Whether you’re a fan of the brand or not, you can’t deny the Range Rover badge holds a certain allure for people of all ages and interests. The patron saint of Instagram influencers, the obnoxiously large, glossy SUVs possess an aspirational quality that can defy both practicality and price point.
At least, that’s what I learned when I posted on social media that I was reviewing the 2020 Range Rover Sport SE plug-in hybrid (PHEV). The ensuing reaction was a truck-load of love-heart-eye emojis and queries as to whether it was “as cool as it looks”. One thing the Range Rover Sport certainly has on its side is that it looks fantastic, with a head-turning quality that will make you feel as though you’re a Hollywood celebrity on the run from the paparazzi.
In ‘Byron Blue’ metallic paint (an extra $2200) with a black exterior pack and 21-inch gloss black wheels, plus the standard panoramic glass roof, the RR Sport I was reviewing had the kind of sex appeal even non-car people could comprehend. Throw in the hybrid factor and you’ve hit peak 2020. Simply swinging open the section of the front grille that houses the car’s hidden charging socket can prompt ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from enthusiastic audiences.
But my God, will all that emotional appeal cost you. The SE tested here is the 'entry-level' version of the Range Rover Sport PHEV, and yet it starts at $134,166 plus on-road costs. Plus, with an options list as long as Meryl Streep’s film career, it clocks in at $144,984 as tested, before on-road costs. Excuse me while I wipe the forehead sweat off my face.
Jump up to the HSE – which essentially adds standard features like fancier LED headlights, 16-way memory front seats, an electrically adjustable steering wheel and All Terrain Progress Control as standard – and you’re looking at a starting price of $149,696 plus on-road costs.
Under the bonnet of my very costly attempt to save the environment is a lightweight 221kW 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, a 105kW electric motor and a 13kWh capacity battery charged externally – producing maximum combined outputs of 297kW and 640Nm. That’s a fair bit of grunt and, with the electric element in play, the car feels disproportionately light and quick for its size.
That's paired with an all-wheel-drive system and an eight-speed sports automatic transmission. The ride is optimised with an adaptive dynamics system, electronic air suspension and Terrain Response, which are all fancy ways of saying the vehicle is constantly sensing the terrain you’re driving on and adjusting to optimise performance and comfort. Steering is unremarkable in a good way – it requires light to moderate input to elicit a response and works seamlessly with the rest of the powertrain.
Unlike full-electric cars, which can offer up to 600km or more of electric-only range, the Range Rover Sport’s electric-only range is a relatively small-fry offering at 48km from full charge. What does that look like as part of your daily driving routine? Essentially, it buys you a solid day of EV-only city and suburban driving. If it says there is 13km left on the range, then 13km ye shall receive – give or take one or two kilometres if you’re cranking the heating.
If you’re deadset on only using the car as an electric vehicle (EV), the Range Rover Sport has an ‘EV mode’ button that means you can rely solely on the battery for power, but otherwise it uses a combination of battery and engine. If you want to preserve the battery, you can rely on the ‘intelligent routing’ in the satellite navigation, which highlights charging points along your route and details the most efficient way of getting somewhere, accounting for terrain.
Otherwise, the car appears to try and rely on electric power as much as possible until you really hit the throttle. The handy ‘My EV’ display will show you exactly what kind of power the car is using at any given time. For example, I put my foot down on a freeway entry ramp and the display told me the petrol engine was working in tandem with the electric motor to get me up to 80km/h.
Charging can be done in a regular wall socket, which is what I used, via a hefty charging cable that comes with the car. Ideally, you need a garage – otherwise you’ll be left with conspicuous charging leads lying over footpaths. I’d take a wild guess, though, and say that if you’re dropping this amount of money on a car, you’ve got a garage – possibly two.
When the car is locked, the charging lead can’t be unplugged from the car, removing the risk of any attempted EV theft. Jaguar Land Rover says the car can be fully recharged in as little as 7.5 hours, and this was pretty spot-on. I left it to charge overnight on the wall socket and came out to find it was back to full capacity.
You’ll burn through this range pretty quickly if you’re doing a combination of city and freeway driving. Most days, I used up all the EV range by about 5pm, but this was fine with me as it meant I didn’t appear to burn through petrol as quickly as I might have without the hybrid factor.
There’s idle-stop thrown into the mix, too, for good measure, and Jaguar Land Rover claims the combined fuel consumption can be as low as 2.8L/100km.
