The Range Rover introduces some volts to the equation with the Hybrid. Jonathan Crouch wonders how well water, mud and high voltages mix.
Ten Second Review
The Range Rover Hybrid packs a 385bhp punch yet will still return 44.1mpg and emit just 169g/km. That's 26 per cent better than the standard diesel V6, but you could be paying around 40 per cent more. If you feel the price is a fair ask for more power, efficiency, exclusivity and refinement, then you'll find very little to disappoint in this slick adaptation.
As someone who was once a passenger in a brand new Land Rover product that managed to ingest water rather expensively into its electronic control system, I have first hand experience of exactly what happens when electricity and ditch water mix. In this instance, it involved climbing out of the window and jumping for land, only to end up buried up to my unmentionables in freezing clag. Therefore, when Land Rover announced that it was about to equip its most expensive vehicle, the Range Rover, with a diesel/electric hybrid drive system, I was more than curious to see how this would pan out. Granted, the number of new Range Rover owners who'll take their cars wading is probably quite small, but Land Rover likes to build a certain level of over-engineering into its products. Is this the moment we embrace a go-anywhere luxury 4x4 with a 35kW electric motor on board?
If you've been following the Range Rover development story avidly, you'll be up to speed on the latest car. If not, the cliff notes are that it's the first SUV that rides on an aluminium monocoque structure. It gets Terrain response 2 that automatically selects the most suitable vehicle settings for off-road terrain and most people will choose either the TDV6 or TDV8 diesel engines. This Hybrid version uses the smaller of the two diesels, the 3.0-litre V6, with a 35kW electric motor integrated mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission. The hybrid system, including lithium ion battery pack, inverter and electric motor weighs less than 120kg and doesn't compromise the Range Rover's wading ability or ground clearance, I was relieved to learn. The electric motor produces 170Nm torque to boost acceleration and drives the vehicle in EV Mode, where it can travel at speeds of up to 30mph for a range of up to one mile before the diesel engine seamlessly restarts. Together, output of the diesel engine and electric motor is 340bhp at 4,000rpm and you get a monstrous 700Nm torque between 1,500 and 3,000rpm. The Range Rover Hybrid will accelerate to 62mph in less than seven seconds, with a top speed of 135mph.
Design and Build
The other good thing about the electric conversion is how little space you have to sacrifice. The Range Rover Hybrid has the same five-seat capacity and luggage space as the standard vehicle and retains the full-size spare wheel. Most of the extra components are fitted under the floor, on the right-hand side of the car. Land Rover has installed a clever electrically driven air-conditioning system to make sure the cabin can be kept cool when the engine is off, and just about the only clue that you're in anything other than a regulation diesel Rangie is a TFT display, which provides data on the hybrid system's charging status and gives efficient driving advice. The driver can switch it between modes where you get a power meter or a conventional rev counter. Otherwise, it's much as you get in the rest of the model range. The 120kg addition in bulk is more than offset by the 420kg weight saving won by using aluminium in the construction of this latest generation Range Rover, so you're not sacrificing much in the way of agility, even if it does weigh in at 2394kg. The interior styling is evolutionary, with the centre console design further tidied up with use of higher quality materials. The packaging of the vehicle has improved and there's now more space with the option of a new two-seat Executive Class seating package for the ultimate in rear-seat luxury. Longer rear doors solve the old car's issue of awkward access to the rear seats. There's superior refinement too, the development team improving the body structures to reduce harmonic vibration and acoustically laminating both the windscreen and the side glass.
Market and Model
So far, so good, right? You knew there was a 'but' coming and it's a big one. The asking price for the Range Rover Hybrid required a budget of just on £100,000. Or to put it another way, you're looking at an £11,000 premium on top of the cost of the top of the line 3.0-litre TDV6 Autobiography and £27,000 more than the less ostentatious TDV6 Vogue. By contrast, Porsche prices its hybrid Cayenne at a mere £62,000 which seems cheap as chips by comparison. Yes, the Range Rover Sport Hybrid is a more natural competitor for the Porsche than big brother, but even that car is priced some way north of £81,000. It seems you've really got to want one of these to fork out that sort of money.
Cost of Ownership
So, what sort of economy does all this investment in hybrid tech buy you? That's a bit of an issue as well. Fuel economy is rated at 44.1mpg on the combined cycle and emissions are pegged at 169g/km. That compares with 196g/km and 37.7mpg for the standard diesel car V6, so you're getting a 26 per cent improvement in efficiency courtesy of the addition of electric power as well as an 80bhp boost in power. Is that worth a 40 per cent increase in price over a standard diesel car? That's debatable, but the Hybrid suddenly seems to be the efficiency pick of the Range Rover line up, offering excellent economy and range with a measure of environmental responsibility that will be welcomed by those who don't want to imagine themselves behind the wheel of a planet-wrecking land tank. To achieve this excellent balance sheet report, the Range Rover Hybrid has all kinds of tricks up its sleeve such as coasting, where the V6 engine cuts to save fuel and then imperceptibly restarts when throttle demand is increased. There's also regenerative braking which reduces alternator drag and electrically-assisted power steering which ensures that a hydraulic pump isn't constantly being operated.
To understand the Range Rover Hybrid, first you need to understand the luxury SUV market in general and then the Range Rover clientele in particular. To the layman, paying 40 per cent extra to buy a vehicle that's 26 per cent more efficient doesn't seem particularly clever mathematics and in pure pounds and pence terms, it doesn't make a lot of sense. The luxury SUV market has been what marketing people call under-served in recent years in that the demand for pricier, more prestigious and exclusive products hasn't been met. Therefore, you have a large swathe of buyers who aren't particularly price sensitive but just want something cool and smart, two qualities the Range Rover Hybrid has in spades. Despite this generation of Range Rover being a relatively new thing, the Hybrid represents a genuine novelty; something other than the usual turbodiesel or petrol-powered Rangie. If you've been there and done that with Range Rovers and are now looking at something else, this could very well be the car that tempts you back to the fold and that can only be good news for Jaguar Land Rover. So there you have it. An impressively engineered vehicle with a costly price tag but which might well prove anything but a bit-part player. Keep your eye on this one.