• Spike Ballantine

Range Rover Sport P400e HSE

Prefer audio? You'll find the podcast version of this review here.

Car review Range Rover Sport P400e HSE Hybrid SUV

Not so long ago, a car only had to have a defined mix of credentials to be considered the pinnacle of motoring: style, luxury and performance. These days, there’s a crucial element that’s been added to that list, and any model or brand that wants to be seen as top of its class has to incorporate that element in their makeup: efficiency. While the electric revolution is still some years from being full blown, car makers are relying on a mix of traditional and alternative power to deliver that promise of efficiency, and it’s called the hybrid.

The Range Rover Sport has been around in its current form since 2013, but with the next generation likely only two years away - probably slightly more now thanks to Corona - it’s still as relevant as ever. Midway through 2019, Land Rover bolted an electric drive component onto their Si4 model, to create the Range Rover Sport 400e Plug-in Hybrid.

There are a few things to note about the pluggable-in version of the Range Rover Sport: first, it’s not available in the lower spec, so if you absolutely have to have a hybrid, then you absolutely have to buy an HSE spec (or higher). For the extra money, you also get less load space and a smaller fuel tank.

Those last two items are fairly minor - Land Rover deleted 80 litres of load space to make way for the hybrid drive’s batteries. The smaller fuel tank? Well, you still get 90 litres, as opposed to the standard 102 litres, and I’m pretty sure 90 litres is good enough for most Range Rover Sport applications. Another important thing to note: Range Rover will tell you the average fuel consumption for the 400e is 2.8 litres per hundred kilometres. It’s not, and it never will be.

I would love to tell you how they got to that figure, but an internet deep dive on how hybrid fuel consumption is worked out led to a long, dark, deep hole that requires severe insider knowledge and many degrees in engineering. I have none of that, but I do have previous experience of hybrid driving - and in none of those experiences has the claimed fuel consumption been anywhere close to the real world figure.

The best consumption figure I saw in my time with the 400e was 9.2, and that was off a full charge and a decent bit of open road driving. Admittedly, it’s not too bad a figure for a car its size with a petrol motor, but still - it raises the question: why opt for the 400e with its smaller boot and higher price tag? Why not just go for the regular Si4 Range Rover Sport?

The simple answer is more power! In practice, it feels great to get off the line in a hurry thanks to the beautiful instant torque of the electric motor, followed very quickly by the shove of the 2.0 4-cylinder turbo. On the move, it delivers impressive performance when you consider that from a size point of view, this is a relatively modest drivetrain for such a big car.

The 85kW electric motor that’s been added to the 400e brings total system output to 297kW and 640Nm, which improves performance by about 10% compared to the Si4. 0-100km/h takes 6.7 seconds, and top speed is 220km/h. There is also the ability to cruise on electric power only, of course. A full charge will take about seven-and-a-half hours if you’re plugging in to a regular socket, or about two hours forty-five using their 32amp wall box, after which Land Rover claims the 400e will cover up to 51 silent kilometres.

I’ve driven a lot of electric cars and I’m still not tired of the sensation of seeing the world go by without engine rumble. No doubt, engine noise and exhaust note are great in the right car on the right kind of drive; but a silent drive does a lot to de-stress the commute.

The 400e is very good at adding the engine into the mix when it needs to, quite subtly firing it up and very smoothly adding its power to the drive. The mix of energy required for any drive can be decided in a few ways: it’s obviously easiest to let the car do all the thinking for you - which is especially impressive with its Predictive Energy Optimisation function. Set your destination in the standard nav system, and it’ll plot the most efficient route using altitude information - because more downhills and coasting means more opportunities for harvesting regenerative energy. Alternatively, you can ask it to keep the battery at a particular charge level, and then drop it into full electric mode when it suits you. And when might you use that combination of functions?

One option would be to drive between built-up areas - leave one town on battery power, then cruise efficiently on the highway using the petrol motor, before switching back to electric in the next town’s stop-start traffic. And I guess that’s what they might do with a hybrid setup in Europe or the States; but in South Africa, we have another use for it - especially in a Range Rover.

Not far from most cities - close enough for a day trip anyway - you’ll find a game reserve of some kind, even if it’s just a small one. Electric driving in the city is great; electric driving through a game reserve is even better. Spotting wildlife while listening to nothing but the gravel being crunched beneath the tyres, and being wrapped up in Range Rover luxury, is a unique experience.

And if you want to get adventurous, the hybrid drive in the 400e doesn’t compromise the Range Rover’s off-road ability; in fact, it improves it slightly. The 4x4 setup is identical to the regular Range Rover Sport - that means the same approach and departure angles, the same air suspension, and low-range gearing. The improvement comes from the Terrain Response system, now calibrated to include the electric motor which can deliver instant torque to all four wheels, which in theory makes for more manageable dirt driving.

Not many Range Rover Sports - especially ones specced with the 22” wheels on our test car - will ever see even the mild off-roading we did on that little trip, which is a pity, for a few reasons.

Firstly, because it is such a capable off-roader: I’ve experienced some real adventures in some truly wild parts of the world behind the wheel of a Range Rover. The second reason is that, once you leave the dirt and get back onto the tar for the drive home, you get to experience what an all-round talent the Range Rover is.

There are few - if any - cars in the world that have the ability to drive you in real luxury to faraway places, then take you on an adventure, and then drive you home again with the pace and poise of a Range Rover Sport. It’s not an ultimately involving drive, it doesn’t give you tons of steering feel or chassis feedback, but there’s enough grip to give you the confidence to push it through some challenging corners, and enough ability to make sure it delivers you safely to the other side of those corners with a smile on your face.

And no matter where - or how - you’re driving the 400e, there are lashings of comfort and tech. The dual screen setup of the centre console is simultaneously an impressive and great looking piece of equipment, giving you effortless access to the car’s systems via a stylish interface. The touch controls on the steering wheel, with their changeable displays feel great, and are equally good looking.

The space is generous, the seats are all-electric units, there are more charge points than any one family is even likely to need (including a 220V electrical socket) and the luxury even extends to the gesture-activated sunblind for the panoramic roof. There really is nothing to complain about in here.

The complaint - if there is a one - is about the price. The Range Rover Sport 400e costs R265 000 more than a model with the same same spec but without the hybrid drive. For the extra money, you essentially get a little bit more performance, slightly improved off-road ability and mildly improved efficiency. And when you consider how good the “regular” Range Rover is, does buying the 400e PHEV make sense?

Well, unless you really want silent game drives, or to impress your neighbours with your pluggable-in SUV, the answer to that question is… Probably not.

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