New PHEV powerplant and cabin spruce enhance the appeal of Land Rover's third way
By Sam Sheehan / Monday, March 22, 2021 / Loading comments
Land Rover’s march towards range-wide hybridisation continues apace. Don’t underestimate the impact of a petrol-electric Velar either; the model is key to the manufacturer’s successes in major markets like the UK and US (where 21k and 17k models were sold in each of the pre-Covid years), not to mention in China, where sales increased by 20 per cent in the pandemic-hit world of 2020. The new plug-in P400e is intended to be a big hitter.
It joins a lineup that already features six-cylinder mild hybrids in the P340, P400 and D300, but the 400e stands apart with its deployment of a four-cylinder petrol motor and 17.1kWh battery-powered electric motor. The car’s combined numbers are as follows: 404hp, 472lb ft of torque and, if you’re flat out, 62mph in 5.4 seconds. Drive more sedately – or in the way precisely specified by the WLTP – and you might see 130mpg and emit just 49g/km. More pertinently, you should get around 33 miles of EV range. With a 32kW charger, you can get to 80 per cent of that in just 30 minutes, too; otherwise, it takes about an hour and 40 mins with a domestic wall-box.
If those numbers sound familiar, it’s because the setup is shared with the Jaguar F-Pace P400e. The question is, does a four-pot hybrid setup impact the high-end feel of a model that is clearly differentiated from its slightly more affordable sibling? Initially, the answer is a resounding no. Sat among quality trim materials, nice touch surfaces and the ever-impressive digital architecture, there’s nothing, other than the EV button, to signal this car’s more eco-conscious setup. And that’s a good thing, because frankly, the Velar’s interior didn’t really need changing.
That said, some of owners have complained of a slight hesitancy in early Velar infotainment software, something that has been addressed with the new JLR architecture. While the Velar keeps its rotating, oblong infotainment screen (in contrast to the curved square seen in the latest F-Pace), it receives the firm’s latest front-end design, which is as visually pleasing as it is sharp and responsive. We’ve said it a few times recently, but JLR’s 2021 interiors feel like they offer the optimum mix of tech and tactility.
They’re plush, too, even with the cloth fabrics of our S-trim test car (the pictured car is an R-Dynamic SE). The Velar remains a lovely place to sit. Moreover, the interior design does the exterior justice, and with the heightened focus on road dynamics, you’re given a lower, more purposeful seating position to make it feel all the more special. The tech aboard is bang up to date, too, with wireless phone charging and Carplay, cabin air ionisation and noise cancellation just a handful of the latest features there to improve the experience. And it all remains pleasantly relaxing when you set off thanks to the now familiar silent thrust provided by JLR’s electric motor.
The P400e setup actually applies two levels of electrification to the powertrain, with the proper hybrid system – which uses an electric motor offering 143hp and 203lb ft of torque alone – and a 48v mild hybrid system for the four-cylinder engine. The former is easily capable of handling the urban stuff, and it can even take you up to and beyond motorway speeds, if you select EV mode. If left to its own devices in Hybrid mode, the petrol powerplant seamlessly kicks in (the belt-driven starter generator is rapid) and ensures that the delivery is smooth through all eight gears. Only now, you have the sharper throttle response of an EV coupled to the growing power delivery of a four-cylinder that offers its best at 5,500rpm. It sounds alright, too, with a smooth, albeit low volume, tone
Rest assured that the quieter powerplant doesn’t expose you to any additional wind or road noise; the Velar P400e glides along a motorway very nicely. In both air suspension and spring suspension guises it rides well, with more suppleness in the air configuration, although the steel spring setup is still very comfortable. Only high-frequency vibrations over cracks and ridges can’t be fully masked, but the payoff of not being overly pillowy is good body control and a keen front end. The steering in the Velar is tuned differently to the naturally sportier F-Pace, but even in this weightier P400e variant, the tarmac-biased Range Rover steers very positively, making it easy to place on the road. With the throttle response of that hybrid powerplant and thrust of a rev-keen engine, not to mention strong brakes that are easily modulated, it’s genuinely enjoyable to charge along a B-road at pace.
Obviously, the electrified four-pot doesn’t challenge the six-cylinder engines – neither petrol nor diesel – for charm, but in function it’s right there with them. The biggest drawback is one shared with almost all other plug-in hybrids, in that you’re only offered the best mix of performance and economy when the battery has juice. Let it run out and you’ll still enjoy those bursts of instant electric shove, but the four-pot won’t switch off when coasting or let the electric motor take up full strain at lower speeds. Land Rover does have a Save mode which doesn’t allow the battery to fall below a prescribed level, and there’s regenerative hardware for an additional per cent or two here and there. But for anyone wanting to achieve anything close to those on-paper numbers, regular charging is obviously required.
For those unable (or unwilling) to embrace the habit, there are those mild hybrids. We had a go in the D300 MHEV and can confirm that it is rather lovely, punchy from low down with the belt-driven starter providing instant shove, before the tractable 3.0-litre diesel flaunts a wide window of torque. Despite the major technical differences, both PHEV and MHEV performed identically off-road (no Land Rover launch would be complete without a bit of mud), with no perceivable impact to the Velar’s all-wheel drive system despite the contrasting layouts. The biggest difference is as before; air suspended cars tackle mud ruts and rocky inclines without issue, where the coil spring models are limited by their fixed ride height. In both cases, the Velar goes much further than any owner is ever likely to need.
At £56.5k starting and over £60k for the bulk of the range, the hybrid four-cylinder Velar risks the usual accusations of high pricing, but it’s too handsome and cosseting and technically impressive not to have you quickly onside. Similarly, the usual question marks hover over the tenuous idea that a 2.2-tonne SUV can call itself environmentally friendly in a broader sense, but that encompasses the entire segment – and there’s no question whatsoever that a plug-in hybrid version was necessary. In fact, with all its underlying appeal intact, the addition primes the Velar lineup to pick up precisely where those pre-pandemic sales left off.
SPECIFICATION | RANGE ROVER VELAR S P400E PHEV
Engine: 1,997cc, inline-four, turbocharged, plus electric motor
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500-4,400rpm
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 149mph
MPG: 130.2 (WLTP, combined)
CO2: 49g/km (WLTP)
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