Review: Land Rover Sport HST

Much as we love them for their ability, big SUVs can’t make much ecological headway at present with petrol engines. As for diesel, sales last month fell for the 34th straight month. Diesel is still being shunned as owners and carmakers face clean air legislation in cities – which is where big SUVs are very popular and roundly harangued.

At home in almost any terrain, the 'mild hybrid' Sport should not be confused with a proper hybrid when it comes to economy
At home in almost any terrain, the 'mild hybrid' Sport should not be confused with a proper hybrid when it comes to economy

It’s a well-worn quip. Who needs a big and more toxic car like that for shopping or the school run? Well, they do because they can afford the monthly payments and they enjoy the grandeur and the perceived privilege. They feel safer and are safer.

Coming soon to a city pad near you is the next Land Rover image maker, the new Defender. This successor to the familiar post-war workhorse looks ready to attract the wealthy buyers who want something which looks tough. It may also rob sales from the Discovery. They can choose three or five doors on two chassis lengths and prices from about £40,000 and £45,000 respectively, plus a commercial variant. Defender test drives will be offered at the Keswick Mountain Festival in Cumbria on 15-17 May, where Land Rover is the title sponsor.

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The Range Rover and its sleeker sibling, the Sport, are due re-vamps and a continued move towards electrification. The Sport is the top-selling big Land Rover and is highly regarded by the industry. Power units will get greener. There is a plug-in petrol hybrid with ratings of 69g and 75mph, but like all PHEVs these headline figures rely on a journey starting with a fully charged battery and considerate driving. At best they are more economical than a pure petrol model. The PHEV prices start around £73,000.

For £68,155 you can get the 3-litre V6 diesel rated at 195g and 32mpg – which may be what you get in everyday driving with the hybrid. Then there is petrol. Tested here is the P400, dubbed a mild hybrid electric vehicle because it gets some battery regeneration and assistance. It should not be confused with an economical proper hybrid.

This engine is a glorious Jaguar Land Rover 3-litre straight six rated at 394bhp, 209g and 25 to 27mpg. Fortunately it has a 23-gallon (104 litre) fuel tank which will cost around £130 to fill and adds 165lb to the car’s weight.

This was the state it arrived in, thankfully, because I rarely achieved more than 25mpg on level going and this dropped to 21mpg on hills and a few miles of low-speed track. For the record, the highest mpg was 27mpg on a gentle cruise across a regular 50-mile mixed route. That six-cylinder P400 engine sounds glorious if you do decide to waste some petrol.

There is lots more which is good about this Range Rover. It took me from urban gentility to rough moorland without a murmur. I have done so much off-roading under instruction in Land Rover vehicles over the decades to know that they have nothing left to prove. Such as: desserts, river beds (wet and dry), moors (ditto), bogs, craters, man-made obstacles, moguls, ice and snow. The only glitch has been a puncture at 16,000 feet in the Andes.

These super-refined large gas guzzlers can be excused if you have a role for them other than doing something for which a smaller and cleaner car would be just as good – and possibly more practical.

Such as? Heavy duty towing – they are rated at 3,500kg and their 2.3-ton mass makes them stable. Country pursuits, like shooting, fishing, falconry, point-to-point and horsey things where their off-road and towing ability is useful. Their driving modes range from high-speed dynamic through eco, comfort, to grass-gravel-snow, mud and ruts, sand and finally rock crawl.

Each mode is selectable 
and adjusts the air suspension, gears, steering, throttle and so forth to give optimum, safe and sure progress. The opt-out mode is auto, which takes care of most situations.

Prices start at £64,725 and good luck trying to follow the hyperactive Land Rover website. Prices on the road for “my” P400 HST start at £81,250. It is exceeding well-equipped but there is room for more. A full-size spare wheel is £710 and would definitely be on my order. Vision, parking and driver assistance packs with devices such as head-up display, traffic sign recognition, a tiredness monitor, laser LED headlamps, 360-degree view and high-speed emergency braking added £6,000 and a tenner.

The interior fittings are well specified with leather seats, plenty of storage places, upper and lower information screens, heated front and rear seats and numerous permutations for your preferred settings. In the dark the instruments reflect in the wide windows.