A decade ago, you couldn’t park up an SUV in London without risking it being covered by faux parking tickets castigating you as a gas-guzzling planet-destroyer.
So intense was the kickback from green groups, Land Rover even invested in an official carbon off-setting scheme. All new cars carried big stickers on their windscreen proclaiming their green credentials.
How things change. Today, SUVs are everywhere. They’re far more efficient than they were a decade ago, exhaust emissions are relatively clean and nobody gives you stick for driving one.
But the mood is changing yet again, and this time, Land Rover isn’t going to get caught out. Mindful of the push against diesels, and Sadiq Khan’s determination to drive out toxic vehicles, the British firm is here with an electrified Range Rover even the Mayor of London would approve of. And, in a test in smog-choked LA, I was among the first to experience it.
The headliner: if your daily drive is 30 miles or less, it is, to all intents, a fully-electric Range Rover. The P400e comprises a big battery, a powerful electric motor and, for when you go out of town, a combustion engine to extend the range. Yes, it’s a PHEV plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The world’s most luxurious PHEV yet.
It doesn’t have a big V8 petrol engine or, god forbid, a diesel. Instead, it combines a clean 300hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol motor with a 115hp electric motor, for system total of 404hp. Sounds pretty decent. Zero -62mph in 6.4 seconds is enough to beat hot hatches, and the trademark instant punch of an electric motor is always good fun.
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But, driving through snarled-up LA, it’s the silence the electric drive brings that makes this a Range Rover unlike any other. The sheer lack of noise or vibration in EV mode is an uncanny new sensation when you’re sitting in the world’s original posh SUV. Even the quietest combustion engine cars still murmur. This Range Rover wafts.
It would waft even more successfully if the ride were smoother. The car I drove wasn’t quite final spec – its air suspension needed a bit of tuning to offset the half-tonne extra weight of the 13.1kWh batteries. Other changes, though, are splendid, from the thicker glass to dial out more outside noise, to the wider seats with puffier foam that move in 24 directions. They are among the finest car seats I’ve ever had the pleasure to park my bottom in.
These new Range Rovers also have the ‘Blade’ infotainment system first seen in the Velar. Two crisp touchscreens display information with such clarity that going back to any other system will seem like revisiting an old smartphone.
When the petrol engine kicks in, it’s naturally not as well-mannered as a V8. That’s the price we’ll have to pay for driving such decadent cars in the city. But it’s hardly uncouth, and it means you won’t have to suffer range anxiety. If you have a wall-box or a fast charger, the batteries are revived in two hours 45 minutes (fast charging is essential: it takes nearly eight hours to charge one from a domestic socket).
Land Rover reckons at least one in five Range Rover P400e drivers will have commutes short enough to never see the petrol engine kick in during daily use. The rest will enjoy a decent run of zero-emissions, silent EV motoring without having to keep one eye on the range. It’s a luxury SUV that couldn’t be more perfect for the City if it tried.
Richard Aucock works for motoringresearch.com