IAIN ROBERTSON 

Range Rover Sport P

Range Rover Sport P

Having reiterated recently that electrification would feature on the majority of Jaguar Land Rover’s models led our man, Iain Robertson, to grab the opportunity for a test drive of the company’s latest Sport P400 HST with a renewed sense of vigour.

It is not so long ago that Land Rover (and Jaguar, of course) were taken over by an Indian conglomerate headed up by Ratan Tata. Buoyed by the international success of Tata Steel and the nascent desire to get his own car company off the ground in its Indian domestic market, he led a consortium into buying JLR. I am certain that he never expected the company to have performed as abysmally as it has in recent times. Now retired, at 82 years of age, and somewhat chastened by JLR’s poor behaviour, he must feel moderately gladdened by confirmation that the company is going to live up to some of its unfulfilled promises that were made at the outset…one of which was electrification.

When the revitalised (by Tata’s funds) JLR adopted an eye-popping PR stance, by which it made numerous statements related to market-leading electrification, you could have been excused for believing that Dany Bahar, the former, controversial Lotus Cars’ boss whom all but broke the Norwich sportscar manufacturer, had been engaged to perform similarly for JLR. However, it was not the case. It was a sometime publicly-owned vehicle maker that had veered inconsistently from one disaster to the next and, armed with buckets of Indian cash, appeared likely to repeat the exercise.

Range Rover Sport P

Range Rover Sport P

With a range of products that looked perilously alike on the Land Rover side, with some poorly styled, platform and technology sharing products on the Jaguar side, all of which appeared to be aimed at footballers’ wives, millionaire subscribers and a meaninglessly shallow and disloyal Monaco set, it came as no surprise to observers that the firm experienced a monumental downturn in its Chinese business. As with a number of carmakers, a freshly semi-liberated and willing China offered business potential that could hit new peaks, except a lack of forward planning proved the contrary to be true. JLR was hit particularly hard, losing almost 50% of its business spread in just a few months.

The choices left to it were stark. From having been on an employment spree just eight years earlier, suddenly, it needed to shed in excess of 5,000 jobs. Tata bailed it out but that led to takeover rumours from other quarters, such as Chinese-funded PSA Group and French government-funded Renault, even though a stung Tata provided assurances that it would refinance JLR and cover its gross over-spending.

Range Rover Sport P

Range Rover Sport P

Firstly, it is important not to confuse the car you see here, with the P400E model that features a 296bhp, 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine hooked up to an electric motor. Instead, this version is powered by the company’s new straight-six engine that displaces 3.0-litres capacity. It is markedly different to the previous V6 unit, in that it is boosted by an electric supercharger, as well as a conventional turbo and 48V mild hybrid battery pack, which whisks its potency to a punchy 395bhp (or 400ps, hence the model designation), allied to a tree-stump pulling 405lbs ft of torque.

Hustling a 2.5-tonne full-size SUV is not exactly child’s play, a factor underscored by the P400’s 30.5mpg (WLTP figure), which is actually not bad for a petrol engine in these circumstances, driving all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission, but it emits a sizable 213g/km CO2 for a hefty annual road tax bill that is not helped by the car’s list price of £81,250. You need to have access to plenty of disposable cash to run a Rangie. Yet, given its head and, believe me when I tell you it has tremendous capability, the P400 will clock the 0-60mph dash in just 5.9s, before running out of steam at 140mph.

Range Rover Sport P

Range Rover Sport P

It is disarmingly smooth to drive and feels relentless in the important mid-range of its power delivery, with near instant throttle responses and zero discernible gaps in its progress, even though it lacks the grittiness of a vee-engine and some vital mechanical character is thus missing. The mild-hybrid aspect creates ‘stop:start’ viability that helps to reduce CO2 levels, while a belt-driven starter/alternator makes the action near silent.

Peer inside the test example and you might believe that a raucous party is taking place. While the car is impeccably well built, which aids its overall refinement, the optional red/black interior of this car is eye-wateringly blatant and verging on ‘Spanish bordello’! You might contemplate an equally bespoke but less vibrant trim colour combination. Three digital screens provide driver information, sat-nav/stereo settings and climate functions, which one can only hope work better than they did in a Velar model I tested last year; Land Rover is sticking to the triple screen formula, because it presents a classy appearance, for sure, supported by craftsperson stitched high-grade hide and Alcantara covering almost every interior panel. The cabin is a very comfortable place to reside, possessing bags of room and a cavernous boot, with plenty of space for four sets of golf clubs, accessed via the typical split-opening rear door (upper window, lower deck extension).

Range Rover Sport P

Range Rover Sport P

It should be stated that the Range Rover Sport is still a high-end choice and that it handles well for such a large and hefty machine. Of course, its off-road talents scarcely need mentioning, the 4×4 system capable of dealing with most emergencies, climatic, or otherwise,, with a degree of aplomb unique to the brand.

The most important aspect of this car is not so much its arguable street presence, or hefty price tag, but the fact that it is a precursor. This car features a lot of the technology that (belatedly) will be utilised on many future Jaguar and Land Rover models. Now that IS important!

Conclusion:      Punchy and promising, JLR’s latest straight-six engine commitment is a vital step into safeguarding the firm’s future in the luxury class. While new to JLR, this is not ‘new-tech’ as might have been expected but it is vital technology.