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Big and Green

Big and Green

Arguably, the mantle of vehicle that started the whole “Luxury SUV’ hoopla could be given to the original Range Rover. It was born out of Land Rover recognizing around the sixties that their iconic off-roader (the Defender to you and me) was simply too hardcore and spartan for some, and that both the Japanese and the Americans were starting to create more comfort-oriented off-roaders. With this in mind, 1970 saw the Range Rover launched with coil springs (when leafs were still common), all-round disc brakes (when all-round drums were still common) and a 3.5L V8 engine. The four wheel drive was permanent, only the range (high/low) could be changed. While designed to still be a rough and tumble vehicle (plastic dashboards and vinyl seats that were designed to be washed with a hosepipe!), it soon morphed into a luxury off roader with power steering, air conditioning, wood trims, carpets and leather upholstery as options.

Fast forward twenty four years to 1994, and the popular P38 model was launched, featuring electronic air suspension and variable ride height, anti-lock brakes and traction control; and shared many things with contemporary BMW models (as it was BMW that owned LR at the time). It was also the last Range Rover to feature a manual gearbox.

2004 saw the Range Rover Sport being born, out of the Range Stormer concept that was a three-door sporty coupe-cum-SUV. The Range Rover Sport was to be the “sportier” cousin of the original Range Rover, a slightly smaller and curvier (subjective) luxury SUV. 2014 saw the second generation and it was facelifted in 2017 with a hybrid variant added. Of course it could be no ordinary hybrid, so a 400bhp system total was the result and it is that variant that we test here, from the kind folks at Autobahn (Pvt) Ltd, a relatively new car importer on the block but with a team that has years of experience with European marques.

 

Exterior 

Make no mistake, this is definitely a Range Rover. While aerodynamics has dictated that the traditional bluff frontal area and box-like stance needed to depart, Land Rover have managed to retain the overall silhouette while sloping things down. This is also why despite having 400bhp, the top speed is a mere 220km/h. Recall that air resistance depends not only on the speed of an object but its surface area! The Range Rover Sport has a lot of surface area. It’s an imposing beast on the road, stretching nearly five metres in length and a smidge over two metres in width.

Those are 20 inch alloys wrapped in 255 width and 55 profile rubber, yet it doesn’t look oversized! 55-profile rubber is reasonably meaty (nowadays), hinting that this can take some rough and tumble when required.

I like the DRL patterns which are called the “Signature” DRLs and the Matrix LED headlamps which are said to “blank off” parts of the main beam to avoid dazzling on-coming traffic. The rear lights are also LED and feature an attractively simple lighting pattern. The “Narvik Black” body colour and ebony interior make for a very “Black on Black” vehicle – each one to their own. Personally I would keep the exterior black but have the interior in brown or maybe even red!

While everything feels sturdy and solid, I was rather disappointed by the charging port cover which is at the front of the vehicle. The cover is a hinged plastic panel that feels very flimsy – from the push-to-open action to the general feel of the panel itself. Why oh why Land Rover, couldn’t you give a proper metal panel like the fuel tank lid, rather than this plastic piece that I honestly felt scared to open and close more than a few times? Take a Leaf from other manufacturers who do the front charging port door well!

 

Mech & Tech 

The Range Rover Sport P400e is powered by Jaguar Land Rover’s “Ingenium” family of engines, the 2.0L in-line turbocharged four cylinder that puts out 300bhp. It is assisted by an electric motor which puts out 114bhp. This combines for a system total of 404bhp and 640Nm of torque (don’t ask me how; the max power and torque figures of hybrids are not a case of simple addition but involves things like plotting power and torque curves, finding intercepts, etc…). For green freaks, the CO2 emissions can be as low as 72g/km which is a fantastic figure given that even the average 1.5L family sedan kicks out closer to 100g/km minimum. The wading depth is unchanged from the non-hybrid variants at 850mm. This is also made possible by a neat air intake system that uses the bonnet as a conduit for breathing! We have sampled the Ingenium family in Jaguar products too (recall our four-way Jaguar test some time ago, and Ryan’s F-type drive?).

Drive is to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Braking is via large (380mm front, 265mm rear) ventilated discs, and suspension is multi-link with air struts. The steering is via an electric rack.

Electronic nannies (other than the default ABS) include roll stability control, adaptive dynamic suspension, dynamic stability control, cornering assist and emergency brake assist.

