Driven: Range Rover P400e PHEV prototype

Driven: Range Rover P400e PHEV prototype
Driven: Range Rover P400e PHEV prototype

Once it’s polished up for sale, the Range Rover PHEV will add new depth to Land Rover’s range

Anyone who’s been in a modern Range Rover might wonder how you could make it any more refined and luxurious.

Turns out there is a way to do that, and it’s through electricity.

An odd phenomenon has been happening in the world of electric vehicles. Whereas traditionally any new tech goes into big, luxurious cars first, electric and plug-in hybrid technology has so far tended to go into one-offs and small cars.

The result has been £30,000-plus city cars that have been bought by only a few, hindering rather than advancing the cause of electrification. It’s particularly odd given the fact that electric drivetrains bring a deal of premium refinement and peace, which you would have thought would be perfect for big and expensive cars.

Range Rover P400e PHEV

Price: £86,965
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol plus electric motor
Power: 398bhp (combined)
Torque: 472lb ft (combined)
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 2509kg
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 6.4sec
Fuel economy: 101mpg
CO2 rating: 64g/km

Anyway, things are gradually sorting themselves out, and here’s the latest and most luxurious car to get the small ‘e’ at the end of its name: the Range Rover. Here, and in the Range Rover Sport, is Jaguar Land Rover’s first plug-in hybrid drivetrain, a 296bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium turbocharged petrol engine teaming up with a 114bhp electric motor located inside an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

There’s a 13.1kWh lithium ion battery pack at the back of the car that’s charged from a connection in the front grille. Giving up to 31 miles of electric-only driving at up to 85mph, this battery will charge fully in 2hr 45mins from a 32-amp wallbox charger.

Despite appearances, the Range Rover body the hybrid system is occupying in this close-to-production prototype has been quite heavily revised, promising the highest state of luxury and comfort ever. As it stands, the prototype’s management of switching between electric and petrol isn’t ultra-smooth, the brakes are a bit on-or-off, and the additional weight of the hybrid hardware has roughed up the ride in this near 2.5-tonne SUV. These are the areas Land Rover engineers will be addressing before the P400e goes on sale next year.

One other virtue of the electric motor’s inherent zero-rpm torque is a likely improvement in off-road performance, with even better control on more extreme terrain.

What might be a more difficult issue to resolve is the refinement and power of the four-cylinder engine when the battery juice runs out. Whereas the big V6 and V8 diesels have no trouble in hauling these big Landies about, the 2.0-litre four is under greater pressure. Making best use of your 31 electric miles will be important. The P400e’s default mode is Parallel Hybrid, in which the engine and electric motor work together to create the optimal mix of performance and economy. You can then opt to run it in pure EV mode, which we would think would give the best refinement, or to save your electricity for later use. To access this Save mode, though, you need to dig through quite a few touchscreen menus. Given its potential usefulness we’d have preferred to see this as a panel button.

There is a hatful of new features to confirm that, hybrid drivetrain apart, this is more than a light refresh. The body is stiffer, the steering is designed to be more talkative (we struggled to notice that, though it did have extra weight), and the car gets thicker quietening glass along with the Range Rover Velar’s dual infotainment system.

Perhaps the most significant change is the arrival of new seats. You’d be happy to have these wide and supremely comfy perches in your living room. They’re electrically adjustable via new door panel-located switches and they will also massage, heat or cool your body. Very good.

As noted, more work is needed on the Range Rover P400e before its March 2018 launch, but our short and pleasant drive in the identically-powered Range Rover Sport 400e – a model that’s slightly ahead of the Range Rover in the development process – gives us cause for optimism.

Assuming the Sport’s attributes are carried forward to the Range Rover, the eventual result should be a good tool for those who mainly do short urban journeys and who can survive on mainly electric power. Land Rover believes that one in five buyers fall into that category – the same number who need long range and world-class refinement, and who will still opt for a big diesel.

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