It’s not often a man who owns multiple ‘70s Porsche Turbos, vintage Maserati and Ferrari convertibles, and Steve McQueen-owned motorcycles spends dinner raving about a mid-size SUV.
But there he was, a collector friend of mine, over dumplings and gin, positively glowing.
Our topic of conversation? The Range Rover Sport HSE P400e I’d been driving all week. This model belongs to the top-of-the-line from the British brand when it comes to cost, set above the Velar, Evoque, and Discovery, and more powerful than the standard Range Rover. We had plenty to discuss.
The alchemy of the Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid distills to this: The brand has managed to remove two cylinders from the conventional version of its sporty SUV, sacrificing neither style nor space, and in return gained power and precision.
Land Rover is not the first brand to get more with less. Nearly a decade ago, Ford introduced “ecoboost” — a series of turbocharged and direct-injection engines that helped improve fuel efficiency without losing power. Volvo has used similar technology for the inline-four engine in the S60 and XC60. Mazda was developing precursors to the system in the 1990s.
The HSE P400e is a lovely evolution on the theme. It has a pure-electric operation of about 50 km and a high-end mpg equivalent of 84 mpge. (These figures are based on the NEDC European test cycle. EPA estimates for the US market are not yet available.) The plug to charge the battery is ingeniously hidden behind a little door that is cut into and part of the radiator grille.
The combined output between the four-cylinder gasoline engine and 13.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is 398 hp and 472 pound-feet of torque, numbers that beat the standard Range Rover HSE V6 variants. And as we compared notes, sitting between the low-lit palm leaves and patina, the biggest thing that emerged was that, at this price, the straight power and drive confidence of the Range Rover HSE line is unbeatable.
Think of it as the Dirk Nowitzki (NBA Basketball player) of SUVs: Tall but agile, commanding and adept. Quick on its feet, confident with its handling. Despite the 2,585 kg curb weight — much more than its siblings — it floats as you press the gas and glides as you swerve. Responses to input from my hands on the steering wheel are quick and concise.
The acceleration from a standstill is seamless even with turboboosters, which are famous for causing a pause known as “turbo lag” that can happen as the turbos gather themselves and inhale, so to speak, between you pushing the gas and the car moving forward. This smooth elegance is thanks to the electric powertrain, which provides instant impetus as part of the eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel-drive. Zero to 100 kmph is 6.3 seconds.
I did not drive this particular Range Rover off-road, but it does have a 33.5-inch wading capability and elevated air-spring suspension. (No, you won’t get electrocuted taking this appliance into the water.) The instant torque from the electric motor would come in handy here, too, with its finer wheel control at slow speeds and over uneven terrain. I did, however, parallel park this sucker night and day for a week all over Manhattan. This is something I never do, even in vehicles much smaller than this five-passenger SUV. But it was so easy I’d flip U-turns halfway down an East Village street to snag a spot I passed going in the opposite direction or fearlessly swan dive in with the perfect three-point parking. I credit the situation of the driving position, excellent visibility and around all corners of the vehicle, and extensive, high-resolution and proportionately accurate parking cameras watching for me on each corner.
The cameras that come as part of an excellent Driver Assist Pack (blind spot assistance, 360-surround camera, adaptive cruise control with steering assist) are worth the extra dough. A Vision Assist Pack (auto high beams, ambient interior lighting, heads-up display) and Climate Comfort Pack (heated steering wheel, illuminated vanity mirrors, sliding panoramic roof, four-zone climate control) are also good value. They’re integrated — present but not overbearing — into an intuitive 10-inch touchscreen and command system set into the dashboard. Meridian surround sound, a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth and USBs come standard.
I found a few annoyances, but I had to look for them. Sometimes the stubby shifter in the middle of the console stays in Neutral when you think you’ve put it in Drive — you can’t just casually bump it like you might in a more crisp gear selector. And I hated the stop/start function — I always do — which causes the vehicle to lurch alive at seemingly random junctures as I sat in Second Avenue traffic, undoing the otherwise silky ride quality that starts from a standstill.
You might also feel a slight diminish in thrust as you ease past 160 kmph or so, but this is a vehicle applicable to an active city lifestyle — stylish, spacious and versatile. In an industry saturated with nearly interchangeable crossovers now inching toward hybrid and electric power as well, it has become difficult to make something that stands out.
Range Rover’s latest Sport HSE plug-in hybrid is a memorable exception. I didn’t want to give it back.