 

Driving Experience 

Electically adjustable seats and steering column mean that you can get comfortable easily in what is a commanding driving position. Yes the Rangie is large and tall on the inside too. Foot on brake, thumb starter button and the petrol engine starts and settles into a smooth idle – or if the battery is sufficiently charged and you are in Eco/Comfort modes, it may not start. Don’t fret on seeing the rev counter at zero, just select Drive and move off. The parking brake auto releases in Drive or reverse, and auto engages upon selecting P – A small thing but convenient.

Large wing mirrors and good visibility all round help positioning the car, except at the rear. You need the cameras to see if something short (like a small child or a concrete block) is behind, as the rear view mirror’s view is somewhat limited. The sheer size of the Rangie may be intimidating at first but after all of ten minutes I was threading her through our traffic just fine. Give the Rangie some throttle and she moves! We surprised a few cars that probably didn’t expect this behemoth to sprint rather than lumber. Zero to hundred is said to be 6.7s and it feels about right. Top whack is a claimed 220km/h which we obviously didn’t test. The engine features start-stop, but you get a noticeable vibration when the engine kicks in, especially when the parked. Surprising, as we have experienced other four-cylinder and three-cylinder hybrids that didn’t quite announce their engines start-up like this.

Enable Dynamic mode and you get a nice roar from the exhaust too, which photographer Chamila said turned some heads during the video shoots. Again, you don’t expect such noises to emit from a car like this. You also don’t expect a 2.0 litre four cylinder to sound like this either, and whatever trickery Land Rover have done with the dual-exit exhaust system and auxiliary noise-making paraphernalia, it works.

In Eco mode, throttle response is highly dulled and burying your foot means it doesn’t downshift as much as in Dynamic, although you can still out-accelerate most surrounding vehicles. Comfort is a decent blend of the two and is probably the mode that the average driver will select, but I enjoyed it the most in Dynamic, gearlever set to S and using the steering paddles to change gears. Oh, and what’s this? It doesn’t auto change up at the redline! You can be bouncing off the limiter and bathing the passers-by in the exhaust’s roar and the Rangie will stay like that until your right hand fingers call for an upshift.

Let’s talk ride and handling. The ride is softly sprung and even though you feel larger potholes and manholes, it’s never a jarring impact. Comfort oriented, even in Dynamic mode. Now let’s talk handling. For such a big vehicle the Rangie can do the hokie pokie in an alright manner but lacks sharpness. There is some body roll, especially on left-to-right transitions, like when attacking the famous Independence chicane. The rear got surprisingly lively, with some slip during the attack, the 255-section tyres squealed in protest but it didn’t feel like it was going to swap ends. Dynamic mode in this Rangie is for quick and smooth driving on gently flowing roads, not for attacking the 18 bends of Mahiyangana. Even though the adaptive suspension firms up it doesn’t do so to spine-jarring levels. The brakes are more than enough for the job of stopping 2.5 tonnes of SUV and really pull her up from triple digit speeds, but those tyres squeal like a herd of pigs. The pedal feel is decent, but the initial stopping action is a tad sharp which had me nodding heads during the first few minutes of the drive – maybe due to the blending of the regenerative and disc brakes for stopping power.

 

Living with it 

<Breathe in deeply> it’s got ebony interior, gloss interior trim, rear privacy glass, Touch Pro, Navigation Pro, Meridian sound system, rear monitors, panoramic sliding roof, dual-zone climate control, pre-conditioning, rear AC vents, electric memory driver seat, electric passenger seat, ISOFIX mountings, USB power ports front and rear, 250V outlets in the rear cabin and boot…<relax and breathe normally>. Quite a list, isn’t it?

Everything here, save for a few features are controlled from the dual touchscreens. The upper one focuses on multimedia while the larger lower one is for vehicle settings, climate control and seat heating but can also control media. Additionally, you can control most of this as well as access vehicle information from the steering controls which are also touch and gesture sensitive (make circling motions with your thumb to adjust the volume, for example).

Dual zone climate control with rear AC vents (I had expected to see minimum three-zone at this price point, but the rear only gets two vents) keeps the cabin quite chilled, and the sunroof’s thermal glass helps keep the sun out to a great degree. Pre-conditioning via mobile phone app is also available where you can set the Rangie to keep the cabin cool so that when you enter, it is not into a sweltering cavern, what with all that leather. We all know what it’s like to sit in a leather-upholstered vehicle after it’s been in the hot sun for a while. Ladies wearing short skirts or dresses will welcome the pre-conditioning, saving their legs from being burnt.

Pre-conditioning uses the electric AC compressor and heating system to condition the cabin to a comfortable temperature by drawing power from the main battery pack, so needless to say your battery needs to be charged for it to work properly.

