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Sunday, June 19, 2011

2014 Range Rover Mule has Jaguar Dial Shifter—and Possible Diesel-Electric Hybrid Powertrain

With us since the 2006 model year, Land Rover’s current Range Rover flagship is palatial and iconic and capable. But we expect its replacement within a couple of years, likely with simple evolutionary styling changes covering a slew of new technologies—including some intended to help it slurp less fuel. This particular Range Rover–bodied mule, snapped at a facility of a technology partner, contains at least a few of those technologies, the most obvious of which is the dial-type electronic shifter like that used by its sister brand, Jaguar. It certainly isn’t the sportiest shift device in the world, but it is rather in keeping with the Range Rover’s wafty personality.

It’s clear that much more has changed beneath that current-gen Range Rover body, and there are a few possibilities as to what this vehicle might actually be. Among them is a new, super-high-performance version of the Range Rover, a swan-song model with a unique front clip for, say, the 2013 model year. More likely is that this is a powertrain/chassis mule for the next-gen Range Rover, due for 2014, with the fender flares hinting at increases in front and rear track width. Though we can’t see any of it here, a more aerodynamic body likely will need to be adopted if Land Rover hopes to raise fuel economy from “atrocious” to “just plain awful.” Also telling are the twin outboard bumper intakes, which show off what appear to be grilles for twin intercoolers, suggesting that a turbocharged engine—likely a diesel-powered V-6 or V-8— sits up front.

A close look at a mysterious box located between the mufflers suggests one further exposition: that this mule is testing Land Rover’s new “Range_e” plug-in diesel-electric hybrid system announced at this year’s Geneva auto show, with the box presumably containing some of the battery components. Intended for Land Rover’s larger vehicles, Range_e was shown installed in the Range Rover Sport and combines electric power with a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 and an eight-speed automatic. It surely will work in the larger Range Rover, too, although we shudder to think of the curb weight of a Rangie with a heavy diesel engine and a battery pack containing enough energy capacity to propel it 20 miles on a single charge.

Land Rover has said in the past that a diesel hybrid will be ready by 2012 and on sale by calendar-year 2013—just in time to debut in the 2014 Range Rover.

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