The word “diesel” has so many “dirty” connotations these days. Even though it’s the fuel behind the delivery of countless tons of goods everyday via semi tractor trailer, train, ocean liner, or river boat, we tend to ignore its usefulness in favor of negativity and focus on “Dieselgate” instead. There are millions of amazing vehicles around the world that run on diesel every day, and due to its extended shelf life and lower combustion capabilities, makes for a superior fossil fuel in many locations around the globe.
But this isn’t just an article about the glory of diesel fuel. Today’s topic of interest rests on the shoulders of our British friends over at Land Rover. Many of you may not know it, but turbo-diesel versions of both the regular Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport have been on sale here in the states since the fall. Unsurprisingly enough, if a diesel doesn’t have the words “pickup truck” or “Cummins” associated with it, chances are American buyers won’t notice — and that’s sad. There are a slew of reasons why we should care about diesel Range Rovers, and it all starts with a little word: torque.
The only major differences between the gasoline and diesel-powered derivatives is their drivetrain, power numbers, badges on the rear liftgate, and a filler cap for Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF). Everything from the roofline and seating materials to the taillights and tires are the exact same as what you would find on the gasoline-driven versions.
Diesel Rovers have been around for a long time, and our sources at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) note that turbo-diesel models consistently make up half of all models sold around the world. Another reason these SUVs are landing in our laps is because gas prices won’t stay this low forever, and having an established set of automotive offerings already in place is a key strategic move. Peter Wright, vehicle engineering manager for Land Rover, tells us that sales are already up 32% versus this time last year for the brand, and that by familiarizing buyers with the idea of available diesel options, the company stands a good chance of seeing customers trade-up for far more efficient engine options down the line.
So in the hopes of gleaning what makes these vehicles so brilliant, I flew out to Sedona, Ariz., to test the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport both on and off the beaten path. From twisting canyon roads and gorgeous desert overlooks, to treacherous downhill descents and rocky drop-offs, I soldiered on. Later, as I rested my weary head I thought back to what made this diesel-powered SUV so spectacular, and I realized that there are a multitude of reasons why it may be the perfect cup of tea for many American luxury enthusiasts.
If a Td6 version of a Range Rover and/or Sport blasted past you on the highway, you would have no idea what it was based upon its styling cues or exhaust notes. Stylistically, these vehicles retain all of the solid, reassuringly suave lines that we have come to love on a Range Rover, with its raked roofline, pinched rear proportions, distinct grille, and out-board lighting. It’s a modern spin on classic British ruggedness, and there’s no mistaking this machine for anything else on the road today. While many decry Range Rover’s new-found softer side, I find it to be quite balanced — especially with those brushed skid plates and gorgeously designed taillights.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Distinctively Range Rover, it is nice to see a company opt to roll with what already works instead of reinventing the wheel.
+ Proportionally balanced, both the regular and Sport version of the Range Rover are not too cumbersome-looking despite their larger on-road footprints.
+ Smooth yet solid-looking skid plates, raised ride heights, and carefully raked rear undercarriages for increased clearance are all there to remind us that for as luxurious as these SUVs may be, they still are full-blown exploration machines.
– Some people really despise how modern Range Rovers all have these pinched rear ends, where it grows gradually tighter toward the back for added ground clearance. Just look at the picture above and you will see what I mean.
– While they may not be overtly stated, the hood and fender vents on these SUVs are sometimes labeled as being a bit over the top by critics and consumers. Personally, I don’t mind them since they are not chromed-out like the portholes on the Buick Regal GS I recently reviewed, but as for those “gills” you see running down the front doors of the regular model… let’s just say that certain design staples warrant retirement after an elongated run.
– Under-sized exhaust ports on the Sport version, and virtually non-existent ones on the regular model leave the back end on both vehicles a little empty looking.
