(Pocket-lint) - The smaller Range Rover is often the car of choice in affluent suburban neighbourhoods. Thanks to the ride height, high level of luxury and, of course, the prestige, it's a common sight on roads - more so than the full-sized Range Rover, which now seems to be the preserve of the Queen and few others.
There are a lot of Range Rover Sport options available, but thanks to the addition of the P400e - that's the plug-in hybrid setup that previously came to the larger Range Rover too - there's now a slightly greener choice alongside petrol and diesel.
But does a hybrid Range Rover Sport make any sense?
Just how hybrid is it?
To look at, there's little physical difference between the P400e and other versions of the Sport. The charging port is on the front under the grille, a section of which neatly hinges open to reveal a standard Type 2 or Mennekes socket. That gives fairly universal support for public charging, or most likely, charging at home from a wall unit.
Apart from that and the P400e badge on the rear, no one looking at your Range Rover would be any the wiser. Except perhaps for the lack diesel fumes as you slip past in pure electric (EV) mode.
When Land Rover created this plug-in hybrid (PHEV) setup, it was clear that it didn't want to change the character of the Range Rover Sport too much. As a result this setup has no lack of power, with 404bhp provided by the fusion of a 2-litre petrol engine and 105kW motor. The motor is connected in line with the combustion engine, meaning it's all working together, seamlessly.
The battery is packed into the floor of the boot, so one downside is that there's no option for a seven-seater or spare wheel, and the boot floor is raised by about 5cm. In that sense, there's little to reveal this is a hybrid model: it otherwise looks, feels, and behaves like a Range Rover Sport.
It still drives like a Range Rover
Although you only get around 30 miles of electric-only range (the range will vary depending on driving mode, driving style, environmental conditions), the motor can swing in to boost power on demand: put your foot down and it's both engine and motor that responds - and that can work both on and off-road. There's no loss of potency off-road either, this is as capable as any other Range Rover, offering traction in all conditions and the same wading height too.
Cruising in EV mode is slightly surreal as we're so used to hearing that diesel - or more recently petrol - burble in the background. While most looking at the P400e will probably be thinking about tax breaks because of the lower emissions (71g CO2) there's no denying that pulling up to the school gates in near silence is a lot more friendly than using the internal combustion engine. There's something rather serene about it: it lifts the Range Rover to an even more lofty status.
That's going to appeal to those with increasing environmental concerns. With a home charger, the Range Rover Sport's limited electric range will cater for most daily tasks of the suburban dweller - ferry the kids to school, drive to the station, go to the supermarket.
Charging will take about seven hours from the supplied wall plug charger at 3kW, but you'll have to buy the accessory charging cable (£234) to use public chargers or a wall box at 7kW. Given that the battery is fairly small, charging from a conventional plug in a garage overnight might be enough for most people.
At the same time, put your foot down and it will flip out of EV mode to deliver the full 400 horsepower that's on offer. It's really at this point that the Range Rover pulls back its green veil and goes back to behaving like a normal Sport, going from 0-62 in 6.3 seconds. It's not as powerful and smooth as the 3-litre HST petrol - also 400hp - that has recently been added to the range, but it's not far off. That makes the hybrid more spritely than the diesels.
The result is an uncompromising feel to the drive of the P400e. It still feels like a Range Rover Sport, happy to race off, balanced and comfortable to drive, and still a little wallowy in the corners if you hit them too hard. The gearbox is nice and smooth, but can sometimes leave you with a little pause while it figures out what it's doing - although shifting driving modes can help you get around that, or using the manual shifters.
Under hard acceleration, both the engine and the motor power the wheels, with the P400e happy to use that battery power to boost performance - until the battery is empty. You can preserve the charge and drive using only the engine, meaning you can save that EV mode for when you arrive in an urban area. The option for this "save" function is a little hidden, so you have to dig through the menus to find it.
While there's regeneration through braking, it's not something you get to control or influence, it's simply happening in the background - so you never have to think about it. Equally, while the driver display shows a power and charge dial, you can switch that off and have a conventional rev counter in the fully digital display instead.
