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Hybrid vehicles have been around for years, but only just started to become mainstream and therefore potential tow cars. Is it time yet?

To help us explore the new world of electrification we have a 2019 Range Rover Sport, which as it sounds is a version of the Range Rover oriented towards on-road handling. The RRS has been around since 2006 when it was on a shortened Discovery 3 platform named L320. It had a major update in 2013, moving on to the L494 platform. The RRS has always been a true all-wheel-drive vehicle with variable-height, fully-independent, self-levelling air suspension and an automatic transmission, now up to eight ratios. Land Rover fits its adaptive terrain system called Terrain Response which modifies the car's systems to suit terrain such as rocks, sand and mud ... and now there's Eco and Sports modes too.

The RRS compromise for performance was load space, as the Sports’ have sloping rears plus a shorter wheelbase, so lack the space of the Range Rover Vogue or the LR Discovery. Nevertheless, for a couple towing there's plenty of room and Land Rover has a long towing history so we thought we'd try the electrified version, the 2019 Range Rover Sport PHEV.

BELOW Just plug in to any household socket and charge up! Here we are at the Range Rover Club of Victoria

The term "electrified" means that there's some sort of electrical motor used to propel the vehicle in whole or in part. The term PHEV means Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle - the RRS PHEV has a battery, one that gives it a range of about 45km, and a 2.0-litre petrol engine. PHEVs can run entirely on battery power, or entirely on petrol or diesel (petrol in this case), or both motors can drive the wheels at the same time. The 13kwH battery can be charged off a wall socket, or the fairly common Type 2 Mennekes plugs, which are what Tesla destination chargers use. The battery is also charged via regeneration - any time the vehicle is slowing down or descending a hill then the electric motor becomes a generator, and charges the battery in effect for free, and even better it helps save the brakes as well. The petrol engine can also charge the battery.

The end result is that you've got a vehicle propelled by a mix of petrol and electric, and it's all beautifully seamless. You just drive it, and let the computers figure out which engine does what, when and how. I was able to drive 35km into Melbourne's CBD during the morning rush hour purely on electrical power. Had I been able to charge the vehicle during the day I could have driven back too, or most of the way. The RRS takes a surprisingly long time to charge, in excess of 10 hours on a 10A household point, and that battery is only good for 45km or so range. Electric vehicles typically charge at the rate of around 10km per hour off 10A, so I was expecting the RRS to be charged in four to five hours. Land Rover says a specialist charging station can charge it in 2.75 hours, which is still quite a long time for a 45km claimed range by modern standards, and their claimed 7.5 hour charge time from 10A is also slow.

TOW TEST Range Rover Sport Plug-In Hybrid 

HELLO HYBRIDS!
CAN YOU TOW?

WORDS AND IMAGES ROBERT PEPPER

Got one like it? Insure it here
The multi-purpose traction aid
Shop GoTreads
Recovery Tool
Levelling Device

ADVERTISEMENT

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

RANGE PERFORMANCE
I was able to do a number of other short trips in pure electric mode, mostly ferrying children and picking up car parts. The shopping was easy too, because I just parked in the Electric Vehicles Charge Bay at my local mall which gave me near-guaranteed parking right near the door, and then plugged in for a free charge. I think that if you're diligent about charging the car, then you can do quite a lot of short-trip errands without using a drop of petrol. And we all know it's not good to drive a petrol or diesel car hard when cold but if it's on electrical power, then it doesn't matter, go as hard as you like. Actually, you can't go totally flat out. If you do the petrol engine kicks in, but the electric motor has certainly got enough power to keep the car moving nicely, and cruise at 110km/h.

ABOVE Handy to get a priority park AND free charging // BELOW The dash is entirely digital, so it can simply display a map instead of things like a rev counter

For longer trips the battery isn't going to get you there, so you may as well charge up and let the vehicle just use the energy as best it sees fit. However, you may wish to conserve your battery energy for later use and the RRS allows you to do that. For example, let's say you're going to a campsite and once there, you wish to creep around or go into town, or drive through a CBD, or some tricky manoeuvring on and off road when it'd be handy to hear people, or even just not disturb wildlife when you're on a nature drive.

