2018 Land Rover Range Rover HSE Td6 Review: A Dose of Diesel Thrift for a Pricey SUV

On a run through New York’s monied Westchester County, the Range Rover diesel fits right in. No one need know you’re saving fuel—and money.

byLawrence Ulrich| UPDATED Jul 19, 2018 7:30 PM
2018 Land Rover Range Rover HSE Td6 Review: A Dose of Diesel Thrift for a Pricey SUV

My girlfriend and I hadn’t exactly planned to drive a Land Rover Range Rover Td6 to the horse country of Westchester County, New York. But like oysters and Muscadet, the two made an ideal pairing. And if no one had a clue that this Range Rover was saving fuel by unfashionable means—a diesel engine—then so much the better.

If Satan himself wanted to spark anarchy in suburbia—restocking the farmer’s market with frozen Bird’s Eye veggies, say, or installing Ted Nugent as school board president—he could infiltrate the place by scheming around town in a Range Rover and never arouse suspicion. That's the sort of somewhat-sour thought that occurs to me when we visit the Bedford Post Inn, the charmingly restored, 18th-Century farmhouse complete with yoga studio and restaurant that’s part-owned by local resident Richard Gere. More than any other SUV, the Rangie is the unassailable symbol of suburban status, the SUV from which golden retrievers and private-school children spill. 

Affirming the surprising ubiquity of a British 4x4 that easily tops $100,000, we pull into the Inn’s gravel lot and park next to (surprise, surprise) another Range Rover, itself parked alongside a Mercedes GL-Class. That’s the SUV that people buy when they really want a Range Rover, but don’t fully trust its faithfulness over the course of a lease or auto loan. The trade off is that the Mercedes, while also a deluxe family schlepper, is about as sexy as a library fundraiser. From its nattily draped clamshell hood to its floating roof, the Rover makes a more-dashing statement. 

Choosing the HSE Td6 model makes another statement, one that’s rarely been part of Range Rover’s preppy handbook: That its owner gives a damn about fuel economy, the perilous relationship between tailpipe emissions and climate change, or both. Sure, you don’t picture a typical Range Rover owner putting fuel receipts in a shoebox and totaling up the savings. A Range Rover is usually about spending more than is necessary, not less. Sales numbers provided by Jaguar Land Rover seem to bear that out: Only eight percent of Range Rover buyers are choosing the optional diesel in 2018; for the more-utilitarian Land Rover Discovery, 17 percent of buyers opt for the diesel, more than double the Rover’s take rate.

Land Rover

Still, those idiosyncratic buyers likely won’t regret casting a vote for diesel, even if they have to explain to local busybodies that not every diesel will spark asthma attacks and create smog clouds over the subdivision. I recently tested that more-utilitarian Land Rover Discovery diesel, and was impressed with its smooth manners and fuel-sipping ways. In the Rover, the identical 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6—with its 254 horsepower and a punchy 443 pound-feet of torque—delivers a 0-60 mph jaunt in a very-livable 7.5 seconds. Yes, a V8 Range Rover will do it in as little as 5.1 seconds. But the diesel is nearly as quick as the Rover’s gasoline V6 models. It trails the 340-horsepower version by just 0.4 seconds to 60 mph, and the 380-hp model by 0.5 seconds. 

As in the Discovery diesel, the combination of mild turbo lag and soft throttle programming occasionally left the Rover in limbo for a few beats before acceleration kicked in. But once the engine fills its lungs, the Rover has no problem dispatching slower traffic—so quietly that you really only notice the diesel tick-tock at idle, and even then, only when you’re paying attention. The engine’s bicep flex is powerful yet short, with upshifts coming right around 4,000 rpm—so soon that the paddle shifters for the smooth eight-speed transmission seem quite unnecessary.

Land Rover

And where you’re lucky to top 20 mpg on the highway in a V8 Rover—the 510-horsepower model returns an anemic 16/21 mpg in city and highway driving—the Rover diesel showed me 33 mpg on freeway runs with zero special effort, and better than 34 mpg when I drove it like Auntie Prius. That’s 60 percent better highway mileage than I usually get in a V8 Rover, and 50 percent better than V6 models that return 22-23 mpg on the highway. It bears repeating: 33 to 34 mpg, in a 5,500-pound, four-wheel-drive luxury SUV, is absolutely stellar mileage. 

Yet as with other modern diesels, the government doesn’t give nearly enough credit for that thrift. The Rover’s official EPA rating of 22/28 mpg understates the actual mileage so badly that it seems to cry out for a new, more-accurate testing regime. Hey, if the government is going to accuse diesel automakers of fudging or outright malfeasance, it could at least promote honesty and transparency on its own side.

The diesel Range Rover gets a 23.5-gallon fuel tank, versus a larger 27.7 gallons for gasoline models. There’s also a 4.8-gallon tank of DEF (diesel emissions fluid), its fill cap located below the hood, that neutralizes smog-forming nitrogen oxides (or NOx) in the exhaust stream via the Selective Catalytic Reduction (a.k.a. SCR) system. Rover says the DEF tank should officially last 6,300 miles, or about six months for a typical driver, depending on how and where you drive. (An acquaintance with a Rover oil-burner said his DEF tank is lasting closer to 8,000 miles). 