OK, so this is where the whole Range Rover review is supposed to get turned upside-down. Anytime you see that badge right there, know that it means “torque-filled technology.” I’m not kidding when I say that Americans have long been diesel-phobics, and the recent emissions nightmares surrounding a previously trusted brand aren’t doing much for the cause either. But there is hope: Td6 engines don’t have emissions defeating software, they deliver a 32% boost in fuel efficiency over gasoline versions, and after prolonged “blind testing” here in America, not a single test vehicle reviewer knew that it was a diesel engine.
Zero to sixty times for these lumbering machines hover right around seven seconds, it has 440 foot-pounds of torque that kicks in early at 1,700 RPM, putting it almost on par with the supercharged V8 version. It saves owners $450 annually in fuel costs over the V6 version, over $800 against the supercharged V8, and it utilizes dual isolation motor mounts for increased quietness. I am dead serious when I say that the only time you will notice a diesel “rumble” is when this thing starts up, and by disabling the start/stop function, you negate this issue entirely in traffic.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ 440 foot-pounds of torque, insanely smooth acceleration, surprisingly quiet, and very efficient, the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 diesel Range Rover engine is an outstanding addition to the Land Rover lineup, and off-road it shines like you would not believe.
+ There are more traction settings and tricked-out, off-road options on this SUV than you can imagine, and after testing the latest adjustable versions of “crawl control” I can attest that there is a reason why government officials and explorers around the world opt for Range Rovers.
+ While 254 horsepower may not sound like much, paired with the aforementioned torque curve it is actually pretty well balanced. and Land Rover has tested this new powertrain in every corner of America to prove this. From sea level swamps to 14,000-foot cliffs, the most extreme winters and sweltering summers were experienced in order to prove one thing: That this engine will work flawlessly no matter what area of America you may reside in.
– No matter how advanced diesel engines get, in order to keep them running clean, Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) is required. This may seem like a slight gripe to some, but for many Americans the fear of accidentally forgetting to add it, or even the hassle of needing to do so in the first place can be a serious turn off.
– Diesel powertrains require additional maintenance versus gasoline engines — special oil, additives, etc. As a result, maintenance can be more expensive when it’s needed.
– Having that many levels of adjustability when it comes to traction is absolutely fantastic, but after a decade I wouldn’t want the headaches associated with any electronic bugs that may appear in the system or the cost of replacement parts. And Land Rover’s track record for reliability is less than flattering.
Remember when I nearly had an orgasmic experience driving the SVR version of the Range Rover Sport a few months back? While many still believe my euphoria was the direct result of 550 horsepower and an exhaust that sounded something like the crackling of a thousand angry infernos, I have it on good authority that it was the car’s interior that made my toes curl that afternoon, something which I got to experience once more out in Arizona.
Whether you are riding along or driving with wild abandon, there is no denying the level of craftsmanship found within the cabin of a Range Rover. Gorgeous contrasting colors, perfectly positioned controls, acres of top-shelf leather, and a panoramic sunroof that opens you up to the heavens all are part of the experience here. If you have never sat inside a Range Rover, do yourself a favor and drop by the local dealership one afternoon just to see what it is like inside one of these gossamer machines.
Interior pros and cons
+ It’s impossible to be uncomfortable in a Range Rover, so whether you opt for the front, driver, or rear seat, there is plenty of adjustability and leather-bound luxury awaiting your every whim in both regular and Sport versions of this SUV.
+ Mood lighting and illumination choices are a thing of a beauty in this vehicle, and while that may sound like small potatoes in the general scope of things, between the gauge clusters, touchscreen controls, and well-positioned LED interior touches, a night drive in a Range Rover is damn near breathtaking.
+ Practically designed to handle virtually anything on or off-road, driver visibility, steering wheel proportioning and weight, cabin tranquility, cargo space, and material ruggedness are all top notch. Hell, even the floor mats are a stylish blend of badass and beautiful!
– There are some small things I was not overly fond of in the cabin, chiefly being that certain steering wheels were not wrapped entirely in leather, making them look and feel a bit obtuse, and while the air-cooled center console was a great idea for our beverages in theory, only one side stayed cold during our drive that day.
