Not so long ago, the idea of a four-cylinder Range Rover would have seemed ridiculous. Paired with an electric motor though, it’s actually a practical real-world combination.
The 2018 Range Rover Vogue Si4 PHEV is, according to the British manufacturer, the next logical step in the flagship luxury SUV’s evolution. Not only necessary to provide a window into the future and to illustrate that Land Rover is serious about hybrid technology, but also a model that makes complete sense within the portfolio of what I think is still the quintessential luxury SUV.
If you read my original first drive behind the wheel of the Vogue PHEV on the back of the LA Motor Show in late 2017, you’ll remember two things. Firstly, I consider the Range Rover Vogue to remain the standard bearer for exclusive, luxury SUV buyers. And secondly, I was a little dubious as to the ability of an Ingenium four-cylinder engine to deliver a ‘Ranger Rover-worthy’ drive experience.
Certainly, off-road the Vogue PHEV proved me wrong, and now at its proper launch in the Cotswolds, we get to see whether it can deliver the goods on-road in the British countryside. The cold, damp, misty weather is actually the perfect environment to be sweeping along tree-lined lanes and B-roads in the cosseted luxury of a Range Rover interior. Emerging from a long and unseasonably cold winter, there’s still snow on the ground and the sweeping country roads provide the perfect backdrop for testing Land Rover’s legendary off-roader.
A visit to Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works the day before reminds me of the heritage, history and legendary status of the Range Rover brand, and what it originally stood for. Off-road nous perfected with the Defender, but with luxury never before associated with off-road capability. Every vehicle to have worn the Range Rover badge since has had to be able to tackle the harsh stuff off-road, no matter whether potential buyers will point them that way or not.
Let’s face it, though, you don’t often see a $200,000-plus Rangie getting hammered off-road in Australia, and that’s where pricing for this Vogue PHEV starts – $210,000 to be precise. The Vogue range starts from $190,000 and in the ‘regular’ Vogue range (that is before you get to Autobiography specification), the Si4 PHEV sits smack bang in the middle of a six-model grade line-up.
Interestingly, it is second only to the V8 Supercharged model in the 0–100km/h performance stakes, thanks in no small part to the hybrid technology. That number for the PHEV is a spritely 6.4 seconds. The 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol engine generates 221kW and 400Nm, but there is also the electric engine that adds 85kW into the mix. Land Rover quotes a combined total of 297kW and 640Nm, and there’s an exceptional eight-speed ZF gearbox in play as well.
The Vogue PHEV utilises a 13.1kWh battery, which delivers a claimed 49km of electric-only range, and we got close to that on test too. A rapid charger set-up at home will charge it to full capacity in under three hours. The claimed fuel use is just 2.8L/100km, but that won’t be the case once you deplete the EV ability, and we’ll test that locally once we park one in the CarAdvice garage for a longer test period.
As expected, the minor issues we noticed with the pre-production vehicles in Los Angeles are long gone, and the finished Vogue PHEV product is, unsurprisingly, high quality. You can read our previous stories to go over the exterior and interior changes, but one Vogue strong point remains abundantly clear the minute you open the door – interior opulence.
The cabin is beautifully insulated, near silent (even when the petrol engine is working), comfortable and luxurious. In fact, it’s this point (near silence) that actually makes the most sense in terms of a whisper-quiet electric drivetrain. If ever the cabin of a vehicle was suited to slinking along silently, it’s the cabin of a Range Rover. The twin screens feel genuinely classy, the interactive driver’s display feels high-end, and the switchgear, in terms of both design and layout, feels premium.
While there’s complexity to the various off-road drive modes, EV mode, high/low range and ride height controls, they are now laid out in such a way as to be even easier to use and understand. If you’re switching between them often – as we did at launch on and off-road – you’ll find the system easy to get your head around.
Straight into the off-road section of the drive programme and I’m once again impressed by the electric driveline’s ability in the muddy, slippery conditions.
First up, the Vogue eases through a 700–800mm water crossing, and then it’s onto the incredibly slippery forest mud. It’s here where the electric system makes even more sense than you might have thought.
Into low range, with mud/ruts selected in the Terrain Response system, and the first thing you notice is the ease with which you can manipulate the throttle in full EV mode. The way it’s been tuned makes low-speed crawling and precise throttle usage so easy it’s hard to believe. There’s no lurching, no shunting forward as the turbo comes on boost, for example, as you’d experience in a traditional engine configuration.
You can make incredibly delicate progress in full EV mode. In fact, I’d say it’s preferable. The eerie silence as you’re working your way along the track is something you might struggle to get used to, however it’s another bonus in terms of being able to hear what the tyres are doing, whether the body is going to touch down, or listen out for any of those telltale ‘uh-oh’ noises you get off-road. Full EV mode is actually way more intuitive off-road than I ever would have thought.
The Vogue PHEV experience off-road is otherwise typically Range Rover – that is, effortless. Remember also that there is EV power going to all four wheels. To think that you can tackle the nastiest of terrain in such luxury and comfort is hard to believe given the previous compromises with 4WDs that were this capable.
When you do use the petrol engine off-road, the gearbox especially comes into its own and the various terrain-response modes do their bit along with the clever, traction-assisting electronics to make everything ridiculously easy. Owners might not ever take their expensive investment off-road, but they can rest assured that the Vogue PHEV will eat it up if they ever do.
It’s the on-road drive that most interests me, though, this time around. Firstly, I’m happy to note that the eight-speed ZF is completely devoid of the few strange features it exhibited in the pre-production examples. This gearbox is an exceptional automatic – sharp, smooth and quick to shift either up or down the ratios.
You’d be entitled to think that a full-size SUV of this heft (2509kg) might feel cumbersome with only a four-cylinder under the bonnet, and yet it doesn’t.
Under hard acceleration from a standstill, the assistance of the electric engine gets the Range Rover cranking quickly, and it can maintain that acceleration right though the mid-range and beyond 110km/h.
The petrol engine takes over almost seamlessly too, so there’s no loss of composure there. There is a little bit of harsh engine noise under full load; the result of a small four-cylinder working up near the outer reaches of its rev limits. At freeway speeds, it runs along effortlessly, though, and despite my trepidation, never feels underdone when called on to roll-on overtake either.
The brakes will feel a little different to conventional non-hybrid models, but such is the reality for a braking system that has to both retard speed and harvest power at the same time. They aren’t quite as responsive as you might expect, but once you get used to the extra meat needed at the pedal point, you quickly feel at home. The brake pedal definitely felt more ‘normal’ than the pre-production vehicles we drove last year, though.
Another Vogue mainstay is the way it wafts along the road, seemingly unperturbed by the road surface beneath it. This PHEV variant lives up to that end of the bargain too, and delivers handsomely on what I’d call an internal part of the luxury SUV experience. There’s no crashing through potholes or imperfections, and it merely floats along in comfort.
Range Rover’s first foray into the hybrid future is indeed a solid one. Sure, the same plug-in hybrid caveats remain for any vehicle with limited electric-only range. If you live on the rural fringe or out in the country and you cover long distances, then a diesel still makes more sense. If, however, you live in the city, you have the provision to charge regularly and your commute is short, you could run into work and back each day and use little, if any, fuel.
The fact you get that capacity with the usual Range Rover lashings of quality and refinement, not to mention off-road chops, is something of a bonus.
I’m now a (somewhat reluctant) convert to the idea of a full-size Range Rover with a four-cylinder engine under the bonnet. The Vogue PHEV is a fitting addition to the brand, and if you’re a city dweller who can stretch the budget beyond the $190K starting price, have a close look at the Vogue PHEV.
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