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Off the beaten track

Jarvis Smith gets behind the wheel of a Land Rover Defender Electric Hybrid
Jarvis Smith - My Green Pod
Land Rover Electric Hybrid

This article first appeared in our COP28 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 30 November 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Main image: Spencer Bentley | sierrawhiskeybravo.com

When Rishi Sunak announced the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) would be delayed by five years, to 2035, it caused shock, disappointment – and probably also a good amount of confusion among car manufacturers and drivers.

I hear a lot of arguments against electric cars; the ethics of cobalt mining, what to do with the battery at the end of its life, fears of not having enough chargers to get people where they want to be when they want to get there.

What I can tell you is this: EVs are a joy to drive, and a crucial part of a system that is infinitely better than the gas-guzzling one we currently have.

Embracing middle ground

I live in a fairly remote area full of farmers, many whom drive large 4x4s. Land Rover Defenders are top of the food chain on my local roads.

Every winter I circle through the same pattern of thoughts: flooded roads are common here, and my current car – a Tesla Model Y – sometimes feels dangerously low to the ground. Should I consider the new Defender (again)?

I haven’t gone for one yet as I’m waiting for a fully electric model, but with the launch slated for 2025, will I get through the next few winters? Will my Tesla make it?

The fact that this is a recurring monologue will tell you I’m almost evenly balanced on the fence – so I decided to take the third way and test the half-in, half-out option: the Land Rover PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). The model I tried was the Land Rover DEFENDER X-DYNAMIC HSE Ingenium 2.0 litre 4-cylinder 404HP Turbocharged Petrol PHEV (Automatic) All Wheel Drive.

Tackling everyday journeys

There is no doubt this is a capable vehicle: it’s easy on the eye, it feels and looks solid, it’s comfortable to drive and spacious enough to accommodate the family – all things you’d expect from a Defender.

I was more interested in how this PHEV would handle day-to-day travel: the school run, ballet and Brownies (not for me, I might add), play dates – the usual. As innocent as these trips sound, they require proper North Yorkshire country lane chugging – the ultimate test.

As for our weekends, we like to jump in the car and find somewhere off the beaten track for walks to explore the Dales.

Could this all be done in full electric mode? The simple answer is not quite, but nearly.

Going off road

With a battery capacity of 15.4kWh, the range after a full charge was around 25 miles the way I drive.

Most people on average drive around 18 miles per day; I fall into this category, and midweek this Defender worked brilliantly for us in EV mode.

Of course with hybrids you never get range issues, because the engine will kick in whenever you need speed or are running low on battery power.

So far so straightforward, so at the weekend we decided to give it a real test.

Of course I wanted to test this PHEV’s off-road ability in electric mode, so I drove hybrid to the hills and off we went.

I’m no expert in off-roading, but getting off the beaten track in the Dales is a real experience.

Green lanes – or Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) – are roads I would never dream of traversing in anything but a Land Rover; they include Roman roads that feel like they have never been resurfaced, complete with dips and holes that road cars simply wouldn’t tolerate. Yet they wind through some of the most breathtaking countryside England has to offer.

The Defender breezed through, living its purpose and seeming to enjoy every minute.

Many of these lanes meander through sensitive areas for wildlife so it’s important to take them slowly and respectfully. This wasn’t a problem for the PHEV; we travelled in full stealth mode, which was silently comforting.

Our two-year-old was lulled to sleep by the sounds of birdsong and the crunch of stones beneath the tyres, and slept through around five miles of the most stunning scenery you will ever see.

So the Defender got a massive thumbs up; the only question now is: will we make it through winter 2023 without one?

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