Motoring / Motoring News
When it comes to the business of luxury off-roaders, it is almost guaranteed that reference will be made to the Range Rover at some point.
Envisioned by its creator, Charles Spencer King, as a more comfortable alternative to the Land Rover, it rapidly evolved from a basic mud-plugger to an ultra-luxurious statement that still serves as the pinnacle of the luxury SUV in spite of having been eclipsed by offerings from Bentley and more recently, Rolls-Royce.
As noteworthy as the Range Rover’s rise has been since its debut in 1970, it has not been immune to criticism with King himself taking a swipe at his very own creation in an interview 16 years ago.
“The 4×4 was never intended as a status symbol, but later incarnations of my design seem to be intended for that purpose. Sadly, the 4×4 has become an alternative to a Mercedes or BMW for the pompous, self-important driver. I find the people who use it as such deeply unattractive,” he said.
As harsh as King’s comments were, and before Land Rover took the controversial decision to turn the LRX concept into the Range Rover Evoque nine years ago, it was the Sport that had to face the music for being the most un-Range Rover-like model ever made, as it had more in common with the Discovery than with its bigger, iconic sibling.
The initial disapproval didn’t last long though and having been subjected to an extensive refresh three years ago, the second generation Sport became the first to offer a hybrid powerunit which, after an initial delay, touched-down in South Africa last year.
With the switch towards electrification becoming more prevalent, the arrival of the plug-in hybrid Sport at the end of last year left this writer both smirking and scratching his head in confusion when the blocky keyless module landed in my hands.
From the outside, there is very little to suggest that Range Rover has embraced electrification as our Eiger Grey HSE tester could easily be confused for a similarly specced petrol or diesel model. Incorporating new headlights with squared-off integrated daytime running LEDs, a redesigned grille, revised front and rear bumpers and riding on optional (R27 400) 21-inch gloss silver diamond alloy wheels, the stockier Sport is more aggressive and in-your face than ever before, but still classy with the optional (R7 800) contrasting black roof and menacing red brake calipers (R4 300) adding even more appeal to what is in effect the base trim level.
Opening the door and planting yourself behind the wheel of a Range Rover arguably rates as one of life’s biggest occasions as it really adheres to the adage of ‘’sir/ madam, you have arrived’’. As part of the mid-life revision, the Sport comes equipped with Land Rover’s new ten-inch Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, more premium materials and a new (optional) configurable ambient lighting system (R4 200).
In addition, the HSE’s added features included a centre console refrigerator (R9 500), soft touch closing doors (R10 800) and the rather appetising Dark Grey Oak veneer (R4 900). As premium and sublime as the materials and built quality are, the chink is still that infotainment system which despite being faster than previous iterations, is still not the easiest to scroll through.
Whereas the rest of the cabin is typical Range Rover with generous levels of rear headroom and legroom, the former in spite of the sliding panoramic roof, a compromise comes in the luggage department where the up to 703 litres of boot space is hobbled by the case housing the various charging cables for the powertrain.
The biggest aspect that has once again placed the Sport on the controversial path, the P400e designation on the tailgate involves Solihull’s familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged Ingenium petrol engine being paired to a 13.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that produces 85 kW. Combined, the unit delivers an impressive 297kW/640Nm that results in the P400e feeling responsive and more powerful than what its top speed of 220km/h and 0 to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds suggests, aside from the fact that it weighs nearly 2.5 tonnes.
Of course, the key is that electric motor that works in conjunction with the petrol on start-up in the default hybrid setting. In full EV mode, the P400e offers a claimed range of 51 km, but during its weeklong stay, careful driving in predominately hybrid mode netted a best range of 41 km.
The main bug-bear however is charging the battery and while accessing the port hidden behind the grille was easy, the indicated charging time on the dashboard came to eight hours and nine minutes despite Land Rover claiming seven-and-a-half-hours.
On the move, the P400e impressed with its coherent ride and refinement, although the biggest indulgence was observing the readout of the drivetrain switching between hybrid, petrol and electric power via a graphic on the infotainment system. In petrol configuration only, the P400e registered very impressive 8.5l/100km despite spells in sport mode and with the sublime ZF-sourced eight-speed transmission automatic gearbox in manual.
As adverse to electrification as many South Africans still are, the setup in the Range Rover Sport P400e is resoundingly impressive from not only a performance standpoint, but also consumption as reliance on the petrol engine in everyday scenarios is offset by the battery that only needs to be charged once the range runs-out.
While this translates to savings at the pumps, uncertainties such as our current state of electricity supply will sadly put a damper on the P400e, notwithstanding the standard sticker price of R1 654 900 for the HSE and the allure of the similarly specced P360 and SDV6 derivatives being R112 235 and R203 594 cheaper.
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