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No manufacturer to date has been able to deliver a hybrid 4WD vehicle capable of driving off-road trails in low range solely on electricity—until now. The Range Rover and Range Rover Sport P400e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) will be the first, when they hit our shores in the summer of 2018.

Thanks to crisply-designed and luxurious products, Rover sales in the U.S. have been trending up. Last year the company sold more than 65,000 vehicles. And that, of course, speaks to Americans’ rabid desire for SUVs. The most recent November 2017 sales figures show the brand has gained 20 percent over last year.

“Looking forward, we are confident we are going to wrap-up 2017 with another record growth year,” said Joe Eberhardt, President and CEO, Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC.

Land Rover hasn’t announced how many of the PHEV Range Rovers it plans to sell. But it’s likely the new hybrid models will only add incrementally to the total sales picture next year. Regardless of volume, these machines are exceptionally important to Land Rover. They are the crucial first steps towards the brand’s eventual electrification. And they are certainly steps in the right direction. 

“When we designed the aluminum architecture for Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, we knew we wanted to electrify it,” says Land Rover Vehicle Engineering Senior Manager Lynfel Owen. “It was also very important, from a complexity point of view, to maintain the suspension articulation and all the off-road performance.”

To accomplish that goal, Owen’s team turned to powertrain supplier ZF for an essential component. The P400e uses a ZF gearbox that packages eight speeds, an 85-kW electric motor and dual clutches inside an automatic transmission case. That allowed engineers to bolt the same 4WD transfer case it uses on the conventionally-powered Range Rover to the back of the transmission—without re-engineering any chassis components. Under the hood of the P400e is Land Rover’s new “Ingenium” 2.0-liter four-cylinder in that engine’s most potent form delivering 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Land Rover says the combined output of the powertrain is 398 hp, hence the 400e nameplate.

“Four-cylinder turbocharged engines are excellent at delivering refined performance at low speed. And you get the benefits of turbocharging when you work that engine harder too,” says Owen. “So, the gas four-cylinder gives you that duality of performance. And that really complements a PHEV powertrain.”

Underneath the cargo area sits an aluminum-cased 13.1-kWh battery pack that Land Rover developed with Samsung. And to fit the pack, the cargo floor is raised by about an inch and a half. There’s a 7-kW on-board charger and the pack can be fully charged in just under 3 hours using quick charging. And because these Rovers are wide, the charge port is integrated into the grill instead of the side of the vehicle. The battery pack allows the P400e to drive up to 30 miles on pure electric power and cruise up to 85 mph. That range is certainly competitive. But it’s the blending, distribution and tuning of that gas and electric power that make it a Land Rover.

5 Things Land Rover Got Right with the 2018 Range Rover PHEV and Range Rover Sport PHEV

Behind the shifter is an EV mode button that when pressed allows the Rover to drive solely on electric power. This function is available only in specific modes within the Terrain Response system—auto, comfort, mud and ruts and grass, gravel, snow.

“In rock crawl [mode], we found in testing that even though the torque was excellent for low-speed maneuvers in places like Moab, we had better performance using both engine and electric combined,” says Owen. “Rock crawling tends to be a very long, slow and precise process. And we don’t want to use up the battery, get halfway down the trail and then have the engine kick in at some crucial moment and upset the chassis.”

He also explained that sand mode requires gas and electric power too. The heat of the typical desert environment combined with the heavy drag on the tires from deep sand and high A/C loads would deplete the battery very quickly. And while these PHEVs maintain the Range Rover’s 35.4-inch water fording capability, it’s not recommended to attempt that depth in EV mode. That’s because with the engine off, a water crossing will flood the exhaust and leave behind muddy deposits that will, eventually, ruin the catalytic converter.

The P400e offers some unique features that should make it appealing to those who stay on pavement too. The Rover’s “save” function allows the driver to essentially freeze the battery level until you want to use it. Rover’s Predictive Energy Optimization program can be enabled when using the navigation system and using elevation data from the maps, make your route as efficient as it can be. For example, the quickest route might be completely flat. But the system might see a hilly side route that will allow more electric use. The system knows that it can use electric power to crest the top of these hills because it will replenish the pack on the way back down through regen. And more time using electricity means more fuel is saved.