Conserving the battery in this way doesn't mean the vehicle doesn't operate as hybrid at all, because during the drive there is some regeneration on hills and when slowing down. Even in conservation mode the vehicle will use electric power to help accelerate and cut the engine when going slowly. It just means the bulk of the energy is yours to use for a specific purpose. However, there is no utility mode to run accessories like fridges or winches. And no, even large portable solar panels aren't anywhere near powerful enough to charge the battery.

The driving experience feels much the same regardless of which engine is doing what. It's nicely responsive, and has a lot of power. Acceleration from 0-100km/h is 6.7 seconds, and to put that in perspective, the previous L320 model with a 5.0-litre V8 supercharged engine was good for 5.3 seconds with its six-speed gearbox. This is not a slow vehicle at all, and it handles its bulk well, just runs out of tyre grip early relative to its power.

ABOVE Land Rover’s rear-vision cameras have been good for a while now. You can even see the holes line up on the off-road hitch

ABOVE The battery is at the back, not ideal for weight distribution and also takes away the spare wheel location

Got one like it? Insure it here

“I just parked in the Electric Vehicles Charge Bay at my local mall which gave me near-guaranteed parking right near the door”

AND THE TOWING?
Now we come to the towing sides of things, and the specifications look bleak. The RRS PHEV can tow only 2500kg braked. Gone are the days when you could rely on any Land Rover to tow 3500kg, and even worse, the towball mass is a mere 100kg. The diesel 3.0-litre can tow 3500, but with a 150kg towball mass. Good luck trying to find any trailer in Australia that has such light nose masses; it’s designed for the European market. So for our test we loaded up a camper trailer which weighed 1000kg with a 100kg towball mass, and used that. The only good thing about the RRS towing specs is the huge payload for class of 736kg, and the big Gross Combined Mass of 5700kg which means the maximum trailer weight can be towed at GVM.

As you'd expect, the RRS pulled the camper beautifully. Lots of power, fantastic all wheel drive systems, tare weight of double the trailer, shortish rear overhang, self-levelling air suspension, eight-speed auto and trailer sway control. Really wasn't going to be a problem. We did some off-road towing in pure electric mode, and the RRS did well too, although the throttle control and traction control calibration wasn't up to Land Rover's usual high standards, it was effective but not smooth. One advantage of driving in pure electric mode is that you can hear the tyres very easily, which is a surprising help when off-road as usually their grip noise is masked by the engine.

BELOW Dirt roads and corners are very good for testing tow cars. The RRS has traction, handling, suspension and power … and it easily handles a 1000kg trailer, as it should considering it weighs around 2450kg!

The RRS is available in SE trim in a petrol engine only, and two diesels. This table shows the key differences:

Got one like it? Insure it here

“The term ‘electrified’ means that there's some sort of electrical motor used to propel the vehicle in whole or in part”

view the
range
Garrison
sabre
governor
avalon

ECONOMIES
The PHEV is considerably more expensive than either petrol or diesel, and you'll never get that cost back through fuel savings. You'd need to do about 3500 35km trips to get the fuel back, which is about 700 a year for five years. That doesn't account for reduced fuel consumption in normal driving but does give an idea. The PHEV is also significantly heavier, can tow less, and has a smaller fuel tank although that is offset considerably by the battery power. There's also no tax breaks that make it worthwhile, so from a purely practical point of view you may as well buy a diesel or petrol.

ABOVE 40km of battery range so almost full, total range 425km, car driven by battery power // BELOW Land Rover claims around 7.5 hours to charge, which would be slow, but in reality for me it was 10 hours plus, which for 45km or so of range is very, very slow even off a 10A socket

Got one like it? Insure it here

VERDICT
However, if you did want to own an RRS PHEV then you'd find yourself with a vehicle that embodies all that is good about the Range Rover Sport – handling, luxury, off-road capability yet has a potentially very useful electric-only mode. It's just the battery is where the spare usually is, and the towing capacity is low. There’s a full-size spare option, but that takes up a lot of load space.

In many ways this PHEV feels like the early model it is, based on a platform that isn't optimised purely for electrification. In future, I think PHEVs will rapidly become more and more viable as range increases, charge time decreases, and hopefully more control is designed in such as utility modes. Given the ever-tightening emissions laws, PHEVs will have to become the norm and then prices will drop too. And when that happens, based on this test, I see no reason to fear the electrified future and much to welcome.

