vehicle looks racy, too, with a shorter wheelbase and sharper rake to the windshield and rear glass than its siblings.
Notable features: In addition to the base 4.4-liter engine, a 390-hp supercharged 4.2-liter V-8 has been borrowed from Jaguar.
The supercharged version can reach 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, has a limited top speed of 140 mph and is brought to a halt by four-piston Brembo brakes.
All models come with Land Rover's new Dynamic Response suspension system, which controls body roll. Meanwhile, the brand's Terrain Response four-wheel-drive software algorithms change throttle, braking and suspension settings based on five driving conditions.
Hill descent control keeps the vehicle stable when crawling down steep off-road sections.
Luxury touches include adaptive cruise control, xenon headlamps, satellite navigation, and DVD entertainment and harmon/kardon audio systems.
The interior appears to be a cross between the LR3 and Range Rover.
What Land Rover says: "The Range Rover Sport looks and performs like a Range Rover, so customers are not going to be worried about the platform," said Richard Beattie, Land Rover North America executive vice president.
The current Range Rover is based on an architecture co-developed with BMW AG. The LR3 platform was done in-house with help from Ford Motor Co.
Executives hint that the T5 platform could be the basis for the next Range Rover.
Design Director Geoff Upex added: "How many Porsche Cayenne owners ask whether it's on a Volkswagen platform?"
Compromises and shortcomings: Is the world asking for a high-performance Land Rover?
Marketing executives hope there are plenty of wealthy entrepreneur types who want such a vehicle.
The Range Rover Sport still handles off-road obstacles with aplomb, but it's no Defender. Then again, how many Americans take their Land Rover rock pounding through Moab, Utah?
Although it is billed as being sporty, the Range Rover Sport weighs about the same as its larger siblings.
Price and volume: Land Rover intends to sell the base HSE model for $56,750, including shipping. The supercharged model starts at $69,750.
Executives predict the Range Rover Sport will slightly outsell the Range Rover. That model sold 13,546 units in the United States last year.
The skinny: It's the same basic architecture as the LR3, with a few more goodies. Yet the base price is about $12,000 more.
If Land Rover achieves big volumes with the Sport, it will be the vehicle that drives the company back into the black.
If the luxury full-sized SUV market tanks, Land Rover has plenty else to worry about.