By Miguel Davide
There are a few things you don’t expect to find yourself feeling in the automotive world. One is that a vehicle that’s less powerful would turn out to be your favorite. But hats off to Land Rover for making that happen, because it means that their new Range Rover Sport P400e hybrid could very well be a no-brainer purchase. Mind you, if you have $95,150 for the forthcoming, 2019 hybridized Range Rover, you have a lot of options already. And the fact that the hybrid version of the Range Rover Sport won’t feel like you’ve made some grand bargain—because it’s the most un-hybrid-like hybrid we’ve driven—is a net plus, both for the Land Rover brand, and for the future of hybrids and EVs.
Land Rover has wisely trashed the notion that the purchaser of a hybrid needs to also opt in to an ad campaign via the shape of their vehicle. And while this is a plug-in hybrid—a model that can roll over 31 miles on no gas at all, and cruise at up to 85mph without firing up the 2.0-liter gas engine—you can’t spy a plug-in door on the rig’s flank, because it’s not there. Instead it’s hidden on the driver’s side of the grille, just below the E and R in the “Rover” badging, beneath the hood. This preserves the clean lines of the rear haunch of the Range Rover and puts the charge access where you actually need it. Bear in mind that in malls and parking lots all over the US charge stations are nearly always at the head of a parking space, not beside it, and it’s not always easy to back into a space. So this location is also more convenient.
You’d guess that with a mere 2.0-liter four-cylinder the P400e would be a dog, but that isn’t the case. First, that four-banger puts out 296hp, and when combined with the electric motor, the combined output is 398hp. The bigger factor: torque is 472 lb feet at only 1,500rpm, so off the line that’s enough stomp to best even the Range Rover’s Supercharged V8 you could get instead. Mash the throttle and the 5,532-pound P400e jumps, especially from a standstill, or when you need passing power. Also, there’s a hidden secret about this hybrid—it’s never, ever out of electric power. Sure, you can run it on electric-only range for 31 miles, and then the gas engine will bubble to life, and you’ll need it for motivation. However, the lithium-ion battery system saves a little bit in reserve, and is recharged from zero almost instantly. The result is that even the seemingly depleted battery system always has the few seconds of passing or accelerating propulsion you need, whenever you need it.
Two things matter off-road: torque, and getting power to all four wheels. Land Rover of all brands knows this, and if anything, this new Range Rover has an even better setup than a gas- or diesel-powered model. It still has nearly 12 inches of ground clearance and the electric powertrain delivers instant torque at every wheel, so you can modulate output very gently. We drove our vehicle in some thick mud on an estate about two hours outside London (where the weather had just been snow and sleet), and had no problem getting through the thickest mess, or more subtly gaining momentum and keeping it going for very steep climbs. There’s something else to consider here, too: silent running. That is, by switching to full electric mode we were able to drive along in the woods and, with the windows down, hear birds chirping.
The $113,600 Range Rover Sport SVR that debuted alongside the P400e is the elephant in the room. With 575hp it tops out at 176mph, but as you might guess, it rides more stiffly. It has to, given the performance aims of the fastest Range Rover Sport in the line-up. But if you don’t live somewhere where the roads aren’t beat up, you might find that flinty ride a bit much. Whereas the P400e feels serene, yet still corners accurately, and despite its heft, doesn’t drive “heavy,” or make you work too hard to hurl it around sweeping corners. The brakes are excellent, too, something we noticed when traffic slammed to a halt and we were forced to stand on them suddenly.
We were also driven in the P400e, and silent operation is also an advantage here, especially in stop-and-go traffic as you easily can carry on a conversation or enjoy the relative silence. Because the vehicle features a whopping 14 power-point options, from USBs to a wall-plug socket for keeping your laptop charged (and in-car WiFi for up to eight devices), it’s understandable that the brand is seeing its limo business grow. Regardless of where you sit, this is a very cosseting cabin. New front seats have thinner and more supportive foams, so even during a long day of driving, we were very comfortable—and hydrated, thanks to an armrest-mounted fridge that’s big enough to hold two-liters of water. While we still find the dual 10-inch touchscreen displays a bit of tech overkill (and Land Rover is hardly alone in thinking buyers want dazzling interfaces instead of simplicity), here the new head’s-up display and pairing to an app that allows streaming from the likes of TuneIn allow a reasonable navigation and entertainment workaround. The head’s-up means the driver doesn’t have to spy the center console to stay safely on track and the audio can be tuned easily from the steering wheel (with track info showing up in the instrument cluster).
There’s no word yet on EPA fuel economy, and we doubt it will match anything like that of a Prius. Instead, this is a smart alternative for a customer who would never buy a base hybrid economy rig. It can go anywhere. It’s silent in city traffic. The EV-only range seems legitimate. (There are many hybrids where that’s not true.) Plus, the compromises you might feel you’d have to make with other hybrids aren’t on display here. Just beware when you nose into the electric-charge spot and eyebrows from that Tesla driver go up.
Charing image courtesy of Land Rover, all other images by Miguel Davide