Range Rover Sport HSE Dynamic P400e

Driven mag recently had exclusive access to the first Range Rover Sport PHEVs to make landfall in South Africa, and we wasted no time in critically evaluating Land Rover’s answer to growing calls for more hybrid and electric vehicles globally. The question is, however, has the brand’s first stab at a PHEV done enough to be a serious contender in this segment?

Land Rover’s Range Rover line has long been considered the ultimate in luxurious SUV offerings. They’re plush, sophisticated, and elegant, all the while remaining as capable off the road as on it.

Range Rovers have also never been the most fuel-efficient SUVs around, as customers have traditionally demanded big, powerful engines. In a changing world, however, even Range Rovers need to adapt.

Enter the Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. A car that combines an electrified petrol powerplant and battery pack into the Range Rover Sport to improve fuel efficiency and take Range Rover’s first steps into a brave new electrified world.

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

Electrified vehicles can be a lot of fun, with loads of torque and silent operation. Take the thrilling Jaguar i-Pace fully electric SUV that will completely blow your socks off. Hybrid cars offer some of the same thrills, but rely on the combination of internal combustion, battery power, and an electric motor – an obviously cumbersome combination – to achieve some of the same goals.

In the Range Rover Sport HSE Dynamic P400e that **Driven** had on test, the combo is a 221 kW, turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that plays a supporting role to a 116 kW electric motor housed in the eight-speed automatic transmission, all powered by a 13.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

All this translates to a massive 640 Nm worth of torque that is sent to all four wheels via Land Rover’s phenomenal permanent four-wheel-drive system, and to a claimed 6.3-second sprint from zero to 100 km/h.

To achieve this while maintaining a high degree of comfort and a premium feel, requires that all systems work in supreme harmony with one another, and that the power handover between the electric motor, petrol engine, and battery pack happens seamlessly. It also requires the electric-only mode and regenerative braking functions to behave predictably and repeatedly well.

It is a process that manufacturers like Lexus have perfected with their Hybrid, and in the luxury SUV segment, Volvo, with their XC90 T8 Twin-engine PHEV.

While looking great on paper, the Range Rover Sport PHEV doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by other manufacturers who already play in the luxury PHEV SUV space. My biggest gripe is the seemingly unpredictable nature of the drivetrain system combinations.

See, while I tried everything to get the Range Rover to respond in the same way while taking similar trips during our test period, I could seldom predict when the petrol engine would kick in to support the electric motor, and when it did, it was hardly as smooth as one would expect from a vehicle that prices just shy of R1.7 million.

The experience was the same when attempting to use the PHEV’s available 51 km in electric-only mode. Even with this mode engaged, whether gently accelerating or not, the petrol engine would engage under different circumstances that I have yet to comprehend fully.

I’m afraid that the news is not much better on the regenerative braking front, where a somewhat artificial feel dominated the experience. I could also never quite get low-speed braking right, as the brakes were prone to suddenly grab at the last moment, bringing the car to a more abrupt halt that just doesn’t feel the way a Range Rover should.

HIGH ON THE FLY

The Range Rover Sport PHEV redeems itself in other ways, though. Despite being heavier, at 2,471 kg, than most of its competitors – the Volvo XC90 weighs in at 2,350 kg and the Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid at 2,295 kg – the Range Rover’s air suspension makes light work of highway cruising, suburban crawling, and pavement hopping alike, soaking up an acceptable amount of road imperfections despite the car’s massive low-profile tyres and 21” wheels.

Inside, too, the Range Rover Sport PHEV features Jaguar Land Rover’s new touchscreen controls for everything, including climate control, navigation, audio, parking sensors, seat adjustments and more. The Touch Pro Duo system’s controls are distinctive and stylish, with massive 10” panels dominating the contemporary dash layout. Using the touchscreens to make adjustments to the various systems controlled from here, without taking your eyes off the road, does take some getting used to, however. Glare sometimes is a problem too, and Land Rover would do well to look into using anti-glare coatings for these screens.

All things being equal, my mild displeasure with the Touch Pro Duo system faded very quickly, each time I’d push back into the PHEVs plush multi-adjustable leather-covered pews. Land Rover knows luxury, they live its philosophy every day, through every product they make, and the PHEV is no exception.

Rich leather, real wood veneers, and genuine metal trim combine in an environment as opulent as anything. The steering wheel feels perfectly weighted, the digital gauges are bright and attractive, and visibility from the driver’s seat is fantastic.

Seated high, as one would expect from a Range Rover, seeing what’s happening around your vehicle is a cinch. This is not only a bonus in urban environments, but is crucial for off-roading, where the Range Rover, PHEV or not, really comes into its own.

Compared to our pick of direct rivals, the Range Rover dominates in terms of wading depth, ground clearance, and general off-road capability. Carrying capacity also exceeds that of its competitors, and rear passengers can look forward to more legroom than other vehicles in the same market segment.

LAST WORD

Given the rapid pace at which electric and hybrid vehicles are making their appearance in manufacturers’ model line-ups, it is understandable that applications will not be as well-executed as others. In short, the hybrid powertrain in the Range Rover Sport PHEV could do with additional development work for it to ascend to the level of effortless luxury of other Range Rover products. It’s not a deal-breaker here, and the PHEV Sport is an excellent first try for Range Rover. Brand fans won’t likely abandon the option in favour of a Scandinavian or German rival. Still, convincing first-time luxury SUV buyers of the same may prove a little trickier for the British carmaker.

By Driven Magazine