Plug-In Hybrid Range Rover: Comfort and Computing Genius Worthy of a Prime Minister

rang rover
PHEV Range Rover Has Mesmerizing Amounts of TechClayton Baime

There are never enough ions these days. Or maybe there are too many ions. Or whatever-ons. Who knows? This becomes clear the moment the Range Rover PHEV starts up. Gauges and a screen spring to life and the Rover measures the air quality inside the cabin and outside of the vehicle, in units PM2.5. Does the cabin need more ionization, before you start moving? For those of us who don’t know what ions are—or the unit PM2.5—who cares? The vehicle knows and is looking after your well-being. It used to be that you could get into a car you’ve never driven and the only thing you needed to figure out before you got rolling was where the keyhole was. Today new cars don’t have keyholes. But they measure ions! Welcome to the new world technocracy.

Our week in a 2023 Land Rover Range Rover PHEV SE SWB—the first model year that the Range Rover line has offered a plug-in hybrid (the new fifth generation)—proved to be more than just a test drive. For those that don't know, that's PHEV as in Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle, SE meaning "standard equipment," and SWB indicating the 118-inch Standard Wheelbase. The vehicle arrived wearing Belgravia green paint with an ebony interior. Our test drive took us over swaths of Northern California roads, some unpaved trails, plus a little beach. The payoff turned out to be not just miles traveled but a lesson in how far the automobile industry is reaching into the digital cosmos to create an otherworldly environment in which the act of travel feels like that last thing that might be considered. There is so much gadgetry, it's almost as if the steering wheel was an afterthought. Not that this vehicle isn't fun to drive. It is.

range rover
Clayton Baime

Base price: $110,500, and the test ride was optioned to $128,475. From its launch in model year 1970, the Range Rover has been the most luxurious, fully off-road capable vehicle money can buy. Whether or not this new Rover stays on top of those two categories remains to be seen. But the initial sensation is overwhelming computerized genius.

Land Rover claims 51 MPGe combined city/highway, and a 51-mile range on pure electric, which doesn’t seem like much until you remember that the average commute is 27.6 minutes, according to Census figures, and roughly half of Americans work from home now at least for a portion of the week. Most drivers who can afford this SUV will have a speedy charger installed in the garage, and, perhaps, solar panels. So it would be possible to motor entirely in electric mode, powered by the sun.

And if a buyer can afford this, he or she can spring for a lot of photovoltaic love.

range rover
Clayton Baime

The 3.0-liter direct-injection turbo inline-six and electric motor put out 434 horsepower and 457 lb-ft. of torque that pumps through ZF's nearly ubiquitous eight-speed automatic transmission that can be operated manually. From there, torque flows to Land Rover’s rugged and electronically tuned all-wheel drive system. Giant 21-inch alloy wheels dig into the dirt and sand so you can fling this vehicle around like a Tonka truck. Cornering, accelerating, braking—the Rover pounds through its paces. Zero to 60 zings by in 5.7 seconds. We didn't reach the 140 top speed, but it felt like it while motoring at water's edge on the beach of Folsom Lake. For a vehicle of its size, the 15-inch front discs and 14 inchers in back provide plenty of stopping, assuming one doesn't actually want to drive into Folsom Lake.

The pilot faces a daunting array of driving modes—Comfort, Eco, and Snow modes, naturally. But also: a Mud Rut mode, Sand Mode, Rock Crawl, and a special mode for wading (the ride can manage up to three feet of water). You can run on all electric power, hybrid, gas, or tell the SUV to do what it wants and it’ll figure out its own peak efficiency. Enhanced driving features include Hill Launch Assist and Low Traction Launch.

range rover
Clatyon Baime

All of which makes it the powerful and capable vehicle a Range Rover has to be, on road and off. But when you begin to qualify all the technology aimed at conquering your every possible discomfort, you begin to understand just how much mojo the computer engineers packed into this thing. All the Windsor Leather seats heat and cool and the rear seats have built-in massagers. A 3D camera gives you a birds-eye view from above, when you’re parking. CarPlay, Android, and Alexa all live onboard. The rear cabin has its own infotainment system. The climate is adjustable in three zones. You can heat the steering wheel, the mirrors, the rear window. The seatbelt buckles illuminate so you don’t fumble in the dark. The quality of the Meridian Sound is unreal—which in reality means really good.

Before you can think of adjusting something, this SUV has done it for you. Wipers, headlights, high beams, emergency braking, all of it is operated by a computer. Imagine a robot chauffeur at the helm and Rishi Sunak in the back, consumed in paperwork on the morning ride between Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street.

range rover
Clayton Baime

This is not your grandpa’s Land Rover; it doesn’t even feel like the same species. The PHEV is a marvel of modern technology and it’s a blast to drive. But it will also make many Land Rover fans nostalgic for the simpler trucks of the past. Land Rover was born to be, above all else, functional in challenging conditions. If you needed to round up sheep in a muddy field at night in a rainstorm, and you weren't worried about the mud on your boot soles, the Rover was the vehicle for you. Now it feels more like a space station.

Incidentally, Google informs us that ionization is the process where neutral atoms (or molecules) become electrically charged by gaining or losing electrons. Ionization can help remove impurities in the air so that it's easier to breathe. So in the Range Rover PHEV, even the stuff you're inhaling is a luxury product.

range rover
Clayton Baime

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