CHELSEA TRACTOR FOR ECOWARRIORS The Range Rover Hybrid is a guiltfree drive – if you have the means, says
The snowtopped peaks of the Ochils in Perthshire were alight with pink sunshine as I drove the new Range Rover Hybrid into the heavenly off-road course that is owned and maintained by Gleneagles Hotel. It was with a frisson of anxiety, however, that I looked out over the frozen bogs and the icy mires of sheep-tracks that the car and I now confronted. After the recent launch of this car, some reports emerged of alarming failures, with near total breakdowns, in the supply of electric power from its lithium-ion battery and electric motor when the Hybrid was wading through water (a feat that would normally be as comfortably within the capabilities of a Range Rover as it is for a hippo). As the first British journalist to borrow the Hybrid version for a longer loan, therefore, I confronted the possibility of a long trudge through a winter wilderness if the electric supply failed. It would be impossible to get around without driving into some water. But what if I couldn’t raise a signal through the Bluetooth connection? What if the system couldn’t even power up the seat heaters while I waited to be rescued? Horrors. In the event, the Hybrid negotiated the circuit without hesitation or even once sounding an alarm. With Pirelli all-season tyres on its 20in alloy wheels, the filthy bog water was barely lapping at its wheel arches. But, even so, the car was subjected to a far more exacting test than it would ever undergo in the hands of 99 per cent of its potential purchasers. That’s especially true given the fact that the natural habitat for this near-£100,000 car is not the Perthshire hills but the streets of Mayfair and Beverly Hills. As the first ever Range Rover with a CO2 emissions figure lower than a double-decker bus, the Hybrid is the guilt-free Chelsea Tractor. From the regal driving position in this car, you can look down on the rest of the world and swank your green credentials at the same time. It’s enough to drive ecowarriors mad. Land-Rover says that it always intended a hybrid version to join the line-up for the latest Range Rover which first appeared in 2012, but such coherent purpose is not entirely the impression that the car gives in reality. Hesitations in the delivery of power and perceptible lumpiness in the switchover between the 3-litre V6 diesel and the 35KW electric motor when the car is in motion seem more like indications that the system hasn’t been fully developed and ironed out. This was most worryingly evident at the point on a sharp incline where our drive meets a public road. Moving my foot lightly from brake to throttle pedal caused the Hybrid’s diesel engine to kick in on top of the silent electric power and send the car lurching into the road. Everything was fine – but might not have been. Such roughnesses are unusual among luxury hybrids. All the other leading manufacturers – Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz – have poured such colossal investments of money and manpower into developing hybrid technology that the products that emerged have tended to be, in every respect, the best-made cars that money can buy. For example, the latest hybrid version Mercedes S-class – the S400 Hybrid L – is arguably the most completely desirable version of the car that is presently the best in the world. Its 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is so silent that switches of power to the electric motor are completely intangible. You have to keep an eye on the rev counter to know what’s happening. That gorgeous Mercedes is as fast as the Range Rover Hybrid, emits less CO2, consumes less fuel Price (as tested): £98,430 Power: 340bhp + 35KW 0-60 mph: 6.5 seconds Top speed: 135mph Average fuel consumption: 44.1mpg (claimed); 34.7 (as tested) CO2 emissions: 169g/km Insurance group: 49 Star rating (out of five stars): MERCEDES-BENZ S400 HYBRID Price (as tested): £94,530 For: sublime is too weak aword Against: not much cop in mud Star rating: LEXUS RX450H Price: £44,950-£55,495 For: makes brick outhouse look flimsy Against: joyless to drive Rating: and is also several thousands cheaper. It can’t, however, give you the priceless pleasure of seeing an ecowarrior erupt with frustrated rage; nor of wading through frozen quagmires.
High and mighty: from the Range Rover Hybrid’s regal driving position you can look down on the rest of the world