Regenerative braking is most effective on stop-start driving, where conventional cars lose all that kinetic energy through heat when they hit the next set of lights. In a hybrid, that results in much more efficient power use, able to lean on the battery and return some of that charge again, ideal for urban driving.
Where the wheels really fall off - pardon the pun - is once you reach beyond that urban environment. Longer-range driving isn't well suited to these types of petrol hybrids as the battery doesn't give you much benefit once you're on the motorway and you'll end up using more petrol than you would diesel. If long range driving is something you do, it might be cheaper for you to run a diesel instead.
Once the battery is drained, you'll only get about 30mpg, depending on your driving style. There's also only about 400 miles of range in total, so it's hardly a long-range cruiser.
It's very much about comfort and quality
What the P400e shares with the rest of the RR family is the good quality of the interior. It's available in a range of trims - HSE, HSE Dynamic and Autobiography. Seen here is the HSE Dynamic with a healthy number of options fitted. But the HSE is equipped to a high standard and you can save yourself a fair whack by sticking to that trim level, with a £14K difference in price between HSE and Autobiography.
The cockpit of the Range Rover Sport was updated recently to shift the infotainment system to a dual display version: the bottom screen usually focusing on climate or driving mode; the upper one handling mapping, phone, music and the traditional interactive elements.
Land Rover's system is reasonably easy to use, but moving to this system has lead to the removal of pretty much all buttons in the cabin. Temperature dials and a volume knob persist, but everything else is touch-based. That extends to the steering wheel, where control of the driver display elements from the left-hand steering wheel controls uses a controller that changes its icons based on what you're doing. There's a slight learning curve that'll keep you swearing for a bit, but you do get used to it.
Ensconced within this system is an EV display that will show you the energy flow in and out of the battery, as well as the charge levels in more graphical terms - which is where you'll find the "save" button to preserve that electric option.
With this being a Range Rover there are options for things like 8-inch rear entertainment displays with matching headphones, remote control heating to warm the car before you get in, and a heads-up display (HUD), as well as a whole lot more. Even if it adds up to a high price.
There's comfort and tranquillity in the cabin too. We've used the Range Rover Sport for some long journeys in the past - driving from London to Fort William in Scotland for example - and there's plenty of space for adults, legroom in the second row and general sense of space. Adding the panoramic sunroof brings an even loftier feel to things and that's what the Range Rover Sport is really good at.
The ride height is high and while that doesn't help cornering with a hefty weight sloshing around, it does help visibility - which is one of the things that draws people to bigger cars like this. Good soundproofing means it doesn't get noisy on fast roads, meaning that optional Meridian sound system can really sing.
Given that so many Range Rover Sports never leave urban environments, the option to drive on electric - even over a short range - will mean you can opt not to have those tailpipe emissions and lower your short-range fuel consumption overall. That makes sense and it's great to have a greener option, which we suspect will be snapped up by company car buyers and the urban elite.
At the same time you don't sacrifice the essence of what a Range Rover Sport is. It keeps all that off-road skill, it will still race off the line with some pace, and it keeps the larger-than-life personality, quality and comfort, while not quite getting as sporty as the HST or SVR petrol models.
However, for those who regularly drive longer ranges, this isn't the most economical choice and diesel will still prove the popular option for those wanting to go further afield.
Still, premium SUV hybrids are rather scarce at the time of writing - the Audi Q7 e-tron is no longer available and neither is the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid (both are due to be updated), while the BMW X5 eDrive is due later in 2019 - leaving the likes of the Volvo XC90 and Lexus RX L as alternatives (the latter a "self-charging hybrid" and less practical overall, although is a proper seven-seater). That puts the P400e in a very strong position right now.
Alternatives to consider
Volvo XC90 T8
When it comes to big SUVs, the Volvo XC90 is one of the best on the road and it comes with a hybrid option. That comes in a little more affordable than the Range Rover Sport, for much the same electric range and power.
Lexus RX L
The Lexus RX L offers comfort and space, with two good seats in a third row. The hybrid setup is "self-charging" so not as practical as the PHEV alternatives. While you'll get good urban fuel economy, it gets rather thirsty on longer ranges and the interior tech is a little behind the times.