Land Rover is getting into the electric SUV game. Two small steps at a time.
The British automaker has plans to add fully battery-powered vehicles to its lineup in the future, but for now it’s launching a pair of plug-in hybrids. One of them is a Range Rover, the other the Range Rover Sport HSE P400e. They share a drivetrain that aims to be more efficient, but just as potent as the company’s similarly priced six-cylinder gasoline engines. I tested it in the smaller hybrid Sport.
It combines a 296 hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a 114 hp electric motor nestled between it and eight-speed automatic transmission and offers several driving modes. It can work like a regular hybrid, shuffling between the two propulsion systems as needed and teaming up to provide up to 398 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque on demand. That’s good for an athletic 0-60 mph sprint of 6.3 seconds. When it does, it slowly drains its 13.1-kilowatt-hour battery pack to maximize efficiency, unless you switch to Hold mode to save the juice for a special, silent occasion.
Even then, it will call the electric motor into service when you floor the accelerator and need a burst of full power. The opposite occurs if it’s locked in electric mode, which it can be for up to 31 miles, according to Range Rover. That number converts to 50 kilometers, which has become something of a benchmark for European plug-in hybrids targeted at the coming era of zero-emissions zones that require a minimum level of battery-powered range to enter, or at least to avoid paying tolls when you do. A full recharge takes less than three hours on a 220-volt charger, but 14 hours on a 110 outlet, which makes it a tight squeeze between the evening and morning commutes.
In the U.S. the battery size is big enough for the $80,295 SUV to qualify for a $7,087 federal tax credit, putting a bit of space between it and the all-electric Tesla Model X SUV. The Model X starts at $84,240 as of this writing, after subtracting its smaller credit of $1,875, which drops to $0 at the end of the year. More to the point, the hybrid Sport is about two grand less than the conventional six-cylinder version in the HSE trim.
For that, the hybrid Sport comes well-equipped with an air suspension that can lift it up with 10.9 inches of ground clearance, a two-speed all-wheel-drive system and a set of snazzy 20-inch wheels you’d never dream of taking off-road or through water more than a yard deep.
You can do both of those things with some authority in it, which really can’t be said of the Tesla or any of the other plug-in hybrid luxury SUVs out there, including those from Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. It's a clean machine that doesn't mind getting dirty. Nevertheless, it is adept at the urban grind and can quietly waft through town on its cushiony suspension if you take it easy enough to avoid bringing the gasoline motor to life. If you do, the four-cylinder is hushed rather than harsh.
The hybrid Sport was expected to debut with the rest of the updated 2019 lineup but will be a 2020 year vehicle when it arrives in showrooms in a few weeks. The biggest change to the model range is the adoption of the dual-screen control system on the center console that debuted last year with the Range Rover Velar which is a big improvement over the brand’s past efforts. It splits the infotainment system functions and other car controls between them and a pair of knobs embedded into the lower screen that reconfigure themselves for different functions.
The Sport also offers the latest version of Range Rover’s driver assist systems in a $4,000 option package that includes a 360-degree camera, automatic emergency brakes and a strong lane-keeping system that holds the vehicle right between the lines as long as you’re holding onto the wheel. Move it around yourself on a twisty road and you’ll find the hybrid Sport to be as eager and responsive as a 5500-pound behemoth can be. (Interestingly, that’s almost identical to its tow rating of 5,511 pounds.)
The hybrid Sport hasn’t received an official EPA fuel economy rating yet, but if it scores better than the 21 mpg combined six-cylinder gasoline models – not to mention the 24 mpg diesel that’s also available – it’ll make a stronger case for itself than many plug-in hybrids do.
2020 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE P400e
Base price: $80,295
As tested: $93,200
Type: 4-door, 5-passenger all-wheel-drive SUV
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with electric motor assist
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 398 hp, 472 lb-ft torque
Electric range: 31 miles