Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Range Rover Hybrid prototype review (2013)

Range Rover Hybrid prototype: 
Not only does the addition of an electric motor substantially improve the Range Rover’s CO2 emissions and fuel economy, it brings enhanced performance on and off road – albeit at a hefty price.
What: Range Rover Hybrid prototype
Where: Jaipur to Mumbai, India
Date: October 2013
Price: £98,500 (est TBC)
Available: order now, arriving early 2014
We like: no compromises just better economy, comfortable, fast, luxurious
We don’t like: limited electric-only range (for good reason), pricey (for good reason)
Range Rover Hybrid prototype: first impressions
Land Rover has built itself a hybrid – two, in fact, as in addition to the full sized Range Rover Hybrid we’ve driven in prototype guise here, a Range Rover Sport Hybrid will also be going on sale next year.
Don’t let that word ‘prototype’ fool you, either. These cars are essentially done, and ready for market. But in order to prove the concept of a diesel-electric Range Rover really works, the final sign-off drive has been a 52-day, 10,000-mile, 13-country trip along the Silk Trail to India.
As you may have already seen, we joined the final three days of the expedition – travelling close to 1,000 miles in the process, which means we’ve come to know the Range Rover Hybrid pretty well. It’s left us very impressed.
Land Rover has ticked a lot of boxes for the premium SUV buyer with an environmental conscience here. The difference between the Hybrid and the regular V6 diesel Range Rover isn’t just obvious on paper; it brings appreciable benefits out on the road – while actually improving its ability off it.
The only potential sticking point is the price – set to mirror the supercharged petrol V8 at around £98,500, this is nearly £30k more than the non-hybrid TDV6. But we suspect that the people who buy these things will be more interested to know that it works than the damage it will do to their bank balance.
Range Rover Hybrid prototype: performance
This Range Rover is the world’s first premium diesel-electric SUV. Choosing to combine the new hybrid system with a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine is an interesting decision, because it may rule out sales in petrol-centric USA and China. But it makes sense in terms of maximising efficiency.
Together the electric motor and the internal combustion engine deliver 340hp and, more significantly, 516lb ft of torque. Since the electric motor delivers its contribution to the latter literally instantly, you feel the benefit as soon as you put your foot down. This is a fast, 2.4-tonne car.
So although all the electrification gubbins – the motor, the batteries, the inverter and the control units – increase the Range Rover’s weight by nearly 120kg, it’s still half a second faster at 6.9 seconds 0-62mph than the non-hybrid V6 diesel. You can and will leave your passengers gasping.
This extra torque and the precision with which the electric motor’s muscle can be finessed is also useful when it comes to more challenging ground.
Range Rover Hybrid prototype: ride and handling
As an expedition vehicle, the Range Rover Hybrid we were driving was packed with three blokes and their gear, plus extra kit in the form of data logging and other prototype necessities. Not to mention the heavy-duty roof rack complete with jerry cans for additional fuel and a spare wheel.
This last is certainly sub-optimal for the handling, as it pulls the centre of gravity higher, increasing the amount the car is likely to lean through the corners. But for all that, the Hybrid is predictable, stable and able to hustle hard through high speed turns when required – ideal for coping with India’s unpredictable traffic.
The steering is light, but with enough precision to leave you reassured, which makes this an easy car to drive, even over long distances. And since we were covering hundreds of miles every day, often over terrible road surfaces, we can safely say the Hybrid is tremendously comfortable as well.
But it is also still a Range Rover. So you get the full package of Terrain Response traction modes and all the off-road capability you’ll ever need in a £100k machine. A boron steel plate protects the hybrid system’s battery pack, while the 900mm wading depth is exactly the same as the standard version.
Range Rover Hybrid prototype: interior
Being a prototype, our test vehicle was fitted with a few off-list options. These included a heavy duty winch behind the front bumper and plenty of spotlights on the outside, but also an emergency cut-off switch instead of one of the cup-holders and voice memo device synced to the data logging equipment.
This was only called into action during our time with the car to report some slightly clunky down-changes from the eight-speed automatic gearbox – but we needn’t have bothered, as this minor calibration issue has already been fixed back in the UK. There was just no time to upgrade the mapping during the trip.
Put these prototype adaptations out of your mind, and you’d be hard pressed to know this Range Rover was a hybrid on the inside. There are no fancy displays showing the energy flow around the car like you get in most rival part-electric vehicles. A deliberate decision to enhance the ordinariness of the driving experience.
Just about the only visual differences are the EV button on the centre console and a revised digital dial graphic that shows a power meter rather than a rev counter. This includes a regeneration display that helps you understand when the Range Rover is using the electric motor to slow down instead of the conventional brakes.
Range Rover Hybrid prototype: economy and safety
Land Rover has done an excellent job of blending the regenerative motor braking into the conventional braking – there’s none of the variability you get from some hybrid braking setups, just good solid stopping power. Again, handy in India. Stability control and six airbags are fitted as standard, as you’d expect.
As for the EV button, that forces the Range Rover to run in electric-only mode wherever possible (EV stands for Electric Vehicle). We’re told that this is not the most efficient way for the Range Rover Hybrid to operate, but it’s something owners like to show off. You get only about a mile of EV range at best, however.
Still, the combined might of the diesel-electric powertrain doesn’t just mean snappy responses, it also makes a big dent in the CO2 emissions, which drop from 196g/km in the regular V6 diesel to 169g/km in the Hybrid. That shaves £60 off the annual car tax bill, bringing it down from £260 band J to band H at £200.
Fuel economy gets a similar boost, rising from 37.7mpg to 44.1mpg in official EU testing; over the 10,000-mile Silk Trail trip the average has been calculated at 36-37mpg, which is a strong result given the hostile environments and extremes of driving.
There is plenty to ponder over when it comes to the Range Rover Hybrid. The brilliant integration of the hybrid system means there are no compromises compared to the standard car – rather, it is better in every single respect aside from the price.
While this probably won’t be a big concern to those who buy it, it is a shame that it will keep this car out of the hands of greater numbers of buyers – but the technology that underpins the advances here remains expensive to both develop and produce.
As for the limited electric-only range, that is a form of compromise – to go further on batteries would have meant a bigger battery pack, extra weight, greater packaging challenges and even greater cost. Land Rover doesn’t think the market is ready for this just yet, but hasn’t ruled it for the future.