Speaking of the navigation system, for 2018 both the Range Rover and Sport receive a major interior upgrade. The new Touch Pro Duo dual ten-inch screens for infotainment are backed by next-generation hardware and look brilliant. The touchscreens are flanked by two large knobs to control HVAC and seat heat, cooling and massage functions. The Terrain Response system functions are adjusted with a traditional knob behind the shifter or, for the first time, through the touchscreen. Range Rovers also receive new optional seating systems front and rear that are softer, offer a wider range of adjustment and much more comfort than before.

The Execution

Land Rover’s philosophy about hybrids is different than some. Instead of aero body modifications, tiny wheels with low rolling resistance tires and billboard-like “hybrid” graphics—Land Rover keeps it all very low key. In fact, the only way to spot one will be to read the tiny P400e badge on the tailgate. It’s about the length and width of your pinky finger.

The P400e driving experience largely keeps the powertrain a secret too. In “blended” parallel hybrid mode, using part throttle, there’s just smooth and silent thrust. In normal driving, it’s very hard to determine exactly what engine configuration is under that hood. The Range Rover and Range Rover Sport P400e models we drove were final pre-production build models with prototype software, but on the street the tuning seemed very well-sorted. However, in electric mode, we did notice that the clutches can sometimes feel clunky initially. The brakes are a little artificial in the first few inches of travel, but that goes away as the pedal is pressed deeper toward the carpet. Generally, the braking system is very close to the experience in a conventional Rover. When coasting, there’s less regen drag than most hybrids — it seems clear Rover wants to mimic a traditional powertrain experience here — and that drag didn’t seem to increase when we switched to Eco mode.

In auto mode the Rover is, however, a little hesitant to downshift quickly. Dynamic mode feels just as responsive as we remember the last conventionally-powered Range Rover Sport we drove. Yet when the throttle is held wide-open, you will hear quite a bit of air “whooshing” from the turbocharged four-cylinder. In that regard, we’d certainly prefer a V8. But the thrust from this powertrain is good. Land Rover says a Range Rover Sport P400e can hit 60 mph in must 6.3 seconds and top out at 137 mph. And that’s impressive considering its carrying around 700 additional pounds over a V6 model. And that poundage can be felt when the Rover is pushed hard on a canyon road—at least in auto mode. 

Group shot of the 2019 Range Rover and Range Rover Sport PHEV

Revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show, these promise to be the first PHEV you can take off road in electric drive.

On a challenging off-road course near Malibu, CA we had our very first experience driving in low range with pure electric power. It’s a great experience—just as eerily quiet as you might imagine. Put all the windows down and you can hear everything around you. It’s particularly wild to use Hill Descent Control in EV mode because you not only hear the crunching and sliding of the tires on the trail in surround sound high fidelity but you can also pinpoint exactly which wheel the system is braking at any one time. And the same goes for the traction control on the way up a challenging trail. The silence is only broken at times by what sounds like a cooling fan for the battery pack. We noticed that the transmission’s clutches chatter quite a bit in low range as you roll on and off the throttle. Engineers are working on smoothing that out but it’s something you probably won’t notice with the gas engine running. Rover’s driving instructors mentioned that four-wheeling in EV mode consumes a lot of power. On this extreme course, a full charge is depleted around 50 percent quicker than on the street.

The Takeaway

The plug-in hybrid models will carry an approximate $8,000 premium over the base Range Rover SE. However, all P400e models are outfitted in the up level HSE trim and end up being about $1000 cheaper than the TD6 diesel in that same trim. Land Rover has yet to announce the MPGe rating for the P400e. But with those 30 miles of electric-only driving range, it should be a good choice for those that spend a lot of time driving in city centers. The most interesting part of these vehicles is their ability to drive off-road in complete silence—with no tailpipe emissions. It’s a more serene way to crawl along a tough and twisty trail and we can’t wait to see what happens when electrification is applied to the upcoming Land Rover Defender. 

On Sale: Summer 2018

Base Price: $78,300 (est.) Range Rover Sport; $95,100 (est.) range Range Rover

Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, eight-speed automatic, 85-kW electric motor, 4WD

Output: 398 total system hp, 472 total system lb-ft of torque

Curb Weight: 5,519 lb (Range Rover P400e); 5,448 lb (Range Rover Sport P400e)

Pros: Electric 4WD capability, silent, luxurious

Cons: Heavy, turbo four-cylinder engine noises