Got one like it? Insure it here

HELLO HYBRIDS!
CAN YOU TOW?

WORDS AND IMAGES ROBERT PEPPER

Hybrid vehicles have been around for years, but only just started to become mainstream and therefore potential tow cars. Is it time yet?

TOW TEST Range Rover Sport Plug-In Hybrid 

The term "electrified" means that there's some sort of electrical motor used to propel the vehicle in whole or in part. The term PHEV means Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle - the RRS PHEV has a battery, one that gives it a range of about 45km, and a 2.0-litre petrol engine. PHEVs can run entirely on battery power, or entirely on petrol or diesel (petrol in this case), or both motors can drive the wheels at the same time. The 13kwH battery can be charged off a wall socket, or the fairly common Type 2 Mennekes plugs, which are what Tesla destination chargers use. The battery is also charged via regeneration - any time the vehicle is slowing down or descending a hill then the electric motor becomes a generator, and charges the battery in effect for free, and even better it helps save the brakes as well. The petrol engine can also charge the battery.

The end result is that you've got a vehicle propelled by a mix of petrol and electric, and it's all beautifully seamless. You just drive it, and let the computers figure out which engine does what, when and how. I was able to drive 35km into Melbourne's CBD during the morning rush hour purely on electrical power. Had I been able to charge the vehicle during the day I could have driven back too, or most of the way. The RRS takes a surprisingly long time to charge, in excess of 10 hours on a 10A household point, and that battery is only good for 45km or so range. Electric vehicles typically charge at the rate of around 10km per hour off 10A, so I was expecting the RRS to be charged in four to five hours. Land Rover says a specialist charging station can charge it in 2.75 hours, which is still quite a long time for a 45km claimed range by modern standards, and their claimed 7.5 hour charge time from 10A is also slow.

BELOW Just plug in to any household socket and charge up! Here we are at the Range Rover Club of Victoria

To help us explore the new world of electrification we have a 2019 Range Rover Sport, which as it sounds is a version of the Range Rover oriented towards on-road handling. The RRS has been around since 2006 when it was on a shortened Discovery 3 platform named L320. It had a major update in 2013, moving on to the L494 platform. The RRS has always been a true all-wheel-drive vehicle with variable-height, fully-independent, self-levelling air suspension and an automatic transmission, now up to eight ratios. Land Rover fits its adaptive terrain system called Terrain Response which modifies the car's systems to suit terrain such as rocks, sand and mud ... and now there's Eco and Sports modes too.

The RRS compromise for performance was load space, as the Sports’ have sloping rears plus a shorter wheelbase, so lack the space of the Range Rover Vogue or the LR Discovery. Nevertheless, for a couple towing there's plenty of room and Land Rover has a long towing history so we thought we'd try the electrified version, the 2019 Range Rover Sport PHEV.

Got one like it? Insure it here
The multi-purpose traction aid
Shop GoTreads
Recovery Tool
Levelling Device

ADVERTISEMENT

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

For longer trips the battery isn't going to get you there, so you may as well charge up and let the vehicle just use the energy as best it sees fit. However, you may wish to conserve your battery energy for later use and the RRS allows you to do that. For example, let's say you're going to a campsite and once there, you wish to creep around or go into town, or drive through a CBD, or some tricky manoeuvring on and off road when it'd be handy to hear people, or even just not disturb wildlife when you're on a nature drive.

Conserving the battery in this way doesn't mean the vehicle doesn't operate as hybrid at all, because during the drive there is some regeneration on hills and when slowing down. Even in conservation mode the vehicle will use electric power to help accelerate and cut the engine when going slowly. It just means the bulk of the energy is yours to use for a specific purpose. However, there is no utility mode to run accessories like fridges or winches. And no, even large portable solar panels aren't anywhere near powerful enough to charge the battery.

The driving experience feels much the same regardless of which engine is doing what. It's nicely responsive, and has a lot of power. Acceleration from 0-100km/h is 6.7 seconds, and to put that in perspective, the previous L320 model with a 5.0-litre V8 supercharged engine was good for 5.3 seconds with its six-speed gearbox. This is not a slow vehicle at all, and it handles its bulk well, just runs out of tyre grip early relative to its power.

