Perhaps nothing divides enthusiasts quite like the plug-in hybrid. One side of the argument says that this is the best of both worlds, with zero emissions running where required allied to the sensory satisfaction and usability of a combustion engine. The other, of course, reckons you have a much less efficient car in the real world than a regular ICE-powered model (thanks to the additional weight of the batteries and motors) alongside a laughable EV range. And because there’s a honking great petrol motor to accommodate, you actually get the worst of both.
In between those extremes is the middling reality that PHEVs potentially suit a lot of lifestyles. Once upon a time these would have been SUVs powered by large diesel engines for power, refinement and range; Porsche - for reasons we needn’t revisit - gave up on that years ago, while Range Rover perseveres with the excellent D350. That being said, it’s easy to understand a reluctance to spend £100,000 on a vehicle that faces an uncertain future in the UK. We all know how good and virtuous a modern diesel is, but try telling that to the legislators. Related to which, some enlightened souls might prefer not to be seen in a 2.5-tonne, 5.0-litre V8 anymore, especially in urban areas. And no one could be blamed for a reluctance to place domestic harmony at the mercy of the UK’s public charging network when visiting relatives, ruling out an electric SUV for the moment. It’s easy to see how the plug-in variety has gained traction.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, it feels like the big SUV is a good fit for plug-in electrification. A few more kilos for batteries and motors is a much smaller proportion of the weight when it’s a heavy car already, and dropping from eight cylinders to six is hardly the biggest sacrifice in the world. Making a 4x4 250kg heavier does not fundamentally alter its character in the same way that it might, say, an Mercedes-AMG C-Class. The hundreds of miles per gallon claimed is unlikely, of course, though it’s easy to see why a car that could be charged on a driveway during the week for EV errands and take the family anywhere at the weekend might appeal.
The PHEV face-off here is the latest chapter in the Cayenne versus Range Rover Sport story, a rivalry that’s been running for almost 20 years now. They’ve duelled over the decades as 500hp V8 hellraisers, mighty eight-cylinder diesels, meeker V6s and more. Today they meet as 3.0-litre petrol models with electric motors. Give it a few years and we’ll be here again with the purely electric Cayenne and Range Rover Sport…
Interestingly, though kitted out in Platinum Edition spec, mechanically this is an identical Cayenne E-Hybrid to the one that launched in 2018. That means a 340hp 3.0-litre turbo V6 and 136hp electric motor, for 462hp and 516lb ft in total. The battery is rated at 17.9kWh, which means an official electric range of 25 miles and an 84mph top speed. The much newer Range Rover is similar in some ways - its 3.0-litre straight six is a solitary cc larger, and its electric motor just 13hp more powerful - yet different in others, boasting a battery almost twice the size, at 32kWh. This makes a huge difference to the all-important stats for a plug-in; where the Porsche only boasts best-case figures of 85.6mpg and 75g/km, the Sport is officially rated at anything up to 327mpg and 20g/km. With a 69-mile electric range, too.
But of course we don’t buy cars solely based on the numbers. And no matter what you think of the Cayenne in general, there’s nothing like a Porsche to make driving an activity to properly appreciate and enjoy. Clearly, the E-Hybrid won’t corner like a Turbo GT, and its V6 sounds thin compared to the rip-snorting GTS, but retains most of the facets which has made the firm’s SUV a bestseller. The eight-speed is dutiful and slick, the damping expert, the steering perfectly weighted and the whole car still seemingly designed around its driver. Just as we like it. The Cayenne is a 2.3-tonne 4x4, yes, but it’s still just about a 2.3-tonne Porsche as well.
Follow it up immediately with its arch nemesis, and the latest Range Rover Sport feels like a very, very different proposition. You climb up to the seat, rather than down into it, surrounded by a penthouse apartment of an interior - with lots of glass and contemporary materials - rather than the Porsche’s passable impression of a sports car cabin. It’s undoubtedly a special place, the Sport’s interior, if boasting a very different vibe. Where previously you’d want Land Rover style with Porsche functionality, this one works properly and looks very smart. The Cayenne might now seem a bit busy to some, and is arguably starting to show its age.
On road, what separates the two initially is that gulf in EV performance. A fully charged Cayenne will show something like 18 miles, with the occasional switch to battery on zero miles if you’re lucky; the Sport arrived on the shoot - having been rapid charged at 50kW, which the Porsche can’t accept - with 42 miles from just over 70 per cent of a battery. Clearly, that’s a big difference, especially given how much sprightlier the Range feels as an EV as well. It shouldn’t, of course, because it’s hundreds of kilos heavier and not hugely more powerful - but the world of electric vehicles loves to throw up a surprise.
The Porsche trundles around silently, never really with any of the urgency or vigour that might be expected of both the brand and an electric car. This is undoubtedly a plug-in SUV for urban speeds - maximum e-power can’t really cut it on, say, a dual carriageway slip road. The Sport, by contrast, could be used overwhelmingly as an electric vehicle, such is the range, the charging capacity and the way it can comfortably accrue and maintain speed. It even has a faint gearchange noise in electric running, sounding like a distant Jubilee Line train. The gulf doesn’t make much sense on paper, but it’s as plain as day.
