Land Rover is looking at lots of environmentally friendly solutions for the new Defender. Granted it's launching a not very green V8 version at the same time, but it has a battery-electric model in the pipeline and it's looking at hydrogen fuel cell technology too. On the road to environmental enlightenment though, it has launched a plug-in hybrid and, while it's clearly a bit of a steppingstone model, it is rather good.
In the Metal:
There are two sides to every story, but you'll have to be eagle-eyed to spot the two sides to the new Land Rover Defender PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). Apart from a very discreet little P400e badge on the tailgate, the only other sign that this is not a regular Defender model is the fact that it has a fuel filler flap on each side. One of course is for petrol for the four-cylinder Ingenium engine, the other to plug in and charge up the battery pack.
The rest is standard fare, meaning you get all the cool looks of the new Defender, along with an awfully long list of options so you can decide if you want to look like you're about to go on an expedition to Tibet or a night out in London.
Inside, things are also fairly regular Defender. The boot floor is slightly higher than in other models because of the battery pack and you also get an EV button on the dash. The Pivi Pro infotainment screen will also show you which form of propulsion you are using at any moment and how much charge you are putting back into the battery through energy recuperation, as well as how much you might be drawing out of it.
It's all spacious, rugged in a new Defender way and comfortable, with loads of space and tech that is mostly worthwhile and useable.
First, the official figures - the Defender PHEV can travel up to 43km in EV electric-only mode, has a combined consumption figure on the WLTP cycle of as low as 3.3 litres/100km and its CO2 emissions are as low as 74g/km. Now ignore everything you just read because in reality, the EV range is probably around 25km, the consumption figure is more than 10 litres/100km and the emissions figure must have been achieved while it was parked up.
We have no doubt that Land Rover can prove its numbers against the official metrics, but on our mixed drive we got nowhere near. What was interesting was what we achieved in different settings. There are three driving modes - Hybrid, EV and Save. Hybrid is basically normal and here we were achieving a consumption figure of nearly 11 litres/100km because the electric motor acts as a torque filler and takes a bit of the pressure off the petrol engine. If you want to save the battery so you can drive across a city in EV mode, then you'll see the consumption figure increase quite quickly as the engine has to do all the work itself. Without the assistance of the electric motor, you can expect no better than 10 litres/100km.
Obviously, the car returns far more impressive figures when there is still charge in the battery. And it will be cheaper to run if you maximise use of electric power, too, so it's worth plugging it in regularly. Not to mention being green and driving as often as possible with zero emissions.
It's not all about green though because the PHEV has an ace up its sleeve. It can reach 100km/h from a standstill in 5.6 seconds, which is just two tenths slower than the 525hp supercharged V8 Defender manages. Cue the thinking face emoji. The hybrid's top speed isn't anywhere near as high, but that's irrelevant anyway. On paper, the hybrid is much more efficient than the V8, too.
The PHEV model is only available in long wheelbase '110' configuration, which is what we drove in the UK from the Jaguar Land Rover head office in Gaydon to its testing facility at Eastnor Castle. The torque response was excellent, with almost no lag, and when you put your foot down you won't doubt the 404hp output claim.
Our test car was riding on all-terrain Goodyear tyres, which are a little noisy on certain types of tarmac, but not annoyingly so and they provide plenty of grip. It does tend to wallow about on its springs during braking and cornering, however. Drive calmly and it's not a big deal, but press on a bit and it can become a little like doing slaloms in a speed boat. It is a big heavy SUV though, so this comes as no surprise.
One thing that is impressive is that the P400e can drive off-road in electric-only mode. We didn't try it - in fact we didn't take this one off-road properly - but silently sneaking across country in zero-emissions mode could be fun.
What you get for your Money:
Prices start from €73,226 and of course this is a plug-in hybrid with CO2 emissions as low as 74g/km, so while it might be a big Land Rover, motor tax is only €150 a year. You get lots of standard kit too, such as the Pivi Pro infotainment system (it's worth upgrading to the large screen), digital instrument display, LED headlights, surround cameras and lots of creature comforts.
In spite of the real-world numbers, the Defender P400e is a very impressive thing when you consider it's trying to be electrified, sporty and luxurious while also being capable of tackling any off-road terrain you might throw at it. Rivals beat it in some of these characteristics and the electrification strategy seems like a short-term solution here, but if you want something that's capable of plugging in one moment and doing some serious mud-plugging the next, then it's extremely hard to match.