ABOVE Handy to get a priority park AND free charging // BELOW The dash is entirely digital, so it can simply display a map instead of things like a rev counter

RANGE PERFORMANCE
I was able to do a number of other short trips in pure electric mode, mostly ferrying children and picking up car parts. The shopping was easy too, because I just parked in the Electric Vehicles Charge Bay at my local mall which gave me near-guaranteed parking right near the door, and then plugged in for a free charge. I think that if you're diligent about charging the car, then you can do quite a lot of short-trip errands without using a drop of petrol. And we all know it's not good to drive a petrol or diesel car hard when cold but if it's on electrical power, then it doesn't matter, go as hard as you like. Actually, you can't go totally flat out. If you do the petrol engine kicks in, but the electric motor has certainly got enough power to keep the car moving nicely, and cruise at 110km/h.

ABOVE Land Rover’s rear-vision cameras have been good for a while now. You can even see the holes line up on the off-road hitch

ABOVE The battery is at the back, not ideal for weight distribution and also takes away the spare wheel location

Got one like it? Insure it here

“I just parked in the Electric Vehicles Charge Bay at my local mall which gave me near-guaranteed parking right near the door”

BELOW Dirt roads and corners are very good for testing tow cars. The RRS has traction, handling, suspension and power … and it easily handles a 1000kg trailer, as it should considering it weighs around 2450kg!

AND THE TOWING?
Now we come to the towing sides of things, and the specifications look bleak. The RRS PHEV can tow only 2500kg braked. Gone are the days when you could rely on any Land Rover to tow 3500kg, and even worse, the towball mass is a mere 100kg. The diesel 3.0-litre can tow 3500, but with a 150kg towball mass. Good luck trying to find any trailer in Australia that has such light nose masses; it’s designed for the European market. So for our test we loaded up a camper trailer which weighed 1000kg with a 100kg towball mass, and used that. The only good thing about the RRS towing specs is the huge payload for class of 736kg, and the big Gross Combined Mass of 5700kg which means the maximum trailer weight can be towed at GVM.

As you'd expect, the RRS pulled the camper beautifully. Lots of power, fantastic all wheel drive systems, tare weight of double the trailer, shortish rear overhang, self-levelling air suspension, eight-speed auto and trailer sway control. Really wasn't going to be a problem. We did some off-road towing in pure electric mode, and the RRS did well too, although the throttle control and traction control calibration wasn't up to Land Rover's usual high standards, it was effective but not smooth. One advantage of driving in pure electric mode is that you can hear the tyres very easily, which is a surprising help when off-road as usually their grip noise is masked by the engine.

The RRS is available in SE trim in a petrol engine only, and two diesels. This table shows the key differences:

Got one like it? Insure it here

“The term ‘electrified’ means that there's some sort of electrical motor used to propel the vehicle in whole or in part”

view the
range
Garrison
sabre
governor
avalon

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ABOVE 40km of battery range so almost full, total range 425km, car driven by battery power // BELOW Land Rover claims around 7.5 hours to charge, which would be slow, but in reality for me it was 10 hours plus, which for 45km or so of range is very, very slow even off a 10A socket

ECONOMIES
The PHEV is considerably more expensive than either petrol or diesel, and you'll never get that cost back through fuel savings. You'd need to do about 3500 35km trips to get the fuel back, which is about 700 a year for five years. That doesn't account for reduced fuel consumption in normal driving but does give an idea. The PHEV is also significantly heavier, can tow less, and has a smaller fuel tank although that is offset considerably by the battery power. There's also no tax breaks that make it worthwhile, so from a purely practical point of view you may as well buy a diesel or petrol.

Got one like it? Insure it here

VERDICT
However, if you did want to own an RRS PHEV then you'd find yourself with a vehicle that embodies all that is good about the Range Rover Sport – handling, luxury, off-road capability yet has a potentially very useful electric-only mode. It's just the battery is where the spare usually is, and the towing capacity is low. There’s a full-size spare option, but that takes up a lot of load space.

In many ways this PHEV feels like the early model it is, based on a platform that isn't optimised purely for electrification. In future, I think PHEVs will rapidly become more and more viable as range increases, charge time decreases, and hopefully more control is designed in such as utility modes. Given the ever-tightening emissions laws, PHEVs will have to become the norm and then prices will drop too. And when that happens, based on this test, I see no reason to fear the electrified future and much to welcome.

Got one like it? Insure it here