(Pocket-lint) - Large SUVs have been the default choice for luxury car buyers ever since the original Range Rover came along and redefined our concept of off-roaders nearly half a century ago. They have a classless appeal that's every bit at home at Glastonbury as it is at Glyndebourne.
For captains of industry and ambitious tech entrepreneurs the cost of running these cars is not an issue, but the image sometimes can be. The wrath once directed at so-called Chelsea Tractors seems to have dissipated somewhat lately, but a big luxury SUV may still find itself at odds with the owner's corporate responsibility statement. The tax ramifications are also likely to make the accounts department twitch involuntarily.
Fortunately, help is at hand. The new Range Rover P400e plug-in hybrid combines a 2l petrol engine with an 85kW electric motor to give 404bhp of guilt-free luxury motoring. Official figures of 64g/km and 101mpg will do wonders for your accountant's blood pressure, while a theoretical all-electric range of 31 miles raises the prospect of wafting along in near-silence.
What's it like inside?
Like any modern Range Rover, the P400e has a great interior. With the exception of some changes to the display software and a small button marked "EV mode" on the centre console, it's all standard Range Rover inside.
That's good news, not least because the whole Range Rover model line has just received a 2018 refresh, which includes the slick and stylish Touch Pro Duo touchscreen display setup as first seen in the Velar.
You sit perched up high in some of the finest seats available in any car. They adjust in almost every conceivable way with all the usual heating and cooling functions plus no less than 25 different massage programmes. The cabin layout follows the same clean, bold philosophy as Range Rovers of the recent past, while the material quality is beyond reproach.
It's a similar story in the back. We sampled the standard model, but there is a long wheelbase option (a mere £168,015 if you want the plug-in hybrid in top-spec Autobiography trim) which gives you an extra 186mm of leg room, providing limousine-like levels of interior space.
Tell us more about the tech
There's a danger with feature-heavy touchscreens that they can become every bit as cluttered as button-fests of old. Not so in the Range Rover, however. So intuitive is the layout that everything just seems to fall to hand, even with your eyes fixed firmly on the road.
It's a good looking system too, with the twin 10-inch displays rendered in pin-sharp high definition. There's also a virtual instrument cluster, which relays things like sat nav instructions when required, and a very effective head-up display (HUD).
Land Rover has worked with speech recognition firm Nuance to improve the car's response to voice commands and provide a more conversational feel. The 2018 revamp also sees the introduction of gesture control, albeit confined to the sun visor at present, which now deploys with a Tinder-esque swipe.
The Range Rover now packs enough connectivity to shame the average living room. There are 4G Wi-Fi hotspots for eight devices and no less than 17 different connection points (18 on the long wheelbase model). These include a variety of USB and 12-volt charging sockets, a three-pin domestic plug socket in the back and two HDMI points.
There are some more subtle applications of technology too. A new cab air ionisation system, dubbed Nanoe, releases nano-sized charged water particles to cleanse the air, removing pollen particles, allergens and even to a certain extent viruses and bacteria. It's hard to say how well this works, but the environment inside the Range Rover certainly gives off an aura of calmness and wellbeing.
On the road
Perhaps the biggest surprise is how easy it is to thread the Range Rover through traffic. It's by no means compact, but excellent fore and aft visibility, plus clearly defined extremities make it an easy car to place on the road. Light steering with a reasonable degree of precision also helps to mask its size.
This plug-in is not what you'd call sporting, though. There's a fair degree of roll in Comfort mode and a slightly floaty edge to the body movements. The ride feels choppier than the standard Range Rover too, possibly due to the hybrid system's additional mass. By any normal standards it's still an impressive performance, but it doesn't quite match the regular car's unruffled sense of serenity.
The same can be said of the petrol engine. In Hybrid mode the Range Rover feels every bit as swift as its 640Nm of torque and 6.4-second 0-60mph time would imply. It's also pleasingly responsive and very clever (complete with a system that analyses GPS route and altitude data to optimise when it uses the electric motor). However, when worked hard the four-cylinder petrol engine in the hybrid isn't quite as hushed or as cultured as its six- and eight-cylinder counterparts in the regular models.
As for real-world economy figures, well, we saw 21mpg on our jaunt through the Cotswolds. That's about what we'd expect for a big car driven spiritedly and you could no doubt improve significantly upon that with a lighter right foot. It's not a world away from the other petrol models, though, and it's likely that the TDV6 diesel would be more economical in most circumstances.
We didn't have a chance to put the electric-only range to the test, but it's fair to assume it will be significantly less than the laboratory figure of 31 miles. We're told upwards of 20 miles is realistic, so it's likely that urban users with a light foot could cover their entire commute on electric mode alone. At that point the plug-in Range Rover plays its trump card: the silent torque-rich delivery of the electric motor adding to its already-impressive refinement.
Charging we're told takes two hours and 45 minutes with a wall box and around seven hours and 30 minutes from a normal household plug, meaning that even those without a rapid charging capability should get a useful benefit from plugging it in.
Off the road
Most Range Rovers may now spend their lives on Tarmac, but part of the remit is still that they must be unstoppable off-road.
The plug-in hybrid is no exception. It features the same diff locks and selectable low-range gearbox as the standard car, with the added benefit of monster torque from zero rpm. Even the wading depth – something you're suddenly inclined to think about while sat on top of a high voltage battery pack – remains unchanged.
Myriad electronic functions, including Hill Descent Control and Land Rover's Low Traction Launch system, help to maintain off-road progress. Interestingly, the HUD's off-road mode – initially dismissed as something of a gimmick – proved useful in the rough stuff, with information such as the orientation of the front wheels. A pair of cameras in the wing mirrors also aid positioning when the bonnet is pointing skywards.
All of the qualities that have made the Range Rover such a success over the years are present in the plug-in hybrid and most – although not all – remain every bit as impressive as they are in the regular petrol and diesel models.
For company car drivers the case for the plug-in hybrid is quite compelling. For a start, its low CO2 rating puts it below the current threshold for the London Congestion Charge. Compared to the next cleanest TDV6 model you'd save £785 on the first year's vehicle excise duty and the benefit in kind (BIK) rating is less than half (15 per cent as opposed to 37).
Finances aside, it's a harder case to argue. The electric-only mode is a neat trick, but the sound of the four-cylinder engine doesn't quite fit with the Range Rover's effortless progress, while the ride isn't quite as tranquil as it is in the standard models. Neither of these should dissuade you if you are specifically looking to buy a hybrid, but if you're not, the regular models are still a better bet.
Alternatives to consider
Porsche Cayenne Hybrid
Strictly speaking, the new Porsche Cayenne Hybrid is more a competitor for the Range Rover Sport, which itself gains a plug-in hybrid option this year. As such, it places more emphasis on dynamics than the full-fat Range Rover, but it's still a full-size hybrid SUV with a genuine off-road capability. A rather different animal, but one that bears consideration.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e
It's not quite as opulent as the Range Rover, but the Mercedes-Benz GLE is usefully cheaper and it shares the same classy comfort-orientated feel. The 500e model comes with a similar plug-in hybrid capability, although it can't quite match the range or the CO2 rating of the Range Rover.