Range_e plug-in hybrid trial “has met objectives”

Range Rover tells us its PHEV off-roader is good fit for customers

By Farah Alkhalisi on February 1, 2012 10:34 AM

The 24-month Range_e plug-in hybrid programme “has met objectives for Jaguar Land Rover”, says Hybrid and Electrification Strategy Manager Paul Bostock, who feels that “plug-in hybrid technology is a good fit for a Range Rover customer.”

The Range_e, first seen in concept form at last spring's Geneva Motor Show, is based on the Range Rover Sport and has the standard-issue 245hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine and new Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) eight-speed auto gearbox – plus a 69kW electric motor and a lithium-ion battery which can be recharged from a domestic power socket.

“A plug-in hybrid lets you do everything”, says Bostock, pointing out that a short urban commute can easily be done in all-electric mode whilst the Range_e still maintains its long-distance cruising ability – total range is 690 miles – and all its off-road ability.

“There's a certain type of customer, i.e. one who lives on the outskirts of London and who commutes into town, but with the odd long excursion, for whom it's ideal.” Under present regulations, the Range_e qualifies for exemption from the congestion charge; it emits an overall 89g/km of carbon dioxide and returns a combined 85mpg.

The road tests, funded by the Technology Strategy Board and part of the government-backed CABLED programme, have seen drivers of the five existing Range_e prototypes happily achieving the claimed 20-mile all-electric range; the trial has thus far focused on urban use and on-road behaviour, and has yielded valuable data and feedback which is now being analysed.

“There's a number of checks and balances between performance and usability”, says Bostock, who explains that the next stage of the powertrain's development is to fine-tune the different operational modes and the switches between the different power sources.

The Range_e starts up in all-electric mode – unless the battery is short on charge – and can run at normal urban speeds before the engine kicks in; electric power then supplements the engine under harder acceleration and at higher speeds, and with the motor mounted between the axles, maintains the permanent all-wheel drive (there's also the standard front, rear and locking central differentials, should you wish to go off-roading). Final-production models are likely to get selectable modes, such has 'sports' or energy-saving 'eco', but at the moment in the existing prototypes, the system is all-automatic.

Production models are also unlikely to have the prototypes' cloth seats and four-seat layout – these are measures simply to save weight in the trial cars' cabins. Land Rover knows that a plug-in hybrid still has to match up to its customers' expectations of comfort, equipment and versatility, and the usual sumptuous Range Rover upholstery can't be compromised.

Ultimately, weight-saving measures will probably include use of aluminium for certain components, and the Range Rover Sport may not necessarily be the model in which the plug-in technology makes its debut.

“The reality of it is that there's considerably more work to do”, Bostock warns, underlining the fact that though a conventional diesel-electric hybrid is scheduled to make its debut next year, a plug-in Land Rover model is still a few years from production. The good news, though, is that the technology is scalable and potentially suitable for application in all the models across the Jaguar Land Rover line-up.

Not that this is the only line of research from the firm: the Limo Green trial has seen the fitment of a range-extended electric powertrain into a Jaguar XJ saloon, and Project REEVolution continues to explore plug-in petrol-electric hybrid technology. All-electric and hydrogen/fuel cell powertrains are also under consideration – not least because Jaguar Land Rover quite sensibly does not want to try and second-guess which solution will come to dominate the market. Either way, however, electrification is certainly on the JLR agenda.

First drive impressions

For a prototype, the Range_e is very refined, and the only glitches we experienced in our short test-drive were with the display screen, an interim adaptation which would be specifically redeveloped for a consumer vehicle. The powertrain itself feels sophisticated, with only minor calibration and fine-tuning now needed to make it production-ready.

As with any vehicle featuring stop-start, microhybrid or full hybrid-drive, the initial start-up process demands a defined sequence of actions and can be initially disconcerting for anyone more used to firing up an ignition, but the Range_e pulls away smoothly and shouldn't be short of get-up-and-go for city manoeuvreing in its all-electric mode. Its higher-speed on-road performance will match and potentially even surpass that of any other diesel-engined Range Rover, thanks to the added supplement of the electric motor's torque.

It hasn't yet undergone any off-road trials, but a production plug-in hybrid will, Land Rover promises, go through the same durability, reliability and extreme-surface testing as any other vehicle from the brand.

Watch our video from the Range_e day here:

N.B. Please excuse the poor sound quality, and for the roar of a Jaguar XJ220 half way through - our sound guy has been fired.