Range Rover Hybrid First Drive

Anyone who has ever driven a Range Rover will know what fantastic, hedonistic machines they are. Traditionally outfitted with a full complement of eight cylinders, and in recent times well exceeding two tonnes in weight, they are cars that focus on navigating the road ahead rather than worrying about what's coming out of the back.

While that's still largely the case, ever-tightening European emissions regulations have recently started forcing Land Rover's hand.

In September the Coventry-based manufacturer opened the order books for a brace of unlikely new models, the Range Rover Hybrid and Range Rover Sport Hybrid. Both aim to offer the performance of the 339hp 4.4-litre TDV8 Range Rover but with emissions comparable to a diesel BMW 5 Series.

It's a lofty goal, and to achieve it both models will be outfitted with a 35kW electric motor that boosts torque output by a considerable 125lb ft to take each car's total to 516lb ft - the greatest of any Range Rover. However, Land Rover says the Range Rover Hybrid is more about the clever software than manages the dual power sources than the hardware itself, and looking at the numbers the cars generate it's a claim that's hard to dispute.

Carbon dioxide emissions have fallen to 169g/km and combined fuel economy is 44.1mpg . Compelling figures, but impressively (although not necessarily surprisingly) the car's performance remains strong; 0-60mph takes fewer than seven seconds.

Aesthetically there's very little to tell the Hybrid apart from conventionally-powered and undoubtedly attractive Range Rovers, with just a couple of 'HYBRID' signatures on the front doors and tailgate. Looking stately clearly takes precedence over shouting about ecological credentials, as it probably should with a Range Rover. As the Hybrid will only be available in top-spec Autobiography trim, however, any Range Rover you spot without an expansive chrome grille adorning the front won't be electrified.

Driving the Range Rover Hybrid is also much the same as the experience enjoyed by normal Range Rover drivers, which is a good thing. The are some improvements, however. Acceleration is still effortlessly smooth yet slightly more brisk and responsive than before, due to the immediate torque of the electric motor, and the Hybrid is capable of driving entirely unaided by its turbocharged diesel engine. Calling the experience novel is an understatement, even if it is fleeting. Feather the throttle and you'll manage around one mile of electric driving, although Land Rover stresses that this is not something they regard as a selling point.

Like all full hybrids, where the electric motor comes into its own is when the driver forgets about the system entirely and drives as one normally would. That way the car's computer is left to blend power from the electric motor and diesel engine for maximum efficiency depending on the situation, using that torque to aid acceleration and recuperating energy quickly through its regenerative brakes. Should the car choose to dabble in a spot of pure electric driving, then all the better, but Land Rover's engineers insist that second-guessing the software is a mug's game.

That said, there is a button on the transmission tunnel marked 'EV'. Press it and the Hybrid will do its utmost to slip into electric mode whenever possible, even though it may not be the most efficient use of energy available (from both sources) at that point. All said and done, it's probably best to leave it be. Do that and you're left with everything that makes the Range Rover such an impressive machine yet 25 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions.

Along with the extensive weight-saving measures employed in the latest generation of Land Rover vehicles, the Range Rover Hybrid is a step in the right direction. But it's only that, a step. The next stage would be a plug-in hybrid Range Rover with a significant electric range, perhaps more than 50 miles, although the company insists that battery technology must dramatically improve before it considers bringing anything to market. Even so, Jaguar Land Rover is carefully considering how the market for its electrified vehicles will take shape over the next decade.

“There are two schools of thought,” says Land Rover's hybrid strategy manager Paul Bostock. “The first says that once plug-in hybrids are available then people will naturally gravitate towards those rather than a normal parallel hybrid. You'll see the slow death of hybrids.”

Bostock believes that this will hold true in more established markets – chiefly the US, Europe and, increasingly, China - but that there will likely be continued demand for simpler hybrid technology where charging infrastructure is limited.

“The other school of thought says that even when plug-in hybrids come to market in a big way there will still be some markets, such as Brazil and Russia, where they have a slow-moving plug-in infrastructure, for example, where they'll still require some carbon dioxide reduction technologies but they haven't got the infrastructure for plug-ins. I think that’s where you'll potentially see the future market for hybrids.”

Either way, electrified Range Rovers are here to stay. And after such a convincing opening gambit, that's something to be optimistic about.  

Range Rover Hybrid

Engine: 3.0-litre turbodiesel Electric motor: 35kW Total power: 340hp Torque: 516lb ft 0-60mph: 6.9 seconds Top speed: 135mph Fuel economy: 44.1mpg combined Carbon dioxide emissions: 169g/km Weight: >2,394kg Price: £98,415

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