I drove a $109,000 Range Rover hybrid to see if technology could improve on an already impressive SUV - here's the verdict

Range Rover Sport HybridMatt DeBord/BI

  • I recently tested a Range Rover HSE P400e - an expensive, luxury SUV with a nifty hybrid drivetrain.
  • Range Rover is known for solid off-road performance, chic style, and for six-and-eight-cylinder engines and diesels - not drivetrains that get a boost from electric motors.
  • But I found the small-displacement four-cylinder engine in this SUV, matched up with a hybrid system, to be an excellent piece of engineering.
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Everybody wants SUVs, and some people want fancy, high-end utes. Their needs are being abundantly addressed right now by all the major automakers.

Customers who've always valued premium vehicles that can nonetheless hold up under extreme conditions and handle anything nature throws at them have for decades grooved on Range Rovers (and before them, Land Rovers). These trucks have snoot appeal, but don't be distracted by their upper-crust boosters. We're talking landed gentry here, and the land often didn't have roads.

Range Rover's problem is that it makes vehicles with big gas motors, and the ones that don't fall into that category run in diesel. These are great drivetrains, but they're out of step with a future in which sub-20-mpg vehicles could be effectively outlawed. So Range Rover and its engineers need to begin exploring ways to preserve the brand's DNA while still preparing for day when 5.0-liter supercharged V8s simply won't cut it.

The Range Rover HSE P400e I recently drove is an early effort. It poses a tough question: Can a small-ish hybrid engine get the job done for a Range?

Read on to find out if it can.

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The 2019 Range Rover HSE P400e plug-in hybrid arrived at our suburban New Jersey test center wearing a handsome "Byron Blue Metallic" paint job.

The 2019 Range Rover HSE P400e plug-in hybrid arrived at our suburban New Jersey test center wearing a handsome "Byron Blue Metallic" paint job.

The Range Rover has been in the lineup since the 1970s; the fourth-generation has been around since 2013 and now has a hybrid option. Our tester had enough extras to take the sticker up to $109,000 from an already rich $96,000.

The Range Rover has been in the lineup since the 1970s; the fourth-generation has been around since 2013 and now has a hybrid option. Our tester had enough extras to take the sticker up to $109,000 from an already rich $96,000.

Range Rovers are supposed to revel in their boxy glory, but this example of the core vehicle was made a bit flashier through the addition of some additional flash.

Range Rovers are supposed to revel in their boxy glory, but this example of the core vehicle was made a bit flashier through the addition of some additional flash.

In profile, of course, nobody is going to mistake this vehicle for anything other than a Range Rover. The gorgeous 21-inch wheels are nearly $3,000 extra. You can also clearly see the side vent that's part of a $1,000 "Shadow Exterior Pack."

In profile, of course, nobody is going to mistake this vehicle for anything other than a Range Rover. The gorgeous 21-inch wheels are nearly $3,000 extra. You can also clearly see the side vent that's part of a $1,000 "Shadow Exterior Pack."

An air suspension can raise and lower the vehicle, for off-road duty or to ease getting in and out of the cabin.

To a certain extent, Range Rover aesthetics are so constricted by the legacy of the brand that there's only so much design can do to distract from proportion. The rear end isn't a strong point.

To a certain extent, Range Rover aesthetics are so constricted by the legacy of the brand that there's only so much design can do to distract from proportion. The rear end isn't a strong point.

It does, however, proclaim utility.

It does, however, proclaim utility.

And in addition to unattractive tail lights, the rear harbors a cool feature ...

And in addition to unattractive tail lights, the rear harbors a cool feature ...

... A split liftgate!

... A split liftgate!

What you have here is a rolling bench! perfect for yanking on some Wellies before a romp with the hounds.

What you have here is a rolling bench! perfect for yanking on some Wellies before a romp with the hounds.

And yes, our test vehicle came with one of Land Rover's new pet packages, including a collapsible transporter and a water bowl.

And yes, our test vehicle came with one of Land Rover's new pet packages, including a collapsible transporter and a water bowl.

I have a dog, but he detests carriers of any sort, so I couldn't really sample this feature. However, it was well-designed and it looked as though it would please a lot of canines.

I have a dog, but he detests carriers of any sort, so I couldn't really sample this feature. However, it was well-designed and it looked as though it would please a lot of canines.

Under the hood, the Range Rover HSE P400e has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 296 horsepower, plus a 114-horsepower electric motor that runs off a 13-kilowatt-hour battery. The total power output is 398 horsepower, with a stout 472 pound-feet of torque.

Under the hood, the Range Rover HSE P400e has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 296 horsepower, plus a 114-horsepower electric motor that runs off a 13-kilowatt-hour battery. The total power output is 398 horsepower, with a stout 472 pound-feet of torque.

With six-cylinder and V8 Ranges, you're not going to see better than 20 mpg combined. That goes up with the six-cylinder turbodiesel.&

We didn't scientifically evaluate the hybrid's fuel-economy, but it bumps the MPGs up a bit, at least from our observations (the government hasn't yet officially rated the vehicle). We're definitely aren't taking Prius data here. But the hybrid system definitely adds some pop to the relatively modest four-banger, and the solid torque means the hefty, 5,000-pound-plus SUV and still tow more-or-less its own weight.

