Is the 2020 Range Rover Sport Plug-in Hybrid the First EV Off-Roader? TFL Finds Out. (Video)

Can the high-tech Range Rover keep up with a 2006 LR3?

The big news around the new 2020 Range Rover Sport PHEV is that, for a little while, it may be the world’s first off-road EV. That’s due to the SUV’s 13.1 Kwh battery with a claimed range of 19 miles in pure electric mode.

Roman and Tommy take it high into the Rockies to see if it is. And as a comparison, they bring along TFL’s 2006 Land Rover LR3, “Rhino.” The test: mud, sand, rock, snow, ice.

2020 Range Rover Sport PHEV

Range Rover Sport Plug-in

Engine: The battery powers a 141 hp electric motor that partners with a 2-liter, 296-hp 4-cylinder turbo to produce a combined max power output of 398-hp. Not bad. At peak efficiency, starting with a fully-charged battery, the Range Rover claims 42 MPGe, an astonishing number for any Land Rover/Range Rover product. However, with no battery assist, fuel efficiency drops to 19 MPG, worse than many full-sized pickups today.

Charging is via a Level 1 (normal household outlet) or a Level 2 (240v household outlet) charger. A Level 2 charge should take the battery from empty to full charge in a little over 3 hours.

Drivetrain: This is where Land Rovers and Range Rovers shine and their new PHEV is no exception. A low-range transfer case, automatic center and rear lockers, adjustable air suspension, and terrain management system turn off-roading into a nearly mindless pursuit.

2020 Range Rover Sport PHEV

Off-road EV? mmm, no.

Despite our best efforts, the Range Rover wouldn’t allow us to stay in full EV mode when the trail turned gnarly. When requiring full torque, the engine kicks in to move the SUV. A big reason: The 4-LO transfer case is unavailable when in EV mode, which severely limits the Range Rover’s ability to crawl over rocks or stress the transmission.

But once we stopped trying to drive the first off-road EV, you know, off road, the British make’s heritage as a go-anywhere vehicle shined. While Land Rover may still be a couple of generations away from nailing the EV/hybrid combo, they do know how to marry luxury and off-road capability better than most anyone. We have two caveat though: The new Range Rover’s infotaiment touchscreen system is a hot mess to figure out and use; and at slow speeds the transition between electric power to gas and back is not what we would call elegant.

Range Rover 21-inch wheel

One Fix to Make the Range Rover Sport Better

In our book, a simple fix to make this SUV better would be to swap out the 21-inch rims and street-minded all-season tires for smaller rims and beefier off-road specific tires with a wider sidewall that we could then air down. This would smoothen out the ride as it does with the older LR3 and allow the tire to get more grip over obstacles and terrain. Who knows, maybe a change in wheel/tire strategy could make this into an EV off-roader.

Right now, the wheel/tire set up is holding this otherwise stellar Range Rover back from the glory that its much older sibling, the LR3 below, handles with ease.

2006 Land Rover LR3

By Comparison: 2006 Land Rover LR3

Rhino is nearly 15 years old. It cost us $6,000 versus the $93,000 sticker on the Range Rover. But underneath the leather and sheet metal lie very similar trucks. Both Rhino and the new Range Rover ride on adjustable independent air suspension for boosting ground clearance in terms of inches. Both feature 4-LO transfer cases. And for $87,000 less our LR3 can go beyond anything we dare take this new Range Rover. To see for yourself, check out the video below.