This story first appeared in Toronto Star Wheels on March 30, 2018
STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, England – When the wheels of my Air Canada jet touched down on the runway at London’s Heathrow Airport two weeks ago, it marked the first time I had ever been in England.
Which made what happened at that precise moment really surprising.
I didn’t stand up and start singing, but I did start hearing in my head the strains of that immortal British patriotic song, “Rule, Britannia,” as if it was being played by a military band. I mean, where did that come from?
It’s possible it was in reaction to something that had happened on the plane, which was taking me to England so I could test drive the Range Rover Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) and the Range Rover Sport SVR (which I will tell you more about another time).
The flight from Toronto would take a little more than seven hours. To fill some of the time, I watched a movie, The Shape of Water, which was recently named Best Picture at the Academy Awards. If I had paid admission to see this thing, I would have demanded my money back. If anyone ever asks me to define the expression, “a waste of time,” I will answer, “The Shape of Water.” It was so bad, I couldn’t stop watching because I was fascinated to see just how awful it could really get. It did not disappoint. All I can say (other than noting it is two hours of my life I will never get back), is that if this is the best that Hollywood has to offer, I am going into the movie business tomorrow and will soon be rich.
I think, then, that “Rule, Britannia” came to mind to confirm that there are still people in the world who have history and tradition and know what they are doing, such as — and this is just one example of many I could cite — the design and manufacture of sensational automobiles, such as these Range Rovers.
Our drive in the PHEV, which was both on-road and off, started on the grounds of Blenheim Palace, gifted to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, by Queen Anne after he defeated the French in an epic battle in Germany in 1704.
(An aside: Churchill scribbled the news of his glorious victory on the back of a menu taken from a bistro. When the Queen received his note months later, she said, “Build that man a castle,” or words to that effect. Construction took 28 years, which is not surprising for someone from Toronto. The correspondence is still on display there, along with other artifacts from the period.)
I opted to drive the off-road portion of the test while my co-driver, former Wheels editor Mark Richardson, would do the on-road because he was born in the U.K., and driving on the left-side of the road is in his DNA. This worked out well.
In the media briefing beforehand, we had been told that this was not a new Range Rover but rather a better one; that many small changes had been made while taking what they called the “first steps” in the marque’s “electrification journey.”
This means the vehicle’s 2.0-litre gasoline engine is connected to an 85kW electric motor, which is built into the eight-speed automatic transmission that is beside a 7kW on-board charger. The plug-in is at the front of the car; the lithium-ion battery is at the rear, mounted underneath the trunk.
It can take two hours and 45 minutes to fully charge this car if you have a 220v outlet. It takes more than twice that if you have a 110. Fully charged, the car will go 50 kilometres before the gasoline engine kicks in. It doesn’t have to be this black and white: a computer program can mix and match the power source with the conditions.
Now, as I’ve always considered Range Rover to be just about perfect, I was hard-pressed to find improvements. For instance, I was trying to drive the PHEV up a hill that was all mud. Halfway there, I had to stop because a couple of Mallard ducks decided to walk in front of the car. Once they’d been shooed away, I eased onto the throttle ever so slightly and the four-wheel drive kicked in and we were soon at the top, almost without effort.
This is because the vehicle I was driving was equipped with technology that distributes torque evenly to all four wheels, making it easier to go up hill and down, even with summer tires. Driving modes helped, as well. Grass/gravel/snow, Mud/ruts (the one I was in while going up that hill), Sand, Rock crawl and Eco settings are all available — as are Comfort and Dynamic modes.
Then, of course, a bridge across a stream was out of commission. But I was driving a Range Rover, so, no worries: through the stream we went. (I don’t recall seeing a Water mode, though …)
When my co-driver took over for the run on the open road, I had time to look around the inside, and this is where many of the small improvements we’d been told about became evident. The front and back seats are bigger, more comfortable, and have a massage function. There is an improved infotainment system and 17 connection points for smartphones and the like.
I particularly got a kick out of the sunroof, which automatically opens when you get into the car. If you want it closed, just wave your hand in front of the rear-view mirror and, voila, it closes. Want it open again? Wave at the mirror and watch it happen. When everybody gets out of the car, it closes on its own. It’s magic.
The now-usual driver aids — rearview camera, emergency braking, lane-departure warning and so on — are standard, but Range Rover has some intriguing add-ons that you might fancy, such as 360-degree parking aid and blind-spot assist.
Starting at $113,000, this Range Rover is close to being a Taj Mahal on wheels — on or off the road.