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First drive: 2016 Land Rover Range Rover, Range Rover Sport Td6 [Review]

by Bradley Iger

Land Rover\'s flagship models get the diesel treatment.

Just a few months ago, perhaps the biggest challenges for a luxury brand launching a diesel-powered iteration of an existing model might have been achieving refinement and engine noise targets, along with power delivery and fuel economy goals. But in this post-Dieselgate world we live in today, some strategies have been forced to change. As such, it came as little surprise that Peter Wright, Land Rover's chief engineer, began his discussion of the new Range Rover TD6 by addressing "the 200 pound gorilla in the room” and immediately dove into the minutia regarding the company's emission management systems to reassure those present that while VW might've juked the system, Land Rover's engineering is one hundred percent above board.

As this pair of Range Rovers represent the first diesel offerings in North America in Land Rover's history, the timing of VW's debacle isn't exactly ideal. But with over ninety percent of the Range Rovers sold in Europe sporting diesel power plants, tenuous current environment notwithstanding, the U.S. market presents a huge opportunity for the company to make headway in a largely untapped market. Fortunately, it appears that Land Rover has both sides of the equation already sorted out.

Proven TechIn the simplest terms, Wright explained that Land Rover uses emissions technology similar to those employed by BMW and Mercedes-Benz, a system which injects a fluid consisting of urea and water into the exhaust system. Upon mixing with the exhaust gases, the urea turns into ammonia, which is then transformed into nitrogen and water in the catalytic converter. The end result is a reduction of NOx gases, which addresses the crux of the trouble VW finds itself in today. It's certainly reassuring to get confirmation that Land Rover is playing by the book - not only for the well-being of the environment, but because it allows us to focus our attention on how the drivetrain actually performs in practice.

The new Td6 powerplant is a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6 that generates 254 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which peaks at a stump-pulling 1750 rpm. It also provides a whopping 32 percent improvement in fuel economy over a the gas-powered V6 model, yielding 22 mpg in the city and 28 out on the highway for a total of 25 mpg combined, and a range of 658 miles of range on a single tank of fuel. Land Rover expects an average annual savings of about $450, meaning it would take about three years to begin seeing savings over the gasoline model, as the Td6 commands a $1,500 premium over the standard supercharged V6.

Land Rover also told us that they logged over a million miles in the U.S. validating the new engine's durability in the hottest and coldest parts of the country, ensuring that this new lump can hack it in a formerly unfamiliar environment.

Playing on the strengthsAnother interesting tidbit the folks from Coventry offered while touting the virtues of the new motor was that in blind testing, none of the participants correctly identified the Td6 as a diesel. It might sound far-fetched, but after a stint behind the wheel, we're believers.

Quite a bit of effort went into that feat - the Td6's engine mounts, acoustic windshield treatment and bulkhead design all contribute to substantial noise isolation that almost entirely removes the telltale racket of diesel a engine, while the motor's block is constructed from compacted graphite iron to help minimize vibration.

But it's not just the audio which can trick even the savviest of pilots, it's the performance. With so much torque on tap from so low down in the rev range, the Td6 is actually a step quicker from zero to sixty miles per hour than its gasoline counterpart, doing the deed in a relatively spritely 7.1 seconds. Coupled with the ZF 8-speed automatic found elsewhere across the Jaguar Land Rover lineup, the Td6 never lacked for pull whether we were crawling over rocks in the Schnebly Hill trails or overtaking slower traffic on the highways around Sedona, Arizona.

So comprehensive are Land Rover's engineering efforts to make the Td6 undiesel-like, the use of a different pump when refueling and a bi-annual refill of urea tank will likely be the only ways most would-be owners will be able to distinguish the oil burner from its gasoline counterpart. Considering the compromises that high output diesels required not so long ago, it's strong praise indeed.

True to the nameWhile the vast majority of Range Rovers are typically used to cart well-heeled urbanities around town and style-conscious families to and from the mall, it's clear that Land Rover isn't about to abandon the reputation they've built over the decades for their vehicles' off-road prowess with the Td6.

In fact, the Range Rover is so good in the dirt now that it hardly even needs the driver to be part of the formula. During our drive of the Range Rover Td6 through Arizona high country, Land Rover reps demonstrated All Terrain Progress Control. It's something of a more advanced version of hill descent control, one which assists the driver whether they're headed down the mountain or up it.

With ATPC engaged, all we had to do was simply tell the vehicle how fast we wanted to go and point the direction with the wheel - the rest of ascent and descent legwork is handled by the computers, thus bringing semi-autonomous driving features to the realm of rock crawling.

And while the Td6 makes short work of trails typically tailored to purpose-built all-terrain vehicles with a human handling the controls, ATPC proves that the machines are, in fact, taking over for good reason. In areas where we might've needed to correct for too much or too little throttle, or brake with unpleasant authority to reign in our speed as we cleared a steep section, ATPC remained wholly unfazed, dispatching rocks, ruts, and steep grades with hardly a hint of wheelspin. While it might not make for the most entertaining off-roading experience under ideal conditions, this system could literally get Grandma up a mountain during a snow storm without so much as a wheel scuff.

And she'd be wrapped in luxury while doing so, as the Td6 still includes everything you'd expect from a Range Rover, including acres of leather and high quality materials throughout. In stark contrast to the Jaguar XF we tested during the same event, the 2016 Range Rover lineup also utilizes the company's latest infotainment system, one which is better than the system currently employed in the XF by a country mile. A full-surround camera system, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels and a host of interior trim choices all grace the options sheet, but even in base trim the Range Rover Td6 looks and feels positively top shelf.

Leftlane's bottom lineWith gas prices at their lowest levels in years and a resurgent air of skepticism looming over diesel propulsion, getting Americans onboard with this long-marginalized fuel option may prove difficult, particularly in a luxury segment where fuel economy is a relatively low priority. But if and when premium vehicle buyers in the U.S. begin to warm up to diesel powered vehicles in earnest, well-sorted models like the Range Rover Td6 will be ready to lead the charge.

Range Rover Sport Td6 base price, $66,450.Range Rover Td6 base price, $86,450.Pricing excludes $995 destination charge.

Photos by Bradley Iger.

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