Unfortunately, I had this car for a four-day loan during Melbourne's first lockdown. As such, I wasn't able to do as accurate a test on fuel consumption as I'd have liked, with touring off the table and only shorter, less frequent trips permitted.
This may have something to do with the high fuel consumption figure recorded by the trip computer – which clocked in at almost 8.9L/100km over the four days, even though I charged the car nightly and used EV Mode as much as possible. Much of this is due to that small-by-Rangie-standards 2.0-litre engine hefting around the 2464kg Sport, which is a solid 388kg more than the non-Hybrid Range Rover Sport Si4 using the same engine.
Nanna's best Christmas lunch has nothing on a hybrid battery pack!
Behind the wheel, the Range Rover Sport is quick and smooth at low speeds, but there can be a slight lag when you put your foot down. What I found really impressive is that I thought I’d be able to really tell when the electric motor handed over to the petrol engine, but not so! The engine’s input is quiet and without too much rumble or vibration – so much so that it can be hard to tell if you’re running on electric or petrol power.
Other things, however, aren’t quite as smooth. The car can emit some mysterious noises at lower speeds – quiet clunks and the occasional whirring sounds that you’ll just have to put down to the hybrid system doing its thing.
One other complaint I had was that the brakes felt what I can only describe as: crunchy. Putting your foot down elicited some coarse, gritty feedback that is unsettling at first, but tolerable over time. It’s likely attributable to the handover between regenerative braking – the system that harnesses braking force in order to charge the battery – and the traditional friction brakes.
Because the car is so quiet, when reversing it emits a soft beeping noise to warn nearby pedestrians of its approach, which can leave you feeling oddly conspicuous. Otherwise, strange noises and crunchy brake aside, this is a remarkably smooth, quiet and even peaceful ride that soaks up all the undignified nastiness of suburban roads and spits it back out to you in sleek, silent servitude. It also has several different drive modes that will allow you to tackle everything from sand to grass, gravel or snow.
Like its RR siblings, the Sport PHEV is a comfy, couchy car with a cavernous cabin, airplane-like armrests on the front seats, seat heaters even for backseat bandits, dual-zone climate control and cupholders, USB ports and air vents throughout. In short: you won’t be left wanting for leg or head room – even elbow room is ample. The gesture-powered tailgate conveniently opens up a boot that’s 703L, or 1607L with the second row folded. Just imagine the Bunnings haul you could fit in that thing.
The Range Rover Sport PHEV has convenience front of mind – you can raise or lower the suspension for easy access, or set it to automatically lower when you turn the engine off, which is a power move that will make onlookers either envy or pity you for your laziness. There is a fair amount of driver assistance and safety tech fitted as standard – emergency braking, a rear camera, cruise control with speed limiter, a front and rear parking aid, lane-departure warning and speed limiter, to name a few.
But some of my favourite features, I was horrified to learn, were part of an optional $4048 Driver Assist Pack. That adds a clear exit monitor, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, lane keep assist, park assist, a 360 degree parking aid and a rear traffic monitor. Not going to lie – I used and loved every single one of these features, but when I learned they cost extra, I quickly told myself I could live without them.
The infotainment system, to me, is not really something I worry about on Jaguar Land Rover products given they're usually suitably high-tech and overflowing with functions. The RR Sport had everything you could want or need – from CarPlay to a 19-speaker sound system – but I felt as though I'd have to sit down for six hours straight to really wrap my head around it. Still, it flows through the various functions pretty effortlessly, and the 10.0-inch touchscreen makes for easy management of climate, phone connectivity and terrain options.
To me, this car is good, but not great, although I certainly enjoyed my time in it. And aside from price, the biggest deterrent to buying one is that it’s only going to get better from here as technology advances. It’s certainly a thing of beauty with a hybrid system that’s impressively polished for an early attempt – but the whole ‘PHEV’ thing feels more tokenistic than genuinely useful given how quickly you can burn through the range.
Hybrid system aside, this car has a lot going for it on the comfort and equipment side of things, but you’ll have to be willing to pay big bucks and then some thanks to the Range Rover badge.
Comfortable, attractive, quasi-efficient SUV? Yes. Head-turning, conversation-starting novelty? Absolutely. Game-changer? Not quite – or not yet, at least.
NB: When we drove the car, the MY20.5 pricing for some of the option packs available on the Range Rover Sport PHEV did not apply. Prices have now been adjusted to reflect these changes. Blind-spot monitoring is now standard.