The new Range Rover Sport HST is the first car to use JLR's brand new inline six petrol engine, which will gradually replace its ageing V6 across the line-up in pure combustion and hybridised form. In the HST, its mated to an electric motor and promises to offer a timely mix of high-performance and economy not yet seen in the Range Rover Sport. 6.2 seconds to 62mph, 30.7mpg and 209g/km of CO2 are a compelling combination of stats for a 2.4-tonne off-roader as plush as this. But £81,250 is also a hefty price to pay for a Sport because the similarly paced and even more economical SDV6 HSE Dynamic costs around £8k less.
Predictably, the justification for that added cost is located in the new powertrain. Not only is the P400 3.0-litre the first from JLR's new petrol Ingenium family, the electric motor it works alongside is energised by new 48v architecture that powers an electric supercharger. The setup promises to provide torque at all times, including the moment you pull away and through each gearshift, helping to reduce the workload of the combustion motor, minimising the shifts of the eight-speed auto and, as an added benefit, pushing up the HST's peak outputs - which are rated at 400hp at 5,500rpm and 406lb ft of 2,000rpm.
The HST does get a unique finish to go with its high-tech internals, with new carbon trim on the bonnet and suede upholstery on the steering wheel rim, gear selector and headlining. There are also a set of optional 10-spoke 22-inch alloys that really set the two-tone exterior off nicely - but by and large the HST cherry picks from the existing Range Rover Sport specs list. It gets the same brilliantly laid-out dual-screen infotainment system with a digital instrument cluster inside, while the chassis remains air sprung with active dampers alongside the full gambit of Land Rover's off-road armoury.
Since this is a self-charging hybrid model, it starts and pulls away with the inline six running, but the electric assistance is noticeable from the second you touch the throttle. While the revs remain low, the HST pulls away with the kind of satisfyingly immediate torque that's not dissimilar to what you'd experience in a pure EV. It feels effortless and if it weren't for the slight audible dips in engine tone, you'd not notice the automatic 'box was swapping cogs thanks to the 48v system's torque fill. While everything remains quiet, you're aware of the six's smooth tone in the background; it sounds and pulls increasingly sweetly as the revs rise meaning there is genuine reward for squeezing the pedal.
While off-the-line acceleration is very good for such a hefty machine, rolling acceleration is better described as brisk than outright fast - and totally appropriate for the application. The HST's powertrain feels wonderfully elastic thanks to the wide berth of torque offered by the powertrain, and the gearbox is also surprisingly amenable to manual flicks of the nicely-sized shift paddles behind the steering wheel. The addition of all that electrical hardware doesn't seem to have hampered the air suspension's ability to deal with cracks and ridges either, although it's possible the damping rates have been stiffened a tad as the car body does react to them. But overall, the HST is as comfortable and refined as you'd hope, with little wind and tyre noise.
It can pick up the pace quite comfortably, too, with plenty of grip provided by its Continental boots and, on warm Cotswolds tarmac, unbreakable traction. Point to point pace can be very fast should you want it to be, although the lean of the Sport's body means it feels far more natural to adopt a less frenetic approach. Those looking for a more sporting hybrid SUV, are best advised to look in Stuttgart's direction. In contrast the HST is a very lovely place to tick off the miles, underwritten by the thought that you're doing it about as efficiently as a 2.4-tonne slab of British metal can without drinking derv.
Is the HST worth £8k more than its diesel brethren? The way it goes about its business and the noises that straight-six make certainly feel worthy, but if minimum visits to the pump are you highest priority, an oil burning Sport still stands apart as a great all-rounder. That equation doesn't tell the whole story these days though, and Land Rover - along with every other manufacturer and a whole heap of legislators - is betting its investment on the future appeal of SUVs precisely like the HST. In that respect, the first of the line represents a brilliant start for JLR's brave new world.
SPECIFICATION - RANGE ROVER SPORT HST
Engine: 2,996cc, straight-six, plus electric motor
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406@2,000rpm
Top speed: 140mph