You'll never be able to drive this rare 2019 Range Rover Sport — but I did

Mark Phelan
You'll never be able to drive this rare 2019 Range Rover Sport — but I did

The plug-in hybrid model of the 2019 Range Rover Sport HSE P400e luxury SUV doesn’t exist, but I just drove one.

It’s pretty good, expensive and the latest proof the Jaguar Land Rover is deadly serious about electric vehicles but hasn’t nailed the formula yet.

You can see for yourself in a few months, when a 2020 model of the ritzy SUV goes on sale. Until then, you gotta take my word, because the 2019 model is a unicorn.

Here’s some of what you can expect from the nearly identical 2020 model:

  • Around 26-28 miles range on a battery charge.
  • Gasoline fuel economy that rewrites the book for the usually thirsty Range Rover Sport.
  • Plenty of oomph from a powertrain that combines a 2-liter gas engine and electric motor.
  • Land Rover’s usual sumptuous interior.
  • Improved infotainment, thanks to the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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2019 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE P400e plug-in hybrid

Land Rover planned to sell the P400e in the U.S. last year as a 2019 model, but demand in other parts of the world was so strong that its debut here was pushed back to this fall as a 2020. Before Land Rover made that decision, it built a handful of U.S.-spec 2019s for auto writers to test. They’re the only 2019 Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrids that will ever exist. I just spent a week driving one with Firenze Red paint.

What is it?

The Range Rover Sport is Land Rover’s performance model. The top 2019 model sold in the U.S. is the $114,500, 575-horsepower Range Rover Sport V8 Supercharged SVR. That British missile has a top speed of 174 mph and hits 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. The P400e PHEV I tested maxes out at 137 and hits 60 in 6.3 seconds.

The Sport is a little smaller and a lot faster than the Range Rover, which is Land Rover’s flagship. If the fact that four totally different SUVs in Land Rover’s lineup are called the Range Rover this, that or the other gives you a headache, you’re not alone. Tell it to Land Rover. (The other two are the RR Velar and Evoque, BTW.)

Why is it?

Fuel economy regulations are Land Rover’s nemesis, as they are for many SUV-dependent brands.

The Sport P400e I tested is Rover’s answer. Plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, have big batteries that let them to run farther on electricity alone than regular hybrids. The batteries and electric motors also supplement the gasoline engine, improving fuel economy and delivering better performance than the small gas engine could manage on its own.

The key number for a PHEV is its battery range – how far it can go on a charge before the gasoline engine kicks in. The late, lamented Chevy Volt was one of the first and best PHEVs. The EPA rated it at 53 miles on a charge and 42 mpg in in gas-powered combined city and highway driving.

The Range Rover Sport P400e's charging port is in its grille.

Driving impressions

The EPA hasn’t rated the Range Rover Sport PHEV yet, but based on my experience and ratings it got from European regulators, I’d expect an EPA rating around 26-28 miles on a charge.

I covered about 23 miles on battery power, on a mix of suburban streets, fast highway and city driving.

If you’ve got a 240-volt charger at work and 2 hours, 45 minutes to recharge, the Sport’s battery should let most Americans make their daily commute without a drop of gasoline.

Range Rover Sport P400e interior

Despite that, a range of less than 30 miles is unlikely to be one of the leaders among the rapidly growing ranks of electric and PHEV SUVs.

The 2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid PHEV, for instance, promises 455 hp, quicker 0-60 sprints, higher top speed and 27 miles on a charge. The smaller Mercedes GLC350e only covers 10 miles on battery power, though.

The Sport P400e will be at its thriftiest in stop and go traffic, although the hybrid system will save fuel versus gasoline models on the open highway, too.

The battery is never completely drained, both because that’s bad for batteries and so it can continue to deliver the drivetrain’s max output of 398 hp and 472 pound-feet of torque.

That means the Range Rover Sport should always deliver the strong acceleration I experienced on entrance ramps, highway passing and surface traffic.

Like all Range Rovers, the Sport PHEV is a heavy vehicle, curb weight 5,430 pounds. Despite that, and the height that comes with its 10.9 inches of ground clearance, the SUV is responsive and stable in quick maneuvers. The adaptive air suspension provides a smooth, comfortable ride. The suspension lowers the Sport for entry and exit, and to improve aerodynamics above 65 mph.

The SUV is quiet on the highway, and virtually silent in electric-vehicle mode.

How much?

Prices for the 2020 Range Rover Sport HSE P400e plug-in will start around $79,000, the intended base price of the 2019 I tested.

That should be in the heart of the market for luxury electric and plug-in SUVs. In addition to the $79,900 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, competitors will include the upcoming Lincoln Aviator PHEV (price TBA), $53,700 Volvo XC60 and $67,000 XC90 PHEVs, $50,600 Mercedes GLC350e and $74,800 Audi E-tron all-electric.

Range Rover has innovative climate controls.

The Range Rover I tested was loaded with features: adaptive cruise control; 825-watt Meridian audio; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; air suspension; panoramic sunroof; LED headlights; 21-inch wheels; driving mode selector for on- and off-road; lane departure and blind spot warnings; and a refrigerator in the center console.

It stickered at $91,905, putting it at the high end of its class.

The only equipment changes likely for the upcoming 2020 model are some new paint colors and wheel designs.

Range Rover Sport HSE P400e at a glance

2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and electric motor

8-speed automatic transmission

Power: 398 hp; 472 lb-ft of torque

Length: 192.1 inches

Wheelbase: 115.1 inches

EPA fuel economy and electric range ratings: TBD.

Price as tested: $91,905 (excluding destination charges)

Follow Detroit Free Press auto critic Mark Phelan on Twitter @mark_phelan.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: You'll never be able to drive this rare 2019 Range Rover Sport — but I did