Driven! Land Rover Range Rover PHEV

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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When the plug-in hybrid Range Rover went on sale recently, it represented a departure from convention, not only for the Land Rover brand, but also for hybrids in general. While most hybrids are small vehicles designed for maximum efficiency, the 2020 Land Rover Range Rover PHEV is a mammoth SUV, one as well endowed with luxury features as it is with off-roading capabilities.

  • The plug-in Range Rover is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine mated with an electric motor, a combination also used in the Range Rover Sport.
  • Its 13.1-kWh lithium-ion battery gives it an all-electric range of 19 miles, according to the EPA.
  • Although it’s a hybrid, fuel economy is estimated at just 19 miles per gallon combined.
  • The 2020 Range Rover PHEV starts at $97,245, and because it is electrified, it is eligible for an IRS tax credit of $6,295.

2020 Land Rover Range Rover PHEVThe long-awaited plug-in hybrid version of Land Rover’s iconic Range Rover delivers an EPA range of 19 miles on battery power alone. (Photo: Land Rover)

Bigger can be better

The Range Rover paradigm is easy to understand. It’s a large luxury SUV that can tackle extreme off-road terrain while delivering unrivaled comfort to the driver and passengers. Powertrains are fitted to match, delivering big power numbers from supercharged and turbocharged engines. A Range Rover is expensive, with several models commanding six-figure prices, so there’s an assumption that owners can easily stomach paying for gas station fill-ups that can run to three figures. Fuel economy is typically as much an afterthought to Range Rover ownership as worrying about making a monthly payment.

Figuring out the appeal of the Range Rover PHEV is thus somewhat challenging. With a turbo four-cylinder making 296 horsepower, it’s the Range Rover with the smallest engine. That’s offset by a 141-hp electric motor built into its eight-speed transmission, which brings total system power up to a respectable 398 hp. You might imagine that, as a hybrid, it would be the Range Rover model that puts up the best EPA numbers, but that’s not the case. At 19 mpg combined when running in hybrid mode, it trails both the diesel (24 mpg) and the six-cylinder mild hybrid model (21 mpg). In fact, the PHEV Range Rover does only a single mile per gallon better than the Range Rover equipped with a supercharged V8.

2020 Land Rover Range Rover PHEVThe Range Rover’s battery pack and electric motor don’t diminish its off-road prowess or compromise the passenger compartment. (Photo: Land Rover)

The right tool for the job

Yet after a weekend of driving a prototype, everything makes sense. The PHEV is the Range Rover that allows you to ferry the kids to school, run daily errands, and make the scene at the country club, completely guilt-free. You just have to plug it in – and often. Then when you’re ready to head out of town, say, up to the mountains in a blizzard to catch a little powder, or off into the high desert for some off-the-grid camping, you’re still driving a real Range Rover.

The Range Rover PHEV retains most of the same dimensions and off-road capabilities as its non-electrified siblings. This includes a four-wheel-drive system with drive modes optimized for different terrain as well as an optional locking rear differential. The additional weight of the battery pack and electric motor mean the plug-in’s curb weight exceeds 5,500 pounds, so towing capacity takes a hit. Yet the PHEV Range Rover can still pull 5,515 lbs, which is enough for most typical trailering chores. Otherwise, the amazing air suspension renders the additional bulk a non-event, smoothing out on-road imperfections while still allowing 11.7 inches of ground clearance in off-road mode. In other words, if you were not told that this Range Rover was electrified, you would likely not be able to tell.

2020 Land Rover Range Rover PHEVThe Range Rover cabin is just as calm and luxurious in the PHEV model, although the sound of the four-cylinder engine can occasionally pierce the quiet. (Photo: Land Rover)

Calculated compromise

The Range Rover PHEV feels responsive, with instantaneous torque from its electric motor filling in the gaps in power delivery from the turbo four. Land Rover says the Range Rover PHEV can sprint from 0-60 mph in just 6.4 seconds, which is rather quick for a vehicle of this size. Transitions between electric assist and gasoline primacy are mostly seamless and the electrified powertrain is an excellent stand-in for the supercharged V8. On occasion the gasoline engine can get loud, as when accelerating onto a freeway, but in hybrid mode the Range Rover PHEV never feels underpowered. Regenerative braking is refined and unobtrusive.

When driving in all-electric mode that’s not the case. The limitations of the single electric motor’s 203 lb-ft of torque mean that if you want to keep the Range Rover from firing up its gas engine you must make judicious use of the throttle. Managing that threshold is easy enough, thanks to a well-designed power gauge that takes the place of the tachometer on the right side of the instrument panel. But this means that all-electric operation is best reserved for city driving, where speeds stay under 35 mph. Although the Range Rover PHEV can technically hit 85 on electric power alone, that’s unrealistic in the real world.

2020 Land Rover Range Rover PHEVThe Range Rover PHEV has its trick charging port hidden in the front grille. (Photo: Land Rover)

Reserved spaces

Driving a Range Rover of any sort is a lifestyle choice, but driving the PHEV model brings unique perks. Prime among them is parking in dedicated EV charging spots, whether at the municipal parking garage or the shopping mall. Given the Range Rover’s rather small battery, topping off at every available opportunity is necessary if you’re trying to forego using gasoline.

The reward of doing so while enjoying such an opulent vehicle, one that would normally be considered indulgent or even wasteful, somehow feels greater than eking out an extra few miles in an already thrifty hybrid econobox. It feels regal even, driving this powerful SUV like it is a Prius, rolling slowly away from a stop sign, avoiding any acceleration that might cause the vehicle to fire up its gas engine. Superiority comes in many flavors, but this one may be Land Rover’s sweetest.


About the Author

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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