IN THE league of dangerous double acts, water and electricity sit mid-table, a place above Burke and Hare, level on points with Keith Harris and Orville. It’s the chief reason my idea for an in-shower combo hairdryer and toaster has yet to find a backer.
So you’ll forgive me for feeling a little tense as we churn through a doorhandle-deep puddle in a brand new Range Rover Diesel Hybrid. The hybrid, you see, is partly propelled by an electric motor, which draws lots of amps, volts and bumpsadaisy from a big battery under the floor of the car. Right now, that floor and the eight-speed gearbox that houses the electric motor are sloshing about in the sort of murky depths any self-respecting bodysnatcher would want to hide a cadaver in, and I fear something – specifically, me – is about to disappear in a shower of sparks.
But, egged on by a man from Land Rover who assures me the battery’s armour-plating is tougher than the hull of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, and coerced by a co-driver who views mud and ruts with the same enthusiasm you or I might view a spilled lorryload of gold bullion, I plough on, the Range Rover’s bow wave sending waterfowl scurrying for the safety of the opposite bank.
That I survived to write this should tell you what you need to know – the Range Rover performed faultlessly, without emitting a single snap, crackle or earthshattering kaboom. So it should, for this is, its maker claims, the world’s first premium diesel hybrid SUV with all-terrain capability. That’s nichey, but it means the hybrid can do everything a regular Range Rover can do. Better, in fact, and in silence some of the time.
The hybrid pairs a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine to a 35-kilowatt electric motor. The combined 336bhp, 516lb ft output gives it a turn of pace to match the larger-engined 4.4-litre V8 diesel, but CO2 emissions are cut by a VED-friendly 26 per cent (£285 for the first year and £200 a year after that at current rates, versus £840 and £475 for the V8). Fuel economy stretches to a theoretical 44mpg, although we recorded 28mpg after a day’s off-roading and tramping through the German Black Forest.
Before you start rubbing your hands in glee at the savings, a note of caution: the hybrid powerplant is only available in top-tier Autobiography trim, which costs at least £98,430. That’s nearly £11,000 more than an equivalently-specced but diesel-only TDV6, and £20,000 more than a V8 diesel in entry-level (but still very posh) Vogue trim. Only you will know if the extra expense makes sense.
If you plan to do some proper mudplugging in your expensive Range Rover, you’ll appreciate the way the electric motor’s torque kicks in at low speed, boosting traction when you’re crawling around in the glaur. It’ll run for a mile or so on battery power alone – handy if you’re trying to sneak up on big game in the Serengeti, or tip-toeing home from the office in the wee small hours.
Apart from that, it’s pretty much standard Range Rover fare all round, which is a very good thing. The same sense of unburstability and poshness, and the same clever Terrain Response System to take care of, er, responding to the terrain. Because all the electrical gubbins are tucked under the floor, space for passengers and luggage is as ample here as it is in the standard car.
In fact, a hybrid badge on the flanks is the only outward clue that something is afoot. Press the engine start button and the sound of silence is clue number two – the diesel motor doesn’t kick in unless the battery needs a top-up or your right foot asks too much of the electric motor.
Orders are being taken now, and you can expect to see the first Range Rover Hybrids silently stalking the streets in March or April.
CAR Range Rover Diesel Hybrid Autobiography
PERFORMANCE Max speed 135mph; 0-60mph 6.9s
MPG combined 44.1mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 169g/km