I was as surprised as anyone when news emerged that Jaguar Land Rover was working on a brand new inline-six engine. Even discovering that it would be a modular design based on the same Ingenium chassis as the existing four-pot didn’t dampen my curiosity. A new six-cylinder engine is a rare event these days.
The automotive world, as we know, is shuffling towards electrification. Jaguar already has its i-Pace, the beautifully-designed giant that hides its size within graceful curves and gives us all hope that electric cars won’t always be the gawky, awkward class nerds that they’ve been until recently. There’s the electrified E-Type, too, and others are converting humbler donor cars to electric power, like the classic Mini.
To make room for electrification budgets, combustion engine development is now on a rapid slow-down. Volvo has already committed to its recently-launched diesel motor being its very last. The versatile EA888 2.0-litre four-pot found across the Volkswagen Group has been troubling tyres for 10 years and looks set for a minimum of seven or eight more – an unprecedented production run by the standards of this century.
Elsewhere, new engines are appearing mostly as small, efficient units with turbochargers. They power the smaller classes of car and have a big hand in lowering a company’s average emissions tally on the cars it sells. On the more interesting spectrum, all-new mainstream engines are becoming a little like hen’s teeth.
That said, Mercedes-AMG is another company to buck the trend recently, courtesy of its own new straight-six. It’s been placed into a series of ‘53’-badged AMG models as a mild-hybrid power option to appeal, weirdly, to a more lifestyle-oriented buyer. But aside from Benz and JLR, the pickings are arguably going a bit stale.
It makes sense, financially. There are much bigger emissions cuts to be made via electrification versus refining engines. But it’s that exact point that makes JLR’s decision to build a new six-pot that much more remarkable. It already has a plug-in hybrid drivetrain in the Range Rover P400e, so with a quick Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V could start to flip it into anything with the ageing Ford-built V6, physical space permitting.
Jaguar and Land Rover have chosen a different path, a path that opens up a treasure trove of possible new headline-grabbers. We can expect the I6 engine to slot into models like the Range Rover Sport HST with only mild hybrid assistance, but we know the Ingenium engine family will work with plug-in tech as well. Imagine the P400e, for example, which currently serves a total of 398bhp (soon to be more like 440bhp), with two extra cylinders and another 100bhp.
Even the standard 395bhp would make an interesting partner for the hot ends of JLR’s sportier ranges. If the F-Type is replaced with an all-new model it should be based around the I6. Sporty ‘S’ or ‘R’ models could use it, maybe tweaked above 400bhp. You can even imagine plug-in versions of the Range Rover, XF or F-Pace, pushing out over 550bhp and rendering obsolete the old V8 that does so badly in efficiency testing. As we know, plug-in cars – if they’re regularly plugged in – can record bizarrely high fuel economy and emissions even Greenpeace wouldn’t moan too hard about.
JLR’s new six is a door-opener. It gives us a glimpse of a next decade or more where Jaguar and Land Rover refuse to give up on what makes them classically British at heart; a little rebellious and endearingly slow to change. This gentlemanly new engine lays foundations for powerful, exciting and frugal models that can hopefully blend heritage with efficiency. We should celebrate its arrival, because there won’t be many more brand new mainstream engines with more than four cylinders to come, ever again.
It’s exciting to think of all the products that could be built around such a powerful, smooth and interesting engine. Above all, it’s proof that good old combustion can still grab our attention and hold it, even as the world seems to be turning its back.