An electric Range Rover Sport has climbed its own stairway to Heaven to become the first off-roader to ascend the death-defyingly steep 99 hairpin turns and 999-steps of one of China’s most revered national landmarks.
A far cry from the school run, the showroom-standard five-seater British P400e plug-in hybrid 4X4 became the first SUV in the world to make the epic ascent to the top of the ‘Heaven’s Gate’ steps in Hunan Province at the climax of tackling one of China’s and the world’s most challenging and twisting highways.
The challenge began at the bottom of the legendary serpentine seven-mile Tianmen Mountain Road - known as the Dragon Road – with 99 treacherous hair-pin bends snaking like a dragon’s tail.
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Tackling one on China's most treacherous routes: The road winding up Tianmen Mountain consists of 99 hairpin bends
The epic finale was climbing the 45-degree angle staircase of 999 steps leading from the road the peak of China’s legendary Heaven’s Gate natural rock arch using a combination of petrol and electric battery power.
The epic climb – achieved in under 23 minutes - was made by Panasonic Jaguar Formula-E electric car racing driver and test driver Ho-Pin Tung behind the wheel of a Range Rover Sport PHEV petrol-electric SUV.
The Solihull-built 4X4 costs from £70,800 and can run on zero-emission electric power only for up to 31 miles and be fully charged from the mains in under three hours.
The driver was warned before-hand by colleagues that the feat was ‘crazy’ and ‘unheard of’, and more ominously by one Chinese official: ‘If he crashes, he will die.’
Once the Range Rover Sport P400e reached the end of the road it then climbed a 45-degree angle staircase of 999 steps leading to the peak of China’s legendary Heaven’s Gate
How steep is the route? Here's the enormous task the electrified Range Rover took on
Panasonic Jaguar Formula-E electric car racing driver and test driver Ho-Pin Tung took on the monumental feat
But as he emerged through mountain mist to land victorious on the the top of the peak after navigating the 99 hair-pin bends on the road plus the 999 steps to the summit of Heaven’s Gate in a total of 22 minutes and 41 seconds, he said: ’I’m still shaking. The adrenalin is something I’ve never experienced before. The mountain very generously gave us one shot to make it up here.’
He added: ‘I’ve experienced Formula E, Formula 1 and won at the 24 Hours of Le Mans but this was without doubt one of the most demanding driving challenges I’ve ever faced.
‘The Range Rover Sport PHEV performed brilliantly as it inspired real confidence on the mountain road and climbed the stairs up to Heaven’s Gate effortlessly.’
Before the Range Rover and its driver attempted the challenge, Chinese officials had warned Land Rover staff that: ‘If he crashes, he will die’
Tianmen Mountain is a mountain located within Tianmen Mountain National Park, Zhangjiajie, in the northwestern part of Hunan Province, China
Official figures say the mountain is 1,518.6 metres - or 4,982 feet - high
He said he combination of the petrol engine and electric motor helped make short work of the road section of the challenge before showing its uncompromised all-terrain credentials by climbing the steep staircase to the natural rock arch.
Once at the end of the hair-pin road section, the driver set the Range Rover Sport’s Terrain Response system in dynamic mode to tackle the steep 999-step second stage of the challenge to conquer Heaven’s Gate.
Trying to navigate the steps in an enormous two-tonne off-roader with nothing but a view of the 432-foot Tianmen cave - the natural hole in the mountain - and the sky sounds like a fairly unenviable task to us.
The new Range Rover Sport P400e is the first plug-in hybrid the brand has ever sold. You can place an order for one today
The Solihull-built 4X4 costs from £70,800 and can run on zero-emission electric power only for up to 31 miles and be fully charged from the mains in under three hours
No car has ever attempted to reach the peak of the mountain and the eye-poppingly steep walkway of 999 steps
A spokesman for Land Rover said: ‘A dizzying 99 turns and 999 daunting steps didn’t stop the new Range Rover Sport PHEV from completing a world-first at one of China’s most famous landmarks.
'The petrol-electric performance SUV has become the first vehicle to climb the stairs to the natural rock arch of Heaven’s Gate.’
The feat was carried out in China to celebrate the expansion of the UK car-maker – owned by India’s giant TATA industrial group - into the Chinese market in a joint venture with that country’s car-maker Chery.
On sale: Now (first deliveries in Spring)
Price: From £70,800 (P400e in HSE trim)
Engine: 2.0 litre Ingenium 300PS horse-power (296hp) turbo-charged 4-cylinder petrol engine
Electric motor: 85kW electric motor (110PS)
Total power: 410 horse-power (404bhp)
Range on battery power only: 31miles
Battery: High voltage lithium ion
Full charging time: Rapid charge (on 32Amp charger): 2 hours 45 minutes
Domestic charge (10Amp): 7 hours 30 minutes
Top speed: 137mph
0-60mph: 6.3 seconds
Gears: 8-speed auto with manual overdrive
CO2 emissions: 64g/km
Land Rover Experience expert Phil Jones said: ‘This was the hardest Range Rover Sport challenge I’ve ever been involved with because, until we reached the top, we couldn’t categorically say we would succeed.
'By making it to the summit, we’ve proven the phenomenal capability of the Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid like never before – with a genuine world first.’
The Dragon Challenge is the latest in a series of adventures completed by the Range Rover Sport including a record-setting hill-climb at Pikes Peak, USA, a record crossing of the Empty Quarter desert in the Arabian Peninsula and a 2,170m descent of the legendary Inferno downhill course in Mürren, Switzerland.
It also raced against two-time open-water swimming world champion Keri-Anne Payne and endurance athlete Ross Edgley in Devon.
Land Rover Experience expert Phil Jones said it was the hardest Range Rover Sport challenge he'd ever been involved with
The Formula E driver had to first master a treacherous route of hairpin bends and cliff-edge drops to reach to summit
The route is made up of an 11 kilometres (6.8 mile) road with 99 bends that leads all the way up to Tianmen cave, a natural hole in the mountain of a height of 131.5 metres (431 feet)
The Range Rover Sport Engine P400e is powered by a 2.0 litre Ingenium 300 (PS) horse-power (296hp) turbo-charged 4-cylinder petrol engine linked to an 85kW 110 horse-power electric motor and an eight-speed automatic gear-box.
Total power is 410 horse-power (404bhp), equivalent to four Ford Fiestas. It accelerates from rest to 60mph: 6.3 seconds up to a top speed of 137mph.
It can run in zero-emissions electric power only for up to 31 miles, and overall average emissions are just 64g/km.
A full rapid charge on a more powerful 32Amp charger takes 2 hours 45 minutes, increasing to 7 hours and 30 minutes from a standard domestic 10 Amp source.
This is one of the first steps made by the British manufacturer as it looks to switch to electric powertrains ahead of the 2040 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars
The five-seat SUV will not just be the perfect tool for climbing outrageously dangerous mountains - it's also ideal for the school run
The showpiece celebrated the brand's new manufacturing hub in China, which produces 100,000 vehicles every year
Jaguar Land Rover’s joint venture with China’s Chery Automobile Ltd has led to 100,000 vehicles being produced since the opening three years ago of the plant in Changshu, which has an initial capacity for vehicle and engine manufacturing of 130,000 units per year.
The factory produces Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery, the Jaguar XFL and XEL (exclusive for the Chinese market). A second phase of investment will take the overall capacity to 200,000 vehicles
The new Jaguar E-PACE will be manufactured there from this year onwards. Jaguar Land Rover is also building the Ingenium 2.0L four-cylinder petrol engine at its new China plant, as well as at its UK factory in Wolverhampton.