It does rather play to the Range Rover’s strengths, too; the hybrid aspect of the Porsche feels like a nice novelty to have for the occasional run to the shop, whereas in the Sport it feels like a genuine preview of an electric Range, quiet and cossetting and unbelievably relaxing for sustained periods. There still seems more wind noise than would be hoped for, though that might just be the hush of everything else drawing your attention to it. The peacefulness of electric running undoubtedly suits the serenity of the new Sport experience.
Yet it can still be hustled, too. The Cayenne will be no faster down a B road; even an old SVR would struggle to match the pace this PHEV is capable of, four-wheel steer, active anti-roll, and torque vectoring collaborating sufficiently well to defy all logic, reason and, seemingly, physics to get three tonnes of Range Rover (2,735kg, officially) down the road at a mean lick. The surroundings and the feedback - squishier, lighter and less consistent than the Porsche - encourage gentle, considered inputs. But you’ll find corner speeds getting faster and faster, the huge Sport clinging on gamely and staying pretty flat with plenty more seemingly in reserve. While still riding supremely comfortably on 23-inch wheels. Make no mistake: the Sport is a marvel of modern automotive engineering. It never stops feeling hugely heavy, but that only serves to underline the ongoing thought: there’s no way a car like this should be able to do what it does.
That doesn’t mean it’s the richest or most rewarding Range Rover Sport driving experience there’s ever been, mind - particularly with an engine that sounds like a high-revving diesel. There’s no denying its overall ability or all-round persuasiveness, it’s just a shame that it isn’t more, y’know, Sporty. The latest generation leans more toward the Range Rover than ever; hardly a bad thing, because that car’s superb, and this is a slightly more affordable way into one. But this showdown highlighted its distance from the model’s original brief - i.e., building something that could challenge a Cayenne in the driving. The Dynamic mode feels too subtle, the powertrain always keen to revert to electric power and the gearbox never sharpens up enough. Where the lighter Porsche can tense up, hunker down and go maybe a smidge faster with less power, the Sport, for all its loveliness, is always more interested in keeping you cosseted. It makes for a supreme luxury car, and an incredibly capable one, but the Cayenne better rewards enthusiasm.
This gap underscores what seem like fundamental differences - some of them defined by age. The much newer car feels like a technical step up because of course it is. The 510e is perhaps the finest all-round plug-in hybrid SUV you can buy - but that improvement has not necessarily made it the best sports utility vehicle in the old-fashioned sense. The petrol-electric powertrain suits the Range Rover Sport down to the ground because the latest version errs towards plushness and superior refinement. It might be the best iteration of the new model currently available. That the E-Hybrid patently isn’t the best Cayenne is a factor not only of its far more exciting stablemates - the brilliant-sounding GTS chief among them - but also the idea that the car is pursuing more obviously potent dynamic objectives, and an electric motor isn’t ideal for reaching them.
On a level playing field, that makes the Sport a much more complete option so far as plug-in SUVs go. It’s as assured on road as the Porsche (actually better in some regards), would surely trounce it in the mud and can go a whole lot further on electric charge alone. And then charge its battery faster, too. Nevertheless, it’s a mark of just how sorted the third generation Cayenne is that it still puts Land Rover to shame in a narrower sense, especially five years on from launch and costing £25k less as tested, too. Land Rover will take satisfaction in the 510e’s advantage at this stage - and undoubtedly there is more to come from the Sport - but it will have precious little time to rest on its laurels. A car that can do as much as the Range Rover but with the added driver appeal of the E-Hybrid would be astonishing - and with a revised Cayenne lineup due later this year, don’t bet against Porsche being the first to pull it off.
SPECIFICATION | 2023 RANGE ROVER SPORT P510e
Engine: 2,996cc, straight-six turbo, plus electric motor and 32kWh battery
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 510@5,500-6,500rpm (143hp electric)
Torque (lb ft): 516@1,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 150mph
Weight: 2,735kg (DIN)
MPG: up to 327.4
CO2: from 20g/km
Price: £111,985 (price as standard; price as tested £113,990, comprised of 23-inch Style 5135 gloss black wheels for £500, Black Exterior Pack for £1,450 and first registration fee is in the extras at £55)
SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE CAYENNE E-HYBRID PLATINUM EDITION
Engine: 2,995cc, turbo V6 plus electric motor and 17.1kWh battery
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 462 (combined; engine 340@5,300-6,400rpm, plus 136hp electric)
Torque (lb ft): 516 (combined; engine 332@1,340-5,300rpm)
0-62mph: 5.0 seconds
Top speed: 157mph
Weight: 2,295kg (DIN, without driver)
MPG: 76.3-85.6 (WLTP, 25-27 miles EV range)
CO2: 83-75g/km (WLTP)
Price: £77,330 (price as standard; price as tested £86,765, comprised of Crayon paint for £1,683, Leather interior in two-tone, smooth-finish leather Black-Bordeaux Red for £2,753, 14-way electric comfort seats with memory for £879, Electrically extending towbar system for £858, Adaptive air suspension incl. Porsche Active Suspension Management for £1,511, ParkAssist including Surround View for £522, Soft-close doors for £497, 7.2kW on-board AC charger for £732.)
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