Range Rover’s first hybrid SUVs are almost here, and we’ve driven one


LOS ANGELES—When it comes to forward-looking automakers, Jaguar Land Rover sits toward the head of the pack. Its first long-range battery electric vehicle—the Jaguar I-Pace—goes on sale in 2018, and the company was one of the first to announce it would electrify its entire lineup by 2020. That doesn’t mean every new Jaguar and Land Rover will be a BEV, but each model will offer a plug-in hybrid EV option, with 48v “mild” hybrids rounding out the range. Earlier this fall we found out that the first PHEV powertrains will be available in the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport SUVs, and at this year’s LA Auto Show we got the chance to drive one of the preproduction prototypes.

Both the Range Rover P400e and Range Rover Sport P400e use the same 398hp (297kW) powertrain. On the internal combustion side, there’s a 296hp (221kW) 2.0L four-cylinder Ingenium gasoline engine. Between it and the gearbox there’s also an 85kW (116hp) electric motor, fed by a 13.1kWh lithium-ion battery. Both cars have an electric-only range of up to 31 miles (51km).

We opted to try out the Range Rover Sport, a rather fetching red example. As a model year 2019 vehicle, the P400e benefits from the same new high-tech interior first seen in the Velar. As befits the king of the luxury SUV segment, it’s a wonderful place to park your butt, with excellent visibility all around and plenty of high-quality leather everywhere. That feeling of all-encompassing luxury is only enhanced by electric power as you glide away from a stop in utter silence, undisturbed by the noise or vibration of a piston engine. But don’t expect to break any speed records with purely electric power; those 85kW have to move 5,447lbs (2,471kg). After that relative peace and quiet, it can be a little jarring when the internal combustion engine joins the party.

Even if it hadn’t been adorned with decals marking it as a preproduction prototype, that was quickly obvious from the driver’s seat. The well-appointed cabin—which uses the new cabin UX first debuted in the Range Rover Velar—featured a bright red kill button filling one of the cupholders. Likewise, the driving experience was slightly rough around the edges, with the P400e firing up the engine from time to time despite having been set to EV-only mode.

That impression continued during our drive, a 15-minute affair on the streets surrounding the LA Convention Center. When I floored the P400e, there was a noticeable lag before things really got moving. It’s possible this was also due to the fact we were in a prototype, so I’ll cut the engineers some slack for now. But it’s something that might need to be addressed, particularly in the Range Rover Sport version. (In the regular Range Rover, it’ll probably be less of a problem given the somewhat different nature of that car, which just wants to waft everywhere, serenely.)

PHEV SUVs FTW

Philosophically, the P400e powertrain is more like the one found in Porsche’s Cayenne S E-Hybrid than Volvo’s XC90 T8, which uses its internal combustion engine to drive the front wheels and the electric motor solely for the rear wheels. But the driving experience is much closer to the big Swede than the German vehicle. All three have relatively similar power and torque, and none qualifies as a featherweight (the Volvo is the lightest, the Range Rover Sport the heaviest), but the Porsche is the only one that really feels eager to get going. Still, variety is the spice of life, as they say. After years of consumers opting for bigger, heavier, thirstier SUVs, the fact that yet another one is available as a PHEV is surely grounds for some celebration.

The Range Rover P400e and Range Rover Sport P400e both go on sale next year, and closer to that time we should know how much you’ll have to pay if you want one in your garage.

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