The long game

15 min read

Giant test: PHEV SUVs



Finally, big SUVs like the latest X5, Cayenne and Range Rover are delivering the plug-in hybrid promise of pace combined with good electric range


Photography Jordan Butters

How many impossible things can I reasonably be expected to believe before breakfast? In Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen tells Alice that she often manages six. Today I’m giving her a good run for her money as I attempt to get my head around some improbable truths. The three cars I’m driving are head-spinningly ambitious, all of them high-powered premium SUVs with plug-in hybrid powertrains aiming to be various incompatible things: luxurious, roomy, heavy, yet also agile, dynamically rewarding and, at least sometimes, clean and silent.

And the car I begin in, the refreshed Cayenne, adds to the Mad Hatter levels of implausibility by seeming to be some kind of hot hatch. I must confess that I nabbed the keys without my usual high level of pre-drive preparation, meaning I don’t actually know which of the many versions of Cayenne this is, complicated further by the many options available.

As I head to the Peak District to meet up with the rest of the team, I know it’s a regular E-Hybrid, most modest of the three PHEVs available, meaning useful if not forceful acceleration. However, pitching it into a corner at a moderate pace, I’m taken aback by the chassis’ response. This well-contained bodyroll is more akin to a GTi than a 2530kg plug-in hybrid SUV.

I’m convinced this must have a rogue combination of base engine and all the chassis extras, but no. Aproper look at the spec sheet (and a word with Porsche to double check) shows that while the standard coils have been replaced by air and rear-steer is present, the optional active anti-roll bars are not. It turns out that’s how dynamic the Cayenne is, out of the box. Blimey.

With the Sporty member of our trio sorted, it’s time to meet Posh, the Range Rover P440e. Handling takes a back seat to comfort, and it’s very luxurious, while also offering the best e-range of the bunch, at least on paper. It is also a fair bit pricier than the Cayenne.

The reason for doing this test now is the arrival of the latest BMW X5. Our test car is a 50e, replacement for the 45e, which has been our favourite PHEV for a while thanks to its combination of e-range, luxury and driver appeal. The 50e brings a higher-capacity battery, more power, new toys and the promise of better efficiency, too.

To see if the X5 can pamper like the Range Rover, entertain like the Cayenne and deliver decent efficiency as well, we have a two-pronged test. On top of the usual exploration of dynamics, usability and comfort, we’ll find out how far each SUV will go on a fully charged battery, and how thirsty they are once

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