The Meridian sound system sounds – well - awesome. It’s on the bass-heavy side but that can be adjusted in the settings. You have a plethora of speakers in the doors, rear parcel shelf and even on the roof. Radio, USB, Ipod and Bluetooth are your media options, among others. The rear passengers each get their own 8” screen mounted in the backs of the front head rests.

Space in the rear is so-so. I fit in it just fine behind my own driving position but taller (more specifically, longer-legged) individuals would have their knees against the driver seat. It could be due to the 13.1kW battery pack mounted right behind the seats. Other than that, the rear is comfy and cosy with the aforementioned AC vents and multimedia screens, plus two more USB charging ports and even a 13A 250V mains socket! The battery is also why the P400e is a five and not seven seater, and also why it doesn’t have a spare wheel, although you could get one and sacrifice some boot space.

The boot is spacious enough at 780L and a load cover keeps it separate from the main cabin should the need arise. A 13A 250V mains socket can be found here too, along with a 12V “cigarette lighter” socket. A neat feature is two little buttons inside the boot. Press them and you can lower or raise the rear suspension to aid loading!

 

Safety 

It’s got a plethora of airbags to keep you cushioned when things go awry, along with many electronic nannies as described in the Mech & Tech section. No surprise then, that it has a five-star EuroNCAP rating. ISOFIX mountings for child seats are there too, and park assist all round tops off the package. The rear camera means that you shouldn’t run over your kid, cat or dog when reversing (unless you are distracted by your mobile phone or something, in which case technology is no substitute for human stupidity).

 

Fuel Economy and Price 

A 90-litre fuel tank means that you can go quite far. The electric-only range of the P400e is 51 kilometres (at speeds of up to 130km/h), which means that you could potentially do the daily office / school / shopping run on electrons alone, and only use significant amounts of petrol when taking a trip. The charging time from a regular mains socket is said to be 8 hours, so well within the “overnight charge” time. A rapid charger can cut this down to below 3 hours. Foreign tests have clocked lows of around 6km/l (when pushing hard) and as good as 15km/l (on mixed cycles). Either way, the fuel economy is going to vary wildly depending on how you use it – do you drive hard or hypermile, are you going to charge the battery at home every night or only periodically? So it’s a tough one to say with any certainty.

The price for this very vehicle is 27.9 million smackers with a two-year / 50,000km warranty. Of course there is a mile-long option list that can send that price northwards but is worth a gander into if you really want to make your own individual spec vehicle – after all if you are shopping at this price point and are the first owner, it’s worth speccing it to your taste. As I read somewhere, James May said something along the lines of “you don’t spec your brand-new car for the second owner”.

 

Overall Words 

Technology sure has come in leaps and bounds. Teleport twenty years back and if someone told you of a large SUV with a four cylinder engine that has the same displacement as a mega bottle of Coca Cola, would you have taken it seriously? Come back to the present and many SUVs of this ilk pack mega-bottle-displacement engines (albeit with turbochargers) and give more bhp than the Range Rover’s original 3.5 V8 did.

The Range Rover Sport P400e sits in an interesting niche. Yes, it’s a large thing but only has five seats with a decent boot. It packs more power than it needs but doesn’t enjoy sharp, apex-cutting cornering. If you want to hustle it into corners (and some indeed do enjoy hustling something that is reluctant to be hustled around corners), it can be done but the focus will be more on “having fun” than “cutting apexes”, while the passengers either scold the driver, or get absorbed into whatever is playing on the rear screens.

So, who is it for? My guess is, for someone with a family who has made it (you need to have made it, or have other sources of income if spending 20+ mil on a vehicle), likes an outdoorsy lifestyle with a bit of venturing off the beaten track and enjoys travelling around the countryside in relative luxury. So head down to Autobahn at Havelock Road and give it a look if it piques your interest.

 

Tech Specs

Engine

1,997cc, four cylinder

Turbocharged

Electric Motor

Total Power 404bhp

Total Torque 640Nm

 

Transmission

Eight-speed automatic

Paddle shifters

All-wheel-drive

 

Suspension

Front: Multilink,

Air Struts

Rear: Multilink,

Air Struts

 

Brakes

Front – 380mm Disc

Rear – 365mm Disc

ABS, EBD

 

Wheels & Tyres

255/55R20 all round

 

Performance

0-100km/h in 6.7s

Top speed 220km/h

*Manufacturer claims

 

Misc

Length: 4,879mm

Width: 2,073mm

Height: 1,803mm

Kerb Weight: 2,471kg

Wading Depth: 850mm

Fuel Tank: 90L

Boot Space: 780L