Setting off in the big Range Rover Sport PHEV through the downtown streets of Los Angeles, acceleration feels smooth and responsive. I turn to the Land Rover spokesman riding shotgun and ask if its a 3.0-liter V6 under the hood, complemented by an electric drive system.
No, he tells me, it's Land Rover's newest turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine. That surprises me, because I know this vehicle's curb weight must be around 5,000 pounds, yet it flows forward so easily.
The Range Rover Sport PHEV I'm driving is a prototype, a preview of a powertrain variant Land Rover will offer for the 2019 Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. As a plug-in hybrid, its battery pack can be charged from a wall outlet, so that its electric motor and gasoline engine share the task of driving the wheels.
In this application, the 13.1 kilowatt-hour battery pack gives the Range Rover Sport about 31 miles of pure electric range. The combination of the four cylinder engine and 85 kilowatt motor give this big SUV a total output to all four wheels of 398 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. In the lineup, that puts the PHEV between the 380 horsepower supercharged V6 and 518 horsepower supercharged V8 versions.
Although fuel economy numbers aren't available yet, the Range Rover Sport PHEV and Range Rover PHEV will likely show much greater efficiency than their gasoline-only equivalents.
In my experience at the wheel, the driving doesn't suffer at all. Driving in Eco mode for a short run on the freeway and on city streets, the Range Rover Sport PHEV feels powerful and confident. I drop it into its standard drive mode, the throttle response sharpens up, and I have no problem cutting through lanes and maneuvering the downtown streets.
The Range Rover Sport drives quietly due to a mixture of electric driving, the small displacement engine and plenty of sound deadening materials to enhance this SUV's luxury feel.
Punching the throttle on the freeway, the Range Rover Sport PHEV doesn't exactly punch me in the back, but the acceleration feels respectable. Land Rover claims 6.4 seconds to 60 mph.
I do find a glitch during my drive. Braking to a stop then immediately hitting the accelerator, the Range Rover Sport PHEV pauses for a second, as if its drive systems need a moment to figure out what I want. Lynfel Owen, Vehicle Engineering Senior Manager at Land Rover, tells me later that the company is still calibrating the drive system, which will hopefully alleviate this sort of hesitation.
Although I don't get the opportunity to take the Range Rover Sport PHEV offroad, Owen assures me it can perform as well as the gasoline-equivalent. In this system, the electric motor integrates in the driveline between the four cylinder engine and the eight speed automatic transmission, so the SUV retains all of its off-road-capable gear, such as electronic locking differentials, adaptive suspension and descent control.
A button on the console labeled EV lets me tell the drive system to leave the engine off and only use the battery, as long as it has juice enough to drive the wheels. That means the Range Rover Sport PHEV can work fully electric on challenging off-road trails. Alternatively, it has a battery save mode, where it relies on the engine more and preserves its electric range.
The Range Rover Sport PHEV comes from an earlier hybrid model built for Europe. Owen said that this new model took about three years to develop. From 2020, Land Rover will begin implementing this PHEV drivetrain in its other vehicles.
The battery pack, enclosed in an aluminum casing, sits under the cargo floor, which is raised a little over the standard model's load floor. However, Owen points out that other changes to the seating results in an overall increase in interior space.
The grille conceals a standard J1772 electric vehicle charging port, and it comes with a 110 volt AC plug adapter. From a 220 volt charger, either at home or a public charging station, the battery pack gains a full charge in 2.75 hours, while it takes 14 hours from a 110 volt standard wall socket.
As with other hybrids I've driven, the 2019 Range Rover Sport PHEV looks like it will be a win-win, combining substantial power and excellent fuel economy, especially compared to its gasoline-only equivalents. Mileage for plug-in hybrid is tricky, though, as it varies significantly depending on how often it drives on electric power. However, even in hybrid mode, it will likely show much greater fuel economy than even the most efficient Range Rover Sport.
Pricing hasn't been announced yet, but it expect it be on the high side of the model range when it becomes available next year.