The idea of a diesel-powered Land Rover is hardly new or novel. In fact, they’ve been around since the Series One, which offered a 52-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder starting in 1957 and they’ve been a fixture in the Land Rover lineup ever since. But for Americans, It’s been along time since there’s been a diesel option.
Despite being wildly popular in Europe – where fuel costs considerably more and the extra 30 percent or so in fuel economy really means something – the diesel passenger vehicle nearly became extinct in North America thanks to the stench of General Motors’ underdeveloped efforts in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s rubbing off on all other diesel cars. Written off as slow, loud, sooty and unreliable, diesels only survived in America because the stubborn Germans – Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz mostly – continued to serve a small but loyal contingent of automotive intellectualists who saw through unfortunate smokescreen of GM’s failure.
Not surprisingly, it was also the Germans who paved the way for today’s luxury diesel offerings, thanks to continued development of ever-cleaner, ever-quieter direct injection variants aided by turbochargers, all led by Bosch. Today Mercedes, BMW, Audi and even Porsche offer high-performance diesel options in their lineups, and their tailpipes are soot-free. Convinced Americans’ minds may have finally changed, Land Rover finally dipped a toe back in the diesel market here starting with the 2016 Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, the latter of which we recently spent time with.
Our test vehicle arrived in HSE Td6 trim, loaded with an impressive bundle of standard luxuries. Its $72,945 list price included no additional options beyond those included at the upper-end HSE level (a base SE model is also available), and represented a mere $2000 premium over the supercharged V6 gas-powered HSE model. But who cares about that if it can’t live up to the “Sport” badges?
If you’re still a Neanderthal that counts horsepower alone as a reflection of performance ability, then the 254-horse Td6 probably looks anemic compared to its 340-horse gas-engine counterpart. But you know that torque trumps horsepower in the real world, and the diesel’s substantial 443 lb-ft of twist – a full 111 more that the petrol version – essentially offsets the power deficit. Mated to essentially the same ZF 8-speed automatic (with slightly modified gear ratios), the Td6 can hustle to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, just two-tenths off the supercharged V6’s mark.
That’s a small price to pay for fuel economy that jumps from 17 city/22 highway on gasoline to 22/28 when sipping diesel. With a fuel capacity of 23.5 gallons, that translates into a theoretical maximum range of 658 miles, or 141 more than the gas version. Even using the EPA’s mixed driving estimates (25 vs 19 mpg, respectively) that’s a realistic 587 miles on diesel fuel compared to 446 on premium gas.
Outright fuel savings may not be the only advantage the Td6 holds. Those who tow will likely find the diesel option their best choice. While both versions are rated to pull 7716 pounds, the diesel’s fatter torque curve makes easier work of passing and hillclimbs.
For many first-time-in-a-long-time diesel prospects, the real decision may have less to do with number and more to do with the experience. This gets back to the old perceptions of diesels as dirty and loud. Neither applies in the case of the Range Rover Sport Td6.
Tailpipe emissions look to be as clean as any modern car, and despite some unfortunate emissions cheating by other manufacturers (coincidentally, those Germans once again), Land Rover stands by its assertion that all of its diesel models fully comply with their respective legal requirements. Like all other larger-displacement diesels, the Range Rover Sport employs a urea injection system to detoxify the exhaust output. Unlike some other carmakers’ models, filling the Sport with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) is accomplished under the hood, with a neatly integrated filling cap behind the driver’s side headlight.
Nor is the Td6 loud. From startup, there’s barely a hint of the typical diesel cacophony. Only the high notes of the signature clatter are discernible with the hood open, and from the closed cabin it’s almost indistinguishable from any other Range Rover Sport. The V6 engine is magnificently balanced and sits wonderfully isolated on its mounts. On numerous occasions, we actually had to look at the tach to confirm the engine was indeed running. Any concerns over refinement can be chalked up to false preconceptions.
The greatest part of driving the Range Rover Sport Td6 was that we never thought of it as a diesel. Short of acknowledging the badge on the back or noting the more limited range on the tachometer, we simply got in and drove it like we would any of our own Rovers. No special startup procedures, no strategic maneuvers when pulling into traffic, no apologies to passengers for the noise and smells.
It’s just another Range Rover Sport. And after all, wasn’t that the goal?