Jaguar Land Rover says the recharge time from basic 110-volt outlet is 14 hours. With level-two charging at 220 volts, you're looking at something like four hours.

Jaguar Land Rover says the recharge time from basic 110-volt outlet is 14 hours. With level-two charging at 220 volts, you're looking at something like four hours.

The charge port is located under a hatch in the front grille.

The charge port is located under a hatch in the front grille.

The ebony/ivory interior was elegant and plush without being fussy.

The ebony/ivory interior was elegant and plush without being fussy.

Land Rover and Range Rover are in a tricky position in that they need to combine luxury and durability, for the town-and-country set. These days, there also needs to be a lot of technology. I found the Sport hybrid insides to be generally up the task of carrying the Range Rover name.

Land Rover and Range Rover are in a tricky position in that they need to combine luxury and durability, for the town-and-country set. These days, there also needs to be a lot of technology. I found the Sport hybrid insides to be generally up the task of carrying the Range Rover name.

The leather-wrapped and bushed-metal-trimmed steering wheel has the usual button-fest to control systems, and the all-digital instrument cluster goes for old-school gauges with new-school information display.

The leather-wrapped and bushed-metal-trimmed steering wheel has the usual button-fest to control systems, and the all-digital instrument cluster goes for old-school gauges with new-school information display.

There's also a head-up display that projects essential information directly in front of the driver.

There's also a head-up display that projects essential information directly in front of the driver.

The eight-speed transmission is quite smooth. The gearshift selector is this large knob that rises from the console when the vehicle is fired up and retracts when it's switched off. There are also paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, for manual mode.

The eight-speed transmission is quite smooth. The gearshift selector is this large knob that rises from the console when the vehicle is fired up and retracts when it's switched off.  There are also paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, for manual mode.

The Range's driving modes are managed using this simple interface between the seats. In all-electric mode, it's supposed to be able to operate for 31 miles before returning to internal combustion.

The Range's driving modes are managed using this simple interface between the seats. In all-electric mode, it's supposed to be able to operate for 31 miles before returning to internal combustion.

The infotainment and climate-controls are screen-based. The AC/heat and heated and cooled seats are no problem, but the 10-inch TouchPro infotainment screen, while beautifully designed, remains a work-in-progress as far as usability goes.

The infotainment and climate-controls are screen-based. The AC/heat and heated and cooled seats are no problem, but the 10-inch TouchPro infotainment screen, while beautifully designed, remains a work-in-progress as far as usability goes.

The dual screen can be configured to display different functions. Everything works, from GPS navigation to Bluetooth and device connectivity, but the tiled interface has a learning curve. The Meridian audio system sounded superb

The dual screen can be configured to display different functions. Everything works, from GPS navigation to Bluetooth and device connectivity, but the tiled interface has a learning curve. The Meridian audio system sounded superb

If it's all too annoying to deal with, Apple CarPlay is there as either a fallback — or first choice.

If it's all too annoying to deal with, Apple CarPlay is there as either a fallback — or first choice.

The rear seats are comfortable, and legroom is pretty good.

The rear seats are comfortable, and legroom is pretty good.

The dual-pane moonroof admits a lot of light ...

The dual-pane moonroof admits a lot of light ...

... And rear-seat passengers have their own climate controls.

... And rear-seat passengers have their own climate controls.

So what's the verdict on this high-tech, luxury off-roader?

So what's the verdict on this high-tech, luxury off-roader?

The real test of the Range Rover, to be honest and evocative of my favorite Roxy Music album, is to explore country life. The carmaker's Terrain Response system enables the four-wheel-drive setup to be configured for a variety of conditions, a legacy of the brand's reputation for formidable offroad capability.

You buy a Range if you seriously intend to bust around the back 40, surmounting hill and dale in wind and rain, perhaps passing weekends with a bit of shooting. You might contend with mud, snow, or ice, and fording a stream could be on the agenda.

But you also buy a Range if you want to tool around the 'burbs in Sloane Ranger style. You could choose a Jeep, but the Range is more elite. It sends the right signals at the school-dropoff line and looks right in certain parking lots.

In that context, does it matter if you're getting 30 mpg or just 20? It doesn't, but for Jaguar Land Rover, a portfolio made up of V6 and V8 SUVs, with some robust diesels thrown in, might not, you know, survive the brave new world of higher emission and fuel-economy standards. Hybridization is a good way for the brand to come into compliance.

That might sound sort of mean-spirited of me, so let me now discuss my favorite aspect of the Range Rover HSE P400e I tested — the drivetrain!

It's a dang four-banger! In a really big truck! And it makes almost 500 pound-feet of torque! I felt like I had a V6 under the hood, at the very least. This feat of engineering has won my undying respect. I'm not sure I'd buy it, but as technological triumphs go, JLR should pat itself on the back and give the folks responsible for this powerplant a bonus.

Otherwise, I tend to be quite taken by Range Rovers, and the HSE P400e was no exception. I've never much liked the infotainment system, but it's more an issue of function than design. But the rest of the machine is superb. Range Rovers are also keeping up with the times; my tester came with a host of driver-assist features, including lane-keep assist, blind-spot assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Yeah, this Range ain't cheap. But it is worth it. And for some owners, the added MPGs and in-town optimization could certainly be very appealing.

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