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Range Rover Range_e hybrid review (prototype)
Model: Range Rover Range_e hybrid prototype
Bodystyle: Five-door SUV
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel-hybrid with supplementary electric motor
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Date of test: January 2012
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What is it?
At the minute, the Range_e is purely an experimental concept vehicle to assess the feasibility of a hybrid powertrain on Land Rovers of the future.
Based on a standard Range Rover Sport chassis, the Range_e is powered by a conventional 242hp 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 with a further 93hp from an additional electric motor.
It can be driven on electric power alone for more than 20 miles and at speeds up to 50mph thanks to its lithium-ion battery pack, which can apparently be fully charged from flat by a conventional 240V power source in an outstandingly short four hours.
Apart from a few small kinks that need ironing out - it's a prototype, after all, and Land Rover is working on the issues - it's clear from our time behind the wheel that the hybrid system is close to production.
Where does it fit?
When it makes it into dealerships - most likely with the next generation of Land Rover products rather than the current ones - the Range_e will take on existing premium luxury hybrid SUVs such as the Lexus RX450h and the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid.
But since it's a plug-in hybrid, with a larger battery pack that can be pre-charged at home, the Range_e's efficiency far eclipses those rivals, claiming 85mpg and 89g/kn CO2, compared with 44.8mpg and 145g/km and 34.4mpg and 193g/km for the Lexus and Porsche respectively.
The real beauty of the hybrid luxury Landy, however, is that the system does not impinge on the qualities that give the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport their existing massive appeal (more on this later).
Is it for you?
Plenty of people dismiss the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport because of their thirst for fuel and the amount of annual tax required to cover the substantial emissions of even the smallest 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel.
Which is where this hybrid concept comes in. According to Land Rover the diesel-electric tech underpinning this car is set for launch next year - coinciding with the anticipated launch of an all-new range-topping Range Rover.
Interestingly, spy shots of the new 2013 model's pre-production interior show it sporting a red knob on the centre console - which we can only assume is a similar safety item to that used in the Range_e to isolate the prototype's hybrid electric system.
So the chances are the full-on Range Rover will get this system ahead of the Sport. Expect something similar for the Evoque in due course as well.
What does it do well?
With an additional 93hp supplementing the 3.0-litre diesel V6's 242hp the Range_e certainly offers impressive performance. Pulling away, the Range_e surges off on a silent wave of torque that is hand-in-glove suited to the luxury style of a Range Rover.
It generally feels well polished, too - even at this prototype stage. The ride is every bit as cosseting as we'd expect and the steering nicely judged, but as with any Range Rover you can certainly feel its mass in the corners.
When below 50mph and in full electric mode however, things become instantly serene as the Range_e cuts out the already minimal noise and vibration from the 3.0-litre diesel motor.
What doesn't it do well?
We observed an inconsistent transition between electric-only and diesel-electric modes as the car's V6 turbodiesel engine kicked in - it didn't appear to be dependent upon throttle position or speed, just an odd phenomenon that sometimes showed itself.
Most of the time however, the motor chimed in seamlessly and we must stress that the Range_e is very much a technology demonstrator prototype in its current guise.
What is it like to live with?
Unfortunately, as the car is full-on prototype, we can't definitively say. Given that a full leather interior comes as standard on the Range Rover Sport, for the Range_e to have cloth seats is quite odd. However, it does reinforce the concept car origins of the vehicle.
Apart from a big red isolator switch for the hybrid system, a pair of LED lights that blinked once (possibly for the prototype's traction control) and some hastily fitted interior trim around said LEDs, it's standard Range Sport fare inside.
There's a colour touchscreen that controls the audio and sat-nav systems, conventional dual-zone climate control and the usual rotary switch that rises out of the centre console to select modes on the eight-speed automatic gearbox.
In fact, there's not a great deal different to a standard car inside - a factor that makes migrating the hybrid system across other models in the range a distinct possibility and cause for excitement.
How green is it?
Why a cause for excitement? Because the 2.5-tonne Range_e will deliver that claimed combined fuel economy of 85mpg with emissions of just 89g/km CO2. Bear in mind that a standard TDV6 Range Rover Sport claims 32.1mpg and 230g/km CO2 and you start to realise just how big a triumph the Range_e is.
As the hybrid system works as a piggyback unit on the car's gearbox, the Sport's usual drivetrain is retained, too.
Together this means all the assurance, grip and peace of mind the standard car's four-wheel-drive system brings with it, yet greater official fuel economy than a Toyota Prius. Whether that will be the case in the real world remains to be seen.
Would we buy it?
If we could, yes. The Range_e is a truly promising experiment from Land Rover that's now even closer to making it into production reality, offering all the comfort of a regular Range Rover without the need to fill the fuel tank quite so often.
The real draw however, is the potential for the technology to be applied across the whole of the Land Rover range. That renowned Range Rover luxury and class leading economy and emissions levels would surely be something for all the competition to worry about.
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