Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sport-brute drastically dumps thirst for fuel

Hybrid Range Rover reduces weight, aerodynamic drag

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CAN you imagine a Range Rover that gets 45 miles per gallon (6.3 litres per 100 kilometres)?

Yes, you read that query right. No, that's not a typo with a missing decimal point. I have indeed implied there's a Range Rover extent that will eke out hybrid-like fuel economy. For those looking for context, that's the sort of fuel economy usually associated with an underpowered compact hatchback such as, say a Honda Fit, not a gargantuan SUV only slightly smaller than the Queen Mary cruise liner.

Nor are there a bunch of caveat emptors hollowing out that claim. Yes, the fuel economy being quoted is the European Union's less stringent than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard, but it is for the overall city/highway combined cycle, not just in the easier-to-attain highway fuel-economy test. Nor is this some underpowered green machine powered by four mice with a hyperactive devotion to environmental activism. Indeed, said fuel-efficient behemoth scoots to 100 kilometres an hour in less than seven seconds, pretty much on par -- for those already Googling Range Rover specs -- with the numbers garnered by the current car powered by the 375-horsepower naturally aspirated V8. I'm pretty sure this is the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.

How is it possible that the world's most gargantuan sport-brute is suddenly as miserly as a Corolla with David Suzuki at the wheel? Surely, it's been down-sized (nope, it's actually larger with, believe it or not, substantially more rear legroom) or stripped to the bone (again with the negative, as the Range Rover's interior can be ordered with no less than 29 speakers). Nor has its iconic body style been reduced to some Honda Insight-like egg-shaped George Jetson scooter, its exterior completely faithful to the current, wildly popular model (although, through the trickery of intimate body design, aerodynamic drag has been reduced by 10 per cent).

But 10 per cent reductions in aerodynamic drag do not account for fuel-economy improvements to 6.3 L/100 km, from 14 L/100 km (the average I attained in my last Range Rover road test). For that, you need a complete rejigging of your basic technology and so, for 2013, Land Rover is unveiling an all-new aluminum remake of the Range Rover and, for the first time in the company's history, it's offering a hybrid alternative.

The aluminum portion of that equation means V8 versions of the Range Rover we get here in North America are lighter by some 318 kilograms. European diesel versions reduce weight even more, dumping 420 kg of unwanted fat, equivalent, says Land Rover, to eliminating five adults and their luggage from the Range Rover's curb weight. If the automotive world ever invents an equivalent to TV's The Biggest Loser, the Range Rover will win it hands down.

According to Alex Heslop, the Range Rover's chief program engineer, every 100 kg of lost weight is good for a two per cent reduction in fuel consumption, laudable indeed but not the stuff of 6.3 L/100 km (the supercharged 5.0-litre V8, for instance, boasts just a nine per cent improvement in fuel efficiency). For that level of improvement, you also need the electricity-enhanced efficiency of a hybrid -- not just any hybrid but the very first diesel/electric combination in a SUV. Basically, Land Rover takes the already fuel-efficient 3.0L TDV6 (258-hp/6.2 L/100 km/196 g/km CO2) and mates it with a gearbox-mounted electric motor for 338 combined horsepower and 169 g/km CO2).

Acceleration, as I mentioned, is brisk and Land Rover claims its passing power is even more impressive. The company even takes great pains to ensure none of the Range Rover's incredible off-road ability is compromised by electrification; a boron steel skid plate protects the underseat 1.7 kW-h nickel cobalt battery and the hybrid will ford the same 900-millimetre streams as the conventional model.

There is one caveat, however. It's a relatively huge caveat. The hybrid Range Rover will not be available in North America in the near future as it only meets EU5 emissions standards, below the cleanliness required by current California regulations, for instance. However, upcoming EU6 regulations are to be harmonized with U.S. laws fairly soon and so, as Nick Rogers, Range Rover's vehicle line director, hints, we might assume we will soon see the diesel hybrid on these shores.

Finally, a Range Rover that can drive past a gas station.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2012 F2

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