As you read this, three Range Rover Hybrids are undertaking a 9,942-mile trip to Mumbai, retracing an ancient silk road route that takes in 12 countries and some of the most dramatic scenery and challenging roads in the world. What better way to prove this car’s capabilities?
The day before the cars set off, we sampled one of them in more prosaic surroundings: Birmingham. Solihull, to be precise, because that’s where this, Land Rover’s first production hybrid, will be built.
The “Silk Trail 2013” cars are pre-production models, but apart from the decals, roof rack, additional lights and winch required for the expedition, they’re identical to the first customer cars that will be delivered in early 2014. Feedback from the trek will allow Land Rover’s engineers to tweak calibrations slightly, but the specifications of the diesel/electric hybrid powertrain have been signed off.
As a first step into the world of hybrid technology this is, on the face of it, a small one, pairing Land Rover’s existing 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox with a 47bhp electric motor mounted in the standard transmission casing.
The decision to introduce such technology on Jaguar Land Rover’s most expensive – and arguably most conservative – model is a definite statement of intent, however, and promises to be the start of an inevitable march towards electrification across the brand.
One thing the company’s engineers are very clear about is that there was never any danger that this model would sacrifice Range Rover’s core values – a hybrid version was in the plans for this car (and the closely related Range Rover Sport) from day one. As a result, all of the standard model’s practicality and off-road ability is retained, and subtle badges on the tailgate and wings are the only external clues that this is an electrified Range Rover.
Underneath, a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack is mounted beneath the floor, with a boron-steel cover that is apparently strong enough to support the car’s weight on a contact area the size of a 50p piece. Handy if you get snagged on a tree stump, so the thinking goes.
Cabin space is unchanged, and you still get a full-sized spare wheel. In the Range Rover Sport Hybrid the two boot-mounted rear seats are retained.
The 292bhp SDV6 engine is the one that’s already available for the Range Rover Sport (the Range Rover gets a 255bhp version) – harnessing both power sources, combined output is 335bhp. The electric motor develops 125lb ft of torque, which contributes to an overall output of 516lb ft – a 73lb ft increase over the standard V6 diesel engine.
A regenerative braking system means that the electric motor acts as a generator when you lift off the throttle, simultaneously charging the battery and slowing the car. In some hybrids this function can be aggressive, and the transition from regenerative to friction braking can be jerky. Not in this one. Land Rover engineers say that achieving a smooth, natural feel was their goal… and they’ve achieved it.
In default mode, the car’s electronics juggle electric and diesel power to provide a balance between performance and efficiency. Selecting Sport mode means that the electric motor provides maximum boost, at the expense of battery life.
EV mode is where things get interesting, because it prioritises battery charging on the move, and electric-only propulsion. Land Rover quotes a maximum range of one mile on electric power alone, at speeds of up to 30mph, with the battery fully charged. In practice, we managed only a few hundred yards – not suitable for the daily commute, but maybe enough to glide up to your destination silently and emissions-free.
Recharging the battery doesn’t take long: a couple of minutes’ worth of regenerative braking seems to do the trick, or you can park, put the car in neutral and tickle the accelerator pedal to achieve the same effect.
Far from denting the Range Rover’s off-road ability, you could argue the hybrid system improves it, because the electric motor’s added torque – from zero revs – allows you to modulate your progress at very low speed. Certainly, on Land Rover’s off-road tracks around Solihull the Range Rover Hybrid was as unstoppable as ever, and took deep water, muddy inclines and steep concrete steps in its stride.
It’s the smoothness of this system that’s most impressive on the move, however. There’s not quite as much electric shove as you might expect when you pull away, but you sense that’s been engineered in to ensure that you can never quite tell which power source is doing the leg work.
The hybrid system adds less than 120kg to the car’s overall weight, and the Range Rover remains a supremely relaxing, assured way to travel. However, Land Rover’s claims of V8 diesel performance are over-egging it – the electric motor gives a barely noticeable boost to acceleration. Even so, the Range Rover accelerates as quickly as some hot hatches, which isn’t bad for a car that weighs 2,394kg.
Inside, discreet displays show the status of the hybrid system and current battery charge. The Silk Trail 2013 cars have a mysterious big red button that we were told not to press (we didn’t), but otherwise it’s business as usual, with a cabin that combines SUV architecture with luxury saloon trimmings.
If the hybrid system takes nothing away from the Range Rover experience, what will buyers get for a premium of about £6,500 over equivalent non-hybrid cars? The EU Combined fuel consumption is 44.1mpg – a 6.4mpg improvement compared with the standard Range Rover V6 diesel. The CO2 emissions figure is 169g/km, enough of a reduction over the SDV6’s 196g/km to compensate for the hybrid’s higher price tag. A (very) rough calculation shows that company car tax will cost owners about £1,000 less per year.
Such small financial gains are unlikely to be of much interest to Range Rover buyers – they’re more likely to choose the hybrid partly to show that they’re “doing their bit” and partly because it’s the most sophisticated car the company has yet produced. And you don’t need to drive to India to realise that.
Range Rover Hybrid
Engine/transmission:2,993cc V6 turbodiesel plus electric motor, eight-speed transmission, permanent
Price/on sale: £98,000 (est)/September 10 (deliveries from early 2014)
Power/torque: 335bhp @ 4,000rpm/516lb ft @ 1,500rpm
Top speed: 135mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 6.9sec
Fuel economy: 44.1mpg (EU Combined)
CO2 emissions: 169g/km
VED band: H (£275 first year, £190 thereafter)
Verdict: Good at everything and perhaps easier to justify a standard Range Rover. A longer electric-only range would be good, but the hybrid technology is impressively
BMW X5 M50d
No hybrid tech, but the triple-turbo diesel model is only slightly thirstier than the Range Rover and is a lot quicker. Cheaper to buy, too. BMW’s 2013 Frankfurt motor show car suggests a plug-in hybrid X5 could be just a year or two away.
Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
Similar performance to the Range Rover, but much thirstier: supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine and 46bhp electric motor give an EU Combined figure of just 34.4mpg. Fun to drive, but the least appealing Cayenne.
Mercedes S400 Hybrid L
A 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and electric motor give CO2 emissions from just 147g/km. Even “greener” diesel and plug-in hybrid models to follow. Luxurious and good to drive, but can’t match Range Rover for presence or off-road ability.
By Leo Wilkinson12:00PM BST 30 Aug