Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The Range Rover, as any Landie fan knoweth, began as the sexy mustard-yellow three-door we all fell in love with back in 1978: already it is 40 years old. There was the wash-down vinyl trim, the big thin steering wheel, the flip-down registration plate… But no plug-in hybrid back then. Or indeed since, until now. The 2019 Range Rover PHEV is an all-new offering, but the first concrete (or aluminium) step into the electrified future for the brand, which sister marque Jaguar has already kicked off in fine fashion with the all-electric I-Pace. Land Rover is horribly over-exposed to diesel, but that’s all set to change this year as the company embraces the plug.
Well, in most regards, as is right, this is your normal, beautiful, stylish, luxurious Range Rover, king of the off-road brigade. Electricity is rapidly becoming simply a powertrain choice, as opposed to a different design ethos - you choose your body shape, brand and model first, then move on to the question of fuelling it.
And so, like all Range Rovers, our test car was stunningly appointed, with a front centre console cooling compartment, a TV in the infotainment system, a panoramic roof, 20-way heated and cooled front seats and reclining heated and cooled rear seats. The doors close softly and the powered tailgate rises at a gesture (to reveal a boot made much smaller by the need to accommodate those massive charging leads and, umm, a battery, perhaps your sticking point if you need to carry wellies, guns, Labradors etc.).
Hasn’t a silent drive always been the preserve of the luxury car? In which case, driving a silent Range Rover entirely befits the character of the ultra-premium SUV. It’s just not something you associate with mud-plugging Land Rovers, grumbling their diesel-ey way over fields and through streams.
The strange, but pleasurable, experience isn’t the whole story, of course, because this is a hybrid, not a pure EV, so after a few minutes the engine kicks in, albeit in a soft, unobtrusive manner. The engine in this case is JLR’s 2.0-litre petrol unit which, mated to the electric motor, boots out just over 400 horsepower, enough to shift this 2.5-tonne car to 62mph in an impressive (and not very eco-friendly) 6.4 seconds. But who wants to floor a Range Rover anyway? That’s not the point, which is rather to strut around serenely between school run and pheasant shoot. And for this, the Range Rover PHEV comes top of the class, with acres of wood, leather, soft carpet and softer lighting.
JLR is really the bellwether for the UK’s socio/economic/political woes and refrains. When Cool Britain does its thing with music and fashion, JLR is the automotive reflection, the four-wheeled Burberry of its day. Right now, as we all are, it is suffering at the hands of Brexit and an anti-diesel Government. But it is undergoing an adapt-and-thrive policy of hastening its electrification programmes across the model ranges, and will come out of this whole sorry saga brighter and bushier around the ears.
Plug-in hybrids are a frustrating but necessary step to full electrification, and the Range Rover treads with caution across the river here, balancing carefully between consumer-facing luxury and Government-facing sustainability. One should of course wait for the full electric beans, but it’s a little way off for the Range Rover, and if you are looking to change your car and can afford a decent halfway house in the meantime, this is it.