If the diesel emissions tank runs totally dry, the Rover’s engine won’t restart—as required by the EPA, which isn’t about to let owners “forget” to refill and pollute willy-nilly. (Volkswagen’s fatal error was to insist—falsely, we now know—that it could meet America’s far-stricter-than-European diesel cleanliness standards with no need for a DEF-based SCR system that would have made their affordable diesels more expensive.) But the Rover fires off multiple refill warnings on the driver’s digital display, as early as 1,500 miles before the tank is depleted. So there’s plenty of time to hit Pep Boys (or, more likely, a Jaguar-Land Rover dealership) for DEF fluid, with a near-empty tank costing only about $25 to refill at home.

Land Rover

Despite that smaller diesel tank, and even if you only see 30 highway mpg, you’re looking at an effective cruising range of 660 miles. That’s enough to drive from New York to Detroit on a single tank. The official, 7,716-pound towing capacity is identical to the V6 and V8 Rovers. Unofficially, I’d expect the diesel to press an advantage in heavily laden driving with its abundance of low-end torque. My Range Rover featured an optional, $1,605 tow package, including a receiver hitch and full-size spare, but I didn’t get to use it. 

As anyone who’s toodled (or trolled) through the suburbs knows, most Rover owners aren’t carrying much, aside from passengers, Whole Foods cuisine, and maybe the occasional cello. For them, this oil-burning rig comes off as virtually identical to gasoline models: solid and impeccably fitted, with 20-inch alloy wheels and an air suspension tuned for maximum cush. The Range Rover acquits itself well for a British barge that tops 5,500 pounds at the curb, despite modest tire grip and a tendency to loll through corners. Hey, you want a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X6, you know where to find one.

Land Rover

The raised-throne seating positions, ultra-low beltline, and enormous windows are integral to the Range Rover's charms, delivering the expansive outward views that used to be a given in SUVs—you know, before slope-roofed crossovers began shrinking the glass and creating blind spots like wannabe supercars. Framed by this posh, artfully minimal interior, Land Rover’s new dual-screen infotainment display really pops. And for the most part, it actually works. It wasn’t long ago that JLR's infotainment systems looked like an Early Man version of Etch-a-Sketch, but the new unit gets much-better graphics—though not up to Audi or Mercedes standards—and faster screen response. 

Apparently getting into the pampered spirit of a Range Rover in Westchester, my girlfriend Christine began griping about the lack of massaging front seats. I chuckled, yes. Eye-rolling, I flatly deny. But then I realized that an automated back rub wasn’t an unreasonable expectation for an SUV that reached $108,080 with options. 

Land Rover

In current vogue, the Range Rover dares you to find the switch that disables the fuel-conserving stop-start system. I finally found it in the last place I'd expect: a screen icon on the 4x4 function menu. Oh, that’s right—this Range Rover will actually climb shit like the world’s fanciest Wrangler, including its height-adjustable suspension, Terrain Response system, Hill Descent and Hill Launch controls and more. Campers, or glampers,can perch on the lower half of the classic clamshell tailgate. To ensure no one breaks a fingernail while roughing it, buttons in the rear hatch area raise or lower the power-folding seats.

In the foul wake of VW's Dieselgate, some will scoff at the idea that diesel can deliver any environmental benefit. But relative to gasoline, diesel's ability to conserve petroleum and reduce carbon dioxide emissions isn’t a matter of VW fraud or PR spin, but a scientific fact.  As long as the Range Rover’s emissions-control systems work as intended, meeting regulatory limits here and abroad, owners have no reason to apologize. The EPA itself calculates that the Range Rover Td6 owner will spend just $2,000 a year in fuel, and thus save a significant $700 to $1,200 a year, compared with owners of the fuel-slurping gasoline models. And that calculation is based on a lowball estimate of 24 mpg in combined city and highway driving; most real-world owners, I’m certain, should see closer to 28 mpg in overall operation.

Range Rover

This iconoclastic Rover can save more money at the dealership. In premium-gasoline-swilling form, a standard-wheelbase Range Rover starts from $88,345. The diesel engine is just a $2,000 upcharge over the basic 340-hp supercharged V6. That's a solid value by Chevy standards, and a brilliant one by Land Rover's. (My more-deluxe HSE diesel started from $97,045). The standard diesel version actually costs $4,700 less than a Range Rover with the stronger 380-hp V6, and again, it’s only a half-second slower to 60 mph. 

Complicating matters, Rover is readying the 2019 Range Rover HSE P400e, a plug-in hybrid version that combines Jaguar-Land Rover's 2.0-liter Ingenium turbo four with an 85 kW electric motor for a hefty 398 total horsepower and 31 miles of all-electric range, all for $900 less than an HSE diesel. (Unfortunately, its EPA economy figures aren't yet available.) If you're really determined to pummel the pavement, the 5.0-liter, supercharged V8 model hustles to 60 mph in the aforementioned 5.1 seconds. It also starts from $105,845, a significant $15,500 more than the diesel. 

And finally, if you're that more-profligate Range Rover fan, and these fuel-and