Despite the best efforts of Volkswagen to kill the appeal of compression ignition engines in America once and for all, Dr. Diesel’s combustion cycle still holds some significant appeal as a means of improving fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The latest automaker to jump in with diesel engines is Jaguar Land Rover with the 2016 Range Rover Td6. While relatively few Americans will ever have the opportunity to drive this high-dollar luxury SUV, it’s actually surprisingly relevant as a probable preview of the 2018 Ford F-150.
So how did we come to a point where a Range Rover gives a technology preview of America’s best-selling vehicle?
In the world of SUVs, probably only Jeep has a more storied history than Land Rover. Established in 1948 by Rover to create a home-grown British alternative to the Jeeps that played such an important role during the second World War, Land Rovers have become icons of nearly indestructible off-road capability around the world. In 1970, Land Rover created the concept of the luxury SUV with the introduction of the Range Rover line and for many years, these were the pinnacle of off-road motoring.
In the last couple of decades, in an attempt to salvage something of British automotive industry heritage, most of the top brands have gone through changes of ownership, in some cases multiple times and Land Rover is no exception. Things didn’t go so well after BMW bought the Rover Group in 1994 and they ended up selling off Land Rover to Ford in 2000. The American automaker already owned Jaguar and invested heavily in the two brands trying to improve quality and make them viable competitors to the best from Germany and elsewhere. No need to rehash what happened in 2008 except to say that in an attempt to preserve its core business, Ford sold off the now combined Jaguar Land Rover to India’s Tata Motors just months before the financial meltdown.
By the time Tata took possession of a couple of the crown jewels of its former colonial overlords, JLR was heavily dependent on Ford designed and built technologies, especially powertrains. In the intervening years, Tata has itself pumped a lot more cash into JLR, allowing them to develop new platforms, additional model lines and in-house engines including the new Ingenium gasoline engines. For now however, JLR remains a Ford customer for its diesel engines. Several years back Range Rover added a 4.4-liter diesel V8 that was originally intended for use in the F-150 from 2010 onward. However, the great recession killed those plans and European Land Rovers and Range Rovers became the sole users of the engine and only outside North America.
In late 2015 however, JLR started rolling out several models with Ford’s 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6, a powerplant originally co-developed with Peugeot. Which brings us back around to the 2016 Range Rover HSE Td6. The specs of this engine are generally pretty comparable to similar engines from other premium brands. At 254-horsepower and 443 lb.-ft. this engine is surprisingly able in this vehicle.
One of the unique aspects that has separated Range Rovers from other SUVs since the 1970 original is the extensive use of aluminum that is further expanded in the latest generation which helps keep its weight to about 5,500-pounds. Even in its 115-inch wheelbase standard length, the Range Rover is a big vehicle. It’s 72.1-inch height and 78.1-inch width, gives this machine the frontal area of a small barn. While it’s not a lightweight by any means, all of that luxury equipment adds up very fast.
One of the most appealing aspects of diesel engines is the immense torque they produce and this one is no exception. While this thing isn’t going to run with Cayenne GTS, the peak at 1,750 rpm moves the Range Rover very capably and it has no issues accelerating to merge with highway traffic. The V6 is smooth and quiet, doubtless thanks to lots of sound absorbing mattes and acoustic glass. At highway speeds or around town, the Range Rover cruises with the serenity you might expect of a room in an exclusive British club.
The cabin is clad in the finest veneers and hides as you would expect in a vehicle of this type at prices that can easily break into the six figures. However, the JLR designers have done a nice job of blending these classic materials with a sleek, contemporary design that doesn’t look like that old boys club. The LCD panel for the instrument panel goes dark when the vehicle is off, switching to a clear, crisp layout when running. One thing you may notice when driving at night is some sparkle from oncoming cars. If you look closely during the day, you can see an array of fine wires embedded in the windshield to heat the glass, eliminating fog and ice. It’s generally not noticeable unless you look carefully, but it is there.
JLR’s new infotainment is vastly improved from its previous effort with a simpler layout and better performance. The InControl app provides access to a range of compatible smartphone apps like iHeartRadio, Stitcher, Glympse and ParkOPedia as well as remote access to the vehicle when you are away from it.
On the outside, if you’ve ever since a Range Rover since 1970, you’ll recognize this one for what it is. The major cues like the proportions, dark pillars with near flush glass around the tall greenhouse and overall proportions are little changed over more than four decades. The Range Rover has always had a look that blended clean and contemporary in a way that looks surprisingly timeless making it just as at home in 2016 Bloomfield Hills, Mich or Windsor Castle in 1970.
One of the factors that made Range Rovers popular with British aristocrats traversing their vast estates is that Land Rover managed to preserve the off-road capabilities of its forebears while adding the luxury of a Bentley. I didn’t do any off-roading with this new one, but it offers an adjustable air spring suspension and lots of modes for the traction control that enable it to be virtually as capable as a Jeep Wrangler. Those air springs let the Range Rover settle down several inches when parked for easy ingress/egress. The ride is also supple even over the worst of Michigan roads while never feeling floaty or tippy while cornering.
Of course you get all of these same characteristics if you opt for a gasoline-powered Range Rover. The main reason to get the diesel is for the improved fuel economy. The EPA rates the Td6 at an impressive 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. The supercharged V6 and V8 gas engines are rated at combined 19 mpg and 16 mpg respectively. During my days driving the Range Rover I averaged 26 mpg. For comparison, a four-wheel-drive 2016 F-150 with the 2.7-liter is rated at 19 mpg combined and I didn’t get much more than 17 mpg.
Ford has heavily promoted its EcoBoost engines as combining the best characteristics of diesel engines with the lower cost of gasoline engines. While EcoBoost engines do deliver the awesome torque and driveability of a diesel, they often fall short in real world fuel economy. My evaluation last year of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel delivered 23 mpg. My guess is that Ford will pair the diesel in this Range Rover with the new 10-speed automatic that debuts this fall on 2017 F-150s to deliver at least 23-24 mpg, making it potentially the most fuel efficient full-size pickup in America. At least until the next-gen Ram and Silverado arrive.
Despite the damage to the reputation of diesel caused by the actions of Volkswagen, this is still a technology with some life in it as Range Rover and others are proving. We will likely see a plug-in hybrid version in the next few years, something the competitors are already offering. The PHEV will probably be even more efficient if the BMW X5 xDrive40e is anything to judge by. However, the diesel may offer superior towing capability and if you frequently use the vehicle away from where a plug is readily available, it may be a better option. Either way, choice is good.
The 2016 Range Rover lineup starts at $85,000 with the diesel adding $2,000 to the price of the gasoline V6. The HSE package adds a panoramic moonroof, oxford leather, 14-way adjustable front seats, heated rear seats and more boosting the as-tested price to $94,945 including delivery. Range Rovers have never come cheap and this one is no exception. But if you’re looking for an off-road capable, luxury machine with classic looks and great fuel economy, this may be what you want.