A few years ago, Greenpeace lambasted Land Rover for building gas-guzzling SUVs. Since then we’ve had more efficient powertrains, engine-cutting stop-start systems and weight-slashing aluminium bodyshells.
But nothing promises to cull emissions quite like this: the new Range Rover Hybrid, a 2394kg off-roader with a potent V6 diesel engine that emits just 169g/km – 27g/km less than today’s substantially less powerful Range Rover TDV6 and a whopping 130g/km less than the last-generation Td6 that so riled those greens.
We’re driving late prototypes today ahead of Land Rover taking them on a trek from Solihull to India, hence the expedition graphics and roof rack.
What’s the Range Rover Hybrid’s spec?
The Hybrid uses a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine which, when combined with its electric boost, yields 335bhp/516lb ft and promises 44.1mpg and 169g/km. This promises comparable performance to a TDV8 Range Rover (334bhp/516lb ft) with parsimony to shame the entry-level TDV6 (37.7mpg/196g/km). The Hybrid can also drive on electric power alone for up to a mile at speeds of 30mph or less.
There is no petrol version, Land Rover saying the Hybrid is a European-focussed vehicle rather than one aimed at the burgeoning American and Chinese markets that’ll lap up the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid. Only time will tell if that’s a mistake.
The system works like this: a 35kW electric motor is packaged within the ZF eight-speed gearbox, sitting between the ratios and the engine itself and taking the place of the torque converter. Meanwhile, the fuel tank is smaller to make way for the lithium-ion battery pack, which powers the electric motor. Back off the throttle and the coasting engine charges the battery. Brake lightly and all the retardation comes from the regenerative braking system, which also feeds charge back to the battery. Brake harder and a blend of brake-pad friction and regenerative braking combines to stop you.
What are the hybrid’s compromises?
Just two, as far as we can see: the hybrid tech adds 120kg to the kerbweight and the price rockets past the TDV6’s £71k and TDV8’s £78k to land right in range-topping Supercharged V8 territory at approximately £100k.
But because the Range Rover was designed from the off to be a hybrid, there are no packaging compromises related to the battery pack: passenger room, boot space and spare-wheel provision are all unaltered, and even the gearbox is no larger. Possible side-effects of the smaller fuel tank are also negated thanks to the improved fuel economy: the range is said to remain the same as a TDV6 at around 400 miles depending on driving style.
Likewise, off-road capability is unaltered – and, as we’ll discover, even enhanced. The battery pack is shielded by boron steel to protect from bumps and scrapes; approach, departure and break-over angles are unchanged; and Land Rover claims you can even jack the Range Rover up right under the battery without consequence.
What’s the Range Rover Hybrid like to drive?
We drove the Hybrid on an eight-mile urban route, which gave us very few chances to assess its boosted performance – which nonetheless did feel bountiful on the brief occasions we got to taste it – but a decent opportunity to experience its tree-hugging eco credentials.
When we turned the Hybrid on in a car park the engine remained dormant for several minutes – we had no headlights, wipers, or stereo on, but the A/C blasting, all of which can cause a hybrid to start burning fossil fuels even when stationary – and rolled out of the car park silently. However, you do have to be very, very gentle with the throttle to stay in electric mode and, sure enough, the engine kicked in within a few seconds of us being on the move at very low speed.
Leave the Hybrid in Drive and the overwhelming sense is of a very, very efficient stop/start system, but instead of only working – as those systems do – when the Range Rover is at a standstill, it also cuts the engine when you’re coasting to a stop or manoeuvring at very low speeds, for instance negotiating a mini-roundabout. Accelerate again and you’ll hear the engine lightly cough and resume its duties. Mostly, though, the transition is extremely subtle, and is often given away only by a very light tickle of vibration through your feet rather than an audible change. It’s a very refined car.
Regenerative braking systems can often create an artificial feel to the brake pedal, but the Hybrid’s pedal feels perfectly normal in these low-speed situations.
Did you drive in electric-only mode?
We did. Press the EV button on the centre console and you’ll see an ‘EV’ symbol appear on the dash and feel the throttle pedal become noticeably soggier. If there’s insufficient charge or you’re travelling above 30mph, ‘EV’ will be ghosted in grey, but it lights up in green when electric mode is active. More so than the regular hybrid mode, the Range Rover makes every effort to keep the engine off, and the soggy throttle actively encourages you to accelerate moderately. The truth is, though, it’s still difficult to stick in EV mode, and it’s telling that Land Rover talks of switching to EV mode to pull up at a posh hotel or arrive at a movie premiere – both for the clientele it’s targeting and the likely duration of your all-electric adventures.
Nevertheless, it isn’t all about the engine being shut off, because the energy harvested via regenerative braking and engine coasting also gives the Range Hybrid a fossil-fuel-free performance boost.
And the Hybrid works off-road too?
Absolutely. Land Rover claims the Range Hybrid will prove just as durable as a TDV6 off-road, even with heavy use and frequent exploitation of the unchanged 900mm wading depth. And the abilities of this car remain extraordinary, clawing up inclines that you’d struggle to stand up on, teetering at angles that feel impossible and navigating the kind of terrain that normally requires oars. The electric motor even boosts capability, providing an instant slug of torque to creep you the steepest of inclines at idle speed.
The Range Rover Hybrid is a very impressive piece of engineering, a package that’s been seamlessly integrated into the car with only a small increase in overall kerbweight and no other drawbacks. It promises strong performance – though, unfortunately, we can’t claim to have tested that thoroughly – and strong improvements in economy and CO2 versus the TDV6, let alone the TDV8, with which its performance figures are more comparable. However, we’ll watch with interest to see how those figures translate to the real world, where hybrids typically fair far worse than their conventional counterparts.
Don’t expect to spend large amounts of time wafting about silently in a Range Rover Hybrid – after eight miles the display showed our engine had been shut off for 30% of the time, but much of that was down to us being stationary in a car park or stopped at traffic lights – where, you’d hope, a stop/start system would be equally effective.
There’s another drawback too: the price. You’ll pay a whopping £22k more for a hybrid than a TDV8 that offers similar performance, so you’ll have to be pretty focused on reducing your tax bill, saving fuel and CO2, and making a green statement to sink your cash in a Hybrid. We’d get the TDV8, but expect a Range Rover Hybrid to deliver David Cameron to Downing Street sometime soon.