First drive: 2021 Range Rover Sport HST D350 MHEV

Tyler Heatley

16 Oct 2020

The Range Rover Sport is one of the British marque’s best-selling models, and despite the often frowned upon Premiership footballer image, it’s actually a fascinatingly complete machine. What other vehicle do you know of that has the option to seat seven, can climb mountains, handle pretty tidily, is brisk and offers plenty of comfort? This elixir of fire and ice is what makes the Sport arguably the most versatile vehicle in the range. The new Sport HST D350 MHEV aims to add a further string to that bow in terms of economy.

Jaguar Land Rover are in a tricky position when it comes to the public swing away from diesel and stricter emissions regulations. Torquey diesel engines in its 4x4s are something of a staple, and while there’s a good selection of petrol alternatives, many buyers will still want their Range Rover filling up from the black pump. The solution is an all-new inline six-cylinder engine that’s complimented by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. It replaces the old V6 and V8 diesels and comes in many guises, most notably a top of the tree D350.

The Range Rover Sport’s appearance is effectively unchanged by its new heart transplant. This model has a real talent for projecting the same ‘immovable object’ stature as the full-fat Range Rover, but combines this with more athletic design. There’s a rakish roofline, a body crease that leads your eyes from nose to tail and larger intakes to help passersby visualise why this model is called Sport. The new D350 can only be had in HST trim, and that means it wears glossy black 21-inch alloy wheels, carbon fibre detailing and distinctive LED lighting signatures. Our test car in Firenze Red with contrasting black roof certainly looked the part.

Those who think that a Sport is any less opulent than the Range Rover needs to leave that prejudice at the door. Climb into the cabin and you are bathed in high quality materials that leaves you in no doubt about this being a luxury product. Almost everywhere you can place your hand is Alcantara or leather, each upholstering shapely surfaces and finished with fine stitching. A pair of bolstered 16-way adjustable sports seats are the first sign that this Range Rover is about more than just wafting in comfort.

HST cars get the Touch Pro Duo infotainment setup that’s full of features, but due to the passage of time, is no longer the flagship system. Pivi Pro introduced on the new Defender takes up that mantle, and while the Sport’s unit is fine, the latest JLR infotainment marks a big step forward. This 10-inch screen is paired with a lower screen that takes responsibility for everything from climate control to drive modes. This graphically appealing interface is really slick and, like other Land Rovers, neatly integrates two physical dials. However, the clutter-free benefits of having so many touch controls also come with a caveat of them being harder to use while on the move.

Moving into the rear quarters, there’s seating for three with plentiful head and leg room. This HST specification also benefits from a glass panoramic roof that floods the cabin with natural light, creating an even more spacious feeling. While Sport models don’t get the traditional split-folding tailgate, there is 780-litres for cargo space on hand. Fold the rear seats flat and a van-like 1,656-litres is yours for the taking.

On the road, the work of the 48-volt mild hybrid system is almost imperceptible. It harvests energy that would otherwise be lost under braking and uses it to run some electrical systems as well as help boost engine responsiveness. The 3.0-litre combustion engine itself is quite a refined thing, running smooth and free of excessive vibration – one of the benefits of an inline-six. At low speeds there’s still a touch of turbo lag, but 700Nm of torque is available low in the rev range and provides the mechanical shove to get up to speed quickly. 345bhp is enough for a 0-62mph time of 6.9 seconds and a top speed stamped at 140mph. These numbers aren’t to be sniffed at considering this SUVs considerable mass.

While the engine is a worthy addition to the Range Rover Sport, it’s through the corners that this large 4x4 impresses the most. Selecting Dynamic Mode and charging up the Malvern Hills highlighted a true sense of agility that, frankly speaking, a vehicle of this size simply should not possess. The all-wheel drive system shuffles powered to where it’s needed and provides plenty of stability. Body control remains tight even through sweeping bends as the Sport fights off roll with impressive vigour. The steering is a little light off centre and lacks true communication, but it weights-up nicely and has a real precision to it. You can get into a bit of a rhythm driving the Sport that makes it genuinely entertaining to drive, with the driver only really being reminded of this car’s bulk under hard braking. The 8-speed automatic transmission keeps pace too, although manually selecting cogs via the wheel mounted paddles does reveal a slight hesitation on upshifts.

Considering that this is a big practical vehicle with serious 4x4 underpinnings, the chassis is excellent. A nice footnote of Dynamic Mode is that it can be customised via the Range Rover’s secondary screen. Throttle responsiveness, suspension stiffness, gearbox and steering weight can all be individually adjusted. For me that meant keeping the heavier steering, but slackening the suspension to compensate for our rough roads.

The new Range Rover Sport D350 MHEV remains an impressive all-round package, providing strong performance in all areas, while also providing its signature plush SUV experience. Its new engine is good a addition to the already broad lineup, and officially delivers 31.2mpg (WLTP) and emits 238g/km CO2 – something that keeps diesel Range Rovers in the game.

Model tested: 2021 Range Rover Sport HST D350 MHEV

Price: £85,995

Engine: 3.0-litre inline-six + mild hybrid

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Power / Torque: 345bhp / 700Nm

0-62mph: 6.9 seconds

Top speed: 140

Seating: 5

Boot space: 780-litres

MPG: 31.2mpg

CO2: 236g/km

Tyler Heatley

16 Oct 2020

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