– The touchscreen navi has a strong angle to it that collects copious amounts of glare. It needs to either be less angled or have a visor above it.
– Fancy buttons and switches are fantastic additions to any automobile, but things like heat-sensitive LED dome lights mean that you will be driving around with your interior lights on and not even notice, as they are so hypersensitive that merely brushing one while pulling myself up into the cabin via a handle triggered it.
Tech and safety
These aren’t cars that you just waltz into, plop down in, and instantly know where everything is. Scrolling through the MID alone will dedicate at least thirty minutes of tinkering time, and if you plan on going off-road you are going to have quite a few electronically controlled choices to consider.
From its clever touchscreen navi and all of the customizable settings in the digital dash to the real-time suspension geometry tracking and undercarriage cameras, there is a mountain of fully functional tech to play with here. Naturally, both diesel versions came equipped with every imaginable form of modern day safety system, which comes as no surprise considering the segment these SUVs reside in. One of my favorites finds was that upon turning the ignition off the vehicle will lower itself in order to allow easier exiting for occupants.
Tech pros and cons
+ Infinitely adjustable, there are more tech-powered traction modes on these things than you can shake a stick at, so if you buy one don’t just putter around on the blacktop — go get muddy.
+ Fancy a spot of Motörhead to help make the trip down to next week’s polo match that much more invigorating? Meridian audio components offer more 3D bliss than an extended bass solo by Lemmy himself.
+ Traction settings may keep you under control when the terrain becomes compromised, but for everyday driving these SUVs rely on an armada of next-level tech to keep drivers, occupants, and fellow commuters more reassured than a spoon full of sugar from Mary Poppins.
– Built around the idea that all of this tech will make your life easier, many first time Range Rover buyers may feel a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of tech options that come standard on both vehicles.
– While the rock crawl program is pretty neat, and the ability to adjust your crawl speed is appreciated, it kind of negates the need for downhill descent settings, a feature that remains even though it is now overshadowed by a far more advanced program.
– Like all things man-made and electronic, eventually something will go awry. So in the long-term scheme of things, make sure you consider the ghastly sums of money one will likely spend to diagnose and fix any major electronic issues.
In contrast with the all-out bonkers, supercharged SVR version I drove back in the fall, the diesel-powered Range Rover Sport is more of a well-groomed workhorse than a wild stallion. Sure, they both come from the same stable, but when driving the Td6 version you will find it far more practical in many ways, a character trait that is only eclipsed by its off-road prowess and unassuming exterior. While the SVR retains all of the same rock-crawling characteristics as its diesel-huffing brother, it is hard to imagine anyone actually opting to take it for a spin across the Sedona desert, where the Td6 was born to best the most treacherous terrain on the planet.
After driving both vehicles for extended periods of time, life on the asphalt suddenly seemed a bit too bland and I’ve still got gravel in my shoes to prove it. On the limited access trails in the heart of the Arizona desert, I put the adaptive crawl control through its paces climbing rocky outcroppings, exploring barren riverbeds, descending down steep canyons, and tossing dirt and sand in every direction. Controlled, comfortable, and completely confident, my morning excursion felt more like a four-wheeled resort than a slug-fest with Mother Nature.
Wrap up and review
So here’s the big conundrum: Should you buy a diesel-powered Range Rover? Absolutely. For just a pinch above the typical asking price associated with the V6 version, you will get a bulletproof motor that runs quieter and smoother than you would believe, while benefiting from efficiency gains that hover around the 30 mile per gallon mark. Having driven both models back-to-back I feel that at $66,450 the Sport model is the better choice of the two, because even though it is smaller in stature and a bit more basic, I find it hard to justify the $20,000 price hike for the larger version. These prices only represent the most basic models available, but for the typical Range Rover buyer, upgrading to HSE standards shouldn’t be an issue. As our fearless guide J.P. said during our outing in the desert, “This engine, paired with these terrain controls, give you the tools you need to go virtually anywhere. We will go as slow as possible and just as fast as necessary.”