The power of nostalgia
Digging tenaciously into the slick tarmac, the Range Rover Chieftain piles on velocity with a relentless urge set to a pounding deep bass mid-range staccato soundtrack layered with background supercharger whine as the revs rise. Disdainfully indefatigable, it gains speed on highways with effortless verve in the face of high wind and driving rain despite 1970s brick shed aerodynamics. Uncannily satisfying in its combination of classic design and modern muscle, the Chieftain’s lush, airy leather-bound cabin and unimpeded views are meanwhile the antithesis of most modern super-SUV’s slunk, hunkered down driving position.
Banbury-based Jensen International Automotive’s (JIA) follow-up to the modernized Interceptor R revival of the iconic classic British grand tourer, the Chieftain follows a similar, yet more complex, recipe. Similar in intent, the Chieftain however has more global aspirations and younger clients in its sights. Expected to appeal to a broader base than the more UK-centric 1966-76 Interceptor, the Chieftain is too a thoroughly more modern, luxurious and powerful reinterpretation, likely to be well-received by those with more recent rose-tinted recollections of, or aspirations to own, the original 1970-96 Range Rover.
A more recent global motoring icon, the Chieftain is pitched with Middle East markets in mind, given the original Range Rover’s resonance in the region, and the GCC region’s particular love for large, powerful, personalized and exclusively luxurious SUVs. That said, cars don’t really get more exclusive than this, with only a single example of the Chieftain as of going to press. In terms of exclusivity, JIA’s bespoke build approach allows its obviously wealthy clients to commission a truly personalized vehicle from the ground up.
Developed as a luxuriously comfortable high performance daily driver with robust, reliable and easily serviceable drive-line, the Chieftain is built by mating a previous generation Land Rover Discovery frame to a classic Range Rover five-door body. Repaired and restored as necessary, the Chieftain’s fundamentals are shared with the Discovery, and include light, long-geared steering and independent double wishbone air suspension rather than the classic Range Rover’s more agricultural live axles. Meanwhile underneath, the Chieftain is powered by good old American brute force, lifted straight from the last generation Cadillac CTS-V.
Evocatively familiar yet fresh and more obviously potent in intent, the Chieftain retains the original Range Rover’s uncluttered surfacing, clean lines, utilitarian design, clamshell bonnet, iconic fascia and big glasshouse. However, sitting lower and wider on the road, it has a more intense and urgent stance, with more sculpted, angular and upright integrated bumpers. Meanwhile, huge protruding wheel-arches accommodate the Discovery’s wider track and large bespoke retro period-style 20-inch alloy wheels shod with 275/40R20 tires in turn accommodate larger and more effective AP Racing brakes.
As visceral and imposing in sound as sight, the Chieftain’s contemporary General Motors LSA 6.2-liter supercharged V8 replaces the original’s modest Buick-derived V8. Coughing to life with a resonant thunder before settling to a bass-laden idling burble, the Chieftain’s performance is comparable with Jaguar Land Rover’s own blisteringly quick Range Rover Sport SVR. Rocketing through zero-to-100 km/h in 4.5-seconds and capable of over 250 km/h, the Chieftain produces 564 metric horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 747 Nm torque at 3,800 rpm. Gloriously rumbling, growling and bellowing, it is violently quick when prodded, with immediate responses and a seemingly bottomless torque reservoir.
Slightly insulated from its evocative engine and exhaust notes, the 2.4-tonne Chieftain is languidly yet effortlessly versatile at low-end and mid-range, but brimming with top-end urgency, which arrives in a sweeping, seamless, consistent and progressive torrent. Driving all four wheels with a GM-sourced transfer, the Chieftain develops plenty of wet weather traction and road-holding levels, and allows one to confidently deploy much of its huge performance envelope. Smoothly responsive, its GM-sourced six-speed automatic gearbox seemed sensitive kicking down on throttle input, but the driven car is set for further software re-mapping.
Intended primarily for on-road use, the Chieftain drives through open differentials and features a traction control system, but loses its Discovery donor’s low-ratio transfer. Nevertheless, its vast torque reserves do however allow for easy town and somewhat compensate for off-road driving. However, and depending on customer requirement, JIA could install limited-slip or locking differentials. An improvement on the original Range Rover’s vague steering, the Chieftain’s Discovery-inherited steering is only slightly vague on center, but weighs up well through corners and provides better feel and accuracy than anticipated.
Set up for a high level of ride comfort despite low profile tires and what its aggressive styling might suggest, the Chieftain is a different, more laid back vehicle than modern high performance SUVs. Supple and smooth over imperfectly textured roads with its forgiving air suspension biased for comfort, the Chieftain leans more noticeably through corners, but is nonetheless tidy in, balanced and grippy through corners. Confident in winding switchbacks, one soon adapts to its old school charm. Settled on rebound, it is also stable at speed and refined from vibration and harshness.
Sitting high and upright, the Chieftain cabin has an undeniably retro feel with its low waistline and vast glasshouse providing both more exposure and confidence to place it on road than a modern SUV. Classy and thoroughly well finished, the Chieftain’s new Monk Design cabin features fine leathers, Wilton carpeting, improved ergonomics, new center console, revised switchgear and a perfectly integrated period-style dashboard-mounted binnacle with embedded Apple CarPlay-enabled Alpine infotainment system. Spacious inside, the Chieftain also features electrically-adjustable seats, while its vintage body’s wind noise is reduced somewhat with new door seals.
Engine: 6.2L, V8 supercharged, 564 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 747 Nm @ 3,800 rpm
6-speed automatic, 4WD
0-100km/h: 4.5 secs, top speed: 250 km/h+
Weight: 2,386 kg
Price: UK: £250,000
Pros: Style, power, performance, cabin, modernized daily use classic, visibility, sound, supple and spacious comfort, reassuring stability and road-holding
Cons: Wind noise, no limited slip or locking differentials, no low ratio transfer, tall steering gearing
Rivals: Range Rover Sport SVR, Mercedes-AMG G63, Bentley Bentayga
Rating: 4.5 stars