Saturday 24 February 2018

Four-wheel drives – from motorway swish to muddy slush and a trip down a ski slope

Range Rover Hybrid
Range Rover Hybrid
Range Rover Evoque
Range Rover Sport SDV8
Land Rover Discovery
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Range Rover Hybrid - I never thought I'd see the day I would drive a hybrid Range Rover.

I certainly never thought I'd drive one through water up to its – well, midriff.

A Range Rover's luxury ruggedness is a long stretch of the imagination from hybrid frugality don't you think?

Well Land Rover has blended the 3-litre SDV6 diesel engine with a 35kW electric motor (incorporated with the 8spd automatic transmission).

And hey presto we have a hybrid.

I had fun on the motorway, city streets, up and down narrow mountain roads and in the muck and mud as I sloshed and goshed in a giant taking it all in its stride.

We crept along tilting rock tracks where I felt most other vehicles would turn over, plunged into mudbaths, clawed up slippery, sharp inclines and passed within inches of tree trunks in swamp-like conditions. The Terrain Response2 system chose the best mode to negotiate varying underfoot conditions. All I had to do was guide it and use the power judiciously.

Then I had a nice talk and walk with the man responsible for this diesel hybrid Range Rover. Pete Richings told me what Land Rover has done to produce this apparent contradiction.

The important decision was designing the Range Rover from the start so it could take hybrid accoutrements. These include space for the liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack under the floor protected by a boron-steel cradle from jutting rocks and underfoot edges.

The batteries, electric motor and inverter weigh under 120kgs.

Significantly, cabin passenger space is exactly the same as the conventional version (motor in the gearbox housing). And the Sport hybrid gets the same treatment.

The one area no one thought about was the additional torque (pulling power) the electric part of the hybrid system would bring to off-roading.

Because the electric power gives you instant torque, you have more immediate power at your disposal. Funny enough, it worked.

On the road there were stretches where it purred at speeds seriously illegal here. The designers reckon the combined power of diesel and electric gives it as much oomph as the V8 diesel which costs a lot more.

They also reckon you will get 40mpg. On mostly urban drives they report the diesel engine is not working 20pc-25pc of the time.

But it was a different story when I had 340bhp of diesel engine and electric motor and phenomenal torque at my disposal.

This goes from a standing start to 100kmh in under seven seconds. There was great in-gear pull and I believe Land Rover when it says the top speed is 218kmh. Big the Range Rover may be, but it goes like hell. Emissions are claimed to be 26pc lower (169g/km, €570 road tax).

In northern European countries and cities (it is quite the urban vehicle) where taxation is harsh on conventional power sources and lenient on electrics and hybrids Land Rover expects a substantial take-up. The harsh reality for Ireland is that a hybrid Range Rover is of limited appeal because it costs a few grand more (the conventional one starts at €120,000 or so) and . . . I think a lot of people feel like I did before I drove it – that it was hugely irrelevant.

Can I not change my mind?

Okay?

Let's call it my TerrainResponse.

RANGE ROVER SPORT SDV8 - MORE POWER TO THE SPORT

Land Rover has added a powerful 4.4-litre V8 diesel to the Range Rover Sport stable (339bhp, SDV8).

I drove it sufficiently fast to know there are major depths of power here.

It just catapults out of the blocks (0-100kmh in 6.9 seconds) and hits top speed of 225kmh with, I reckon, some to spare. It also has immense pulling power (700Nm torque). Obviously the 3-litre diesel V6 (there are two versions: 258bhp and 292bhp) will provide the main focus but if you get a chance to give this a few minutes' test, you will remember it.

They have also added the likes of optional Parking Exit (helps you to automatically exit parallel parking bays), Perpendicular Park (automatically slots you bang in the middle of a parking bay) and 360 degree Park Distance Control.

The Sport is easily the biggest threat to the BMW X5. Such balance and power. And off-road it beats just about everything.

Range Rover Evoque Nine-speed

COME SKI WITH ME . . .

It sounded preposterous. Drive a large luxury SUV with a nine-speed gearbox down a ski-slope at an angle of 37 degrees.

They pointed us and the Evoque at what looked like a vertical drop to the bottom of the snow-clad ski slope. They made sure I had Hill Descent Control (HDC) engaged, told me to just steer, not touch the brakes and off I went. For four seconds I could see nothing only the snowy distance and sky as we went 'over the top'.

Then this machine crawled its way sedately to the bottom.

HDC is like cruise control for crawling down steep inclines. It keeps a pre-set speed and automatically operates the brakes to control each wheel's speed. At the other end of the spectrum is the 9spd gearbox. This is motorway stuff. I think I'd have asked when one would need a 9th gear. I found I could tip along in 9th at around 1,900 revs – your ordinary diesel hits around 3,000+ to make 120kmh in fifth or sixth. So dropping 1,000rpm or more should make a noticeable difference to fuel consumption.

While they were at it they did a bit of nip and tuck here and there on the Evoque. The side mirrors are smaller but better.

Overall they claim fuel consumption is cut 11pc with emissions lower by 9.5pc depending on what version you drive.

I used the paddles a lot but honestly never noticed the gears up and down when in automatic. There are a number of new elements. Active Driveline is interesting. Claimed to be a world first 'on demand' four-wheel drive system, it can operate in front-wheel drive only where you have no real need for grip and traction. But it automatically reconnects 4WD within 300 milliseconds when needed.

They say combined fuel consumption is up to 57.6 mpg and emissions starting from 129 g/km. Not bad for a big, powerful motor.

But the ski-slope-drive will stay with me for a while. Extraordinary. I'd take up skiing if someone could fit me with HDC.

Discovery gets its name in lights

Land Rover Discovery

They have spruced this up for next year. The front now has 'Discovery' splashed across the bonnet instead of Land Rover and I like the new light cluster. The one at the back makes it look smaller and slimmer somehow.

Anyway, it was a nice excuse to re-familiarise myself with this, and what a big, roomy motor it is. Great diesel engine, of course, and surprisingly nimble. Discoveries had their problems in the past but one hopes that's history.

Stop-Start helps the fuel economy and cuts emissions

You can choose from two versions of the four-wheel drive systems. There is the new single-speed transfer box or the twin-speed transfer box which has high and low range.

Irish Independent

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