Stirring to life with a violent crack of thunder that settles into a languid bass-heavy burble, the JIA Range Rover Chieftain sounds as brutally imposing and visceral as its’ neo-nostalgic aesthetic would suggest. The brainchild of the UK’s Banbury-based Jensen International Automotive, the Chieftain is a bespoke build reinterpreting the classic Range Rover as a modernized high performance luxury SUV. JIA’s follow-up to the Jensen Interceptor R, the Chieftain is in essence a restored and refurbished classic Range Rover body mated with a previous generation Land Rover Discovery frame and Cadillac CTS-V engine.
Better and more fondly remembered beyond British shores than the 1966-76 Interceptor, the classic 1970-96 Range Rover that the Chieftain channels has more recent resonance as a motoring icon globally and in the Middle East in particular. With broader and younger appeal, the meticulously crafted and engineered Chieftain stands out among the most upscale SUVs. Pitched at – undoubtedly wealthy – drivers with a penchant for exclusivity and for whom the classic Range Rover is a car they once drove or desired, the Chieftain is a viable daily driver that is much improved on the original.
Immediately recognisable as a Range Rover with its uncluttered surfacing, clean lines, utilitarian design, big glasshouse, clamshell bonnet and fascia, the Chieftain is at once evocatively familiar and enticingly fresh. Sitting lower and wider than the original, the Chieftain’s muscularly protruding wheel arches accommodate a wider Discovery track and lend a more squat, urgent and dynamically tense stance. Housed under pronounced arches, its much bigger 20-inch period-style alloy wheels are shod with sticky 275/40R20 tyres to accommodate larger and more effective AP Racing brakes. More subtly, it features more upright and sculpted integrated bumpers.
Powered by a modern General Motors LSA 6.2-litre supercharged V8 engine in place of the Range Rover’s original and now comparatively anemic Buick-derived V8, the Chieftain’s performance matches Land Rover’s own and most recent effort. Developing 556bhp at 6,100rpm and 747Nm of torque at 3800rpm, the Chieftain is capable of the same 4.5-second 0-100kph acceleration us the just launched and updated Range Rover Sport SVR, while top speed is comfortably in excess of 250kph. Rumbling, growling and bellowing is as immediate, indefatigably versatile and urgent in delivery as its little insulated acoustics would suggest.
An effortlessly capable cruiser with plenty of low-end pull and mid-range muscle, the Chieftain is also a blistering hot rod, with an ample torrent of top-end power ensuring defiantly brisk on the move acceleration despite a 2.4-tonne mass and lack of aerodynamic concessions. With all four wheels driven through a GM-sourced transfer, the Chieftain develops tenacious traction, and launches with sure-footed fury from standstill, even in the wet. Smooth and responsive, its’ 6-speed automatic gearbox was somewhat sensitive to downshift two gears on kickdown during test drive, but the software mapping is undergoing fine-tuning.
The first and currently only Chieftain so far runs through open differentials and loses its Discovery donor’s low-ratio transfer, but has plenty of torque on tap for towing. However, as a bespoke build, JIA would be able to look into installing limited-slip differentials, in addition to the traction control system already incorporated. Heavily assisted and longer geared than more modern systems, the Chieftain Discovery-inherited steering is nevertheless an improvement on the classic Range Rover’s. Slightly vague on centre, it however weighs up nicely through corners and delivers better feel and accuracy than expected.
A more road-oriented vehicle with the Discovery’s independent double wishbone sir suspension rather than the old Range Rover’s live axles, the Chieftain is however dynamically more comfortable than its aggressive stance and bodywork would suggest. A different sort of animal than Land Rover’s own SVR, the Chieftain rides smooth and supple over imperfections, despite its low profile tyres, and also feels settled on rebound. Set-up with a bias for comfort as driven, the Chieftain leans somewhat through corners. Nevertheless grip well and feeling balanced, one soon adapts and more confidently exploits its cornering ability.
Stable at speed and well refined from vibration and harshness, wind noise is however expectedly more noticeable given the Range Rover body’s vintage design. The Chieftain’s huge glasshouse, upright design and low waistline however provide excellent visibility, while electric-adjustable driving position is comfortable, and rear and boot space generous. Airy and luxurious inside, the Chieftain’s fresh and thoroughly crafted Monk Design cabin features fine quality leather upholstery, Wilton carpeting, improved aesthetics and ergonomics, and a new centre console with revised rows switchgear rows. Meanwhile, perfectly integrated period-style dashboard-mounted binnacle houses an Aple CarPlay enabled Alpine infotainment system.