Your first impression of the new motor is one of refinement. Gaydon has gone to considerable lengths to make the P400 the smoothest and most discreet engine available in the car at any price – by fitting near-silent timing chains and the like – and the effort’s paid off pretty clearly.
The HST starts and runs very quietly indeed around town, and shifts gear almost imperceptibly on a steady throttle. There’s a slightly slurred shift quality about the way it swaps cogs at times, and also an occasional gentle surge of torque on upshifts that comes unannounced – but almost nothing else to mark each gear as it engages.
Extend the engine’s revs in manual mode and, even in a 2.2-tonne car, the straight six is responsive, flexible and potent; in something half-a-tonne lighter, it’d be ready for a sporting application already – assuming a more positive and consistent shift quality could be tuned in. Power delivery is very linear; the engine pulls beyond 6000rpm notably more freely than JLR's four-pot Ingenium turbos. Audible character, meanwhile, is great: smooth and reserved at low speed, yet quite tuneful through the higher reaches.
Our short test drive didn’t grant a chance to get a really accurate impression of what the HST’s everyday fuel economy might be, but did suggest that 25mpg is achievable on a mix of urban and country roads. Explore the engine’s full range of performance and you’ll see fuel economy drop quickly into the high teens. Anyone expecting economy on a level with that of a SDV6, then, might therefore be in for a slight disappointment – although, if you drive moderately, it certainly seems possible to get a respectable return.
The HST’s ride and handling is for the most part as we’ve reported of other ‘L494’-generation Range Sports – and both still bear comparison pretty well with the very latest arrivals in the luxury 4x4 set. For such a high and heavy car, it remains a very pleasant surprise to find how agile and precise the car feels at cross–country speeds, and just how cleverly its body control juggles a tied-down sense of control with fluent long-wave bump absorption. As a result, the Range Sport still seems like the sort of car that a keen driver should gravitate towards, in a field of very accomplished but often quite remote-feeling luxury SUVs; today, just as it did in 2013.
The one footnote to mention is that our test car’s low speed ride did suffer a bit for the fitment of optional 22in alloy wheels. Although supple at higher speeds, the HST picks up on sharper ridges and raised ironwork in slightly fussy, unbecoming fashion. Thankfully, smaller rims are available.