The Arctic Hybrid Adventure

The PR team for the new Range Rover Sport Hybrid* had a brilliant, crazy notion: tow an Airstream to the Arctic.

“Actually, it was Ben’s idea,” said journalist Peter Adams about Ben Samuelson, founder of Samuelson Wylie, the firm hired to test and promote the “world’s first luxury diesel hybrid”.

“The new hybrid Land Rover can tow big loads, up to 3000 kilograms,” explained Adams. (Yanks, that’s more than 6600 pounds.) “And it operates well in cold temperatures. Those attributes are rare for a hybrid. So Ben thought, why not test both at the same time? Towing the world’s most iconic travel trailer to the Arctic Circle seemed like a good way to go about this.”

In February, Samuelson, Adams, and photographer Damian Blakemore boarded the vehicle at the Land Rover Engineering Centre in Birmingham, England, then sped through France, Belgium and “a small slice of the Netherlands” to Hesse, Germany, where they hitched up the 27-foot, European-specification International 684, owned by Airstream Europe. “We worked with Airstream closely, and they were a huge support,” said Adams.

The 684 is a bit different from Airstreams used on North American roads. “European travel trailers share the same body shell design as the US ones, but, as with the 684, the width is reduced to eight feet,” said Adams. “The floor plans also vary—partly because of a preference for wider beds—and the gross weight is also twenty to thirty percent lighter.” Because European tow vehicles are generally lighter, the nose weight is also much lighter as well.

Surprisingly, the trailer was prepared to make the grueling trip and withstand freezing Arctic temperatures right from the factory floor. “We had it winterized to cope with the extreme temperatures,” said Adams. “The water pipes were heated and insulated, and it had an onboard gas-powered generator. We even trialled a prototype heating jacket for the gas bottles. Other than that, it was all standard.”

Standard also means a level of luxury late-model Airstream owners come to expect: the 684 had soft, red leather upholstery, satellite TV, and Corian in the galley. “Everything felt solid and of the finest hand-built quality,” said Adams.

The adventure began on a tolerable 32 degree morning near Hamburg, but temperatures soon dipped into the teens as the team towed north through the snow. During the 11-day trip to the Arctic they endured “ferocious winds” (including the tail end of Hurricane Ole) and crossed daunting bridges like the Øresund Link between Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden.

They chose to drive in EV (“charge depleting”) mode in the cities; at urban speeds the car can run solely under electric power. “The electric motor acts as a generator, and recuperates energy when the vehicle is braking and slowing down, so the battery isn’t charged externally,” said Adams. “So for us, the battery was charged whenever we braked or went downhill. I actually got quite excited when I saw a big descent ahead!”

Studded tires were fitted in Stockholm, and the team first encountered ice two hours north. “Towing on ice is easier than walking on ice,” Adams quipped, “but it required more concentration, which can be quite tiring. So we took turns towing. Thankfully, the car and Airstream were, together, incredibly stable; I think it was a combination of weight, the aerodynamics of the trailer, and just good design.”

“It’s testament to the stability of the car and the Airstream that they felt so comfortable to be driven at 90kmh on winding main roads, on thick ice,” said Adams. “The car just grips, and the trailer obeys.” (Watch the exciting video of the unhitched Range Rover performance test on a frozen lake.)

When they reached the Arctic Circle after the 2500 mile road trip, the thermometer read -4F. “When we arrived, we drank a cup of tea, because we’re English, and it’s just what you need after a long drive,” said Adams. “As we stood there, hot mugs of tea in hand, Ben summed it up perfectly. ‘We made it,’ he says. ‘We actually made it…but God it’s cold’.”

The team camped near Jaguar Land Rover’s winter test facility. “The Airstream was sited in a ploughed area, and was hooked up to a nearby generator, but that’s it,” said Adams. “It was desolate, silent, dark and cold.” (On the return trip the car thermometer read -13 F.)

“Practically speaking, the winterization of the trailer was superb by Airstream Europe,” he said. “Being able to use every system well below the freezing point was a luxury. What amazed me was just getting into the trailer in the evening, and being able to sit around the table talking, drinking, eating, listening to the music on the brilliant stereo system, and feeling completely cosseted by the Airstream.”

Shortly after reaching the Arctic, the team pulled a u-turn and headed back to England. “I’d definitely do it again,” said Adams. “The only thing I’d do differently is spend a little more time in each place, take in the culture.”

“It was a real adventure,” he concluded. “Every day started with a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea or coffee in the Airstream, and most nights we ate and drank in it too. It was hard work, really exhausting. But the three of us really enjoyed it. It felt unique, a little bit daft, and a wonderful opportunity.”

– By RG Coleman

* The Range Rover Sport Hybrid—not available in the United States or Canada—combines a V6 diesel engine with a 35kW electric motor, together producing 340PS and 700Nm of torque. The Range Rover (and Range Rover Sport) are your North American options, both with a towing limit of 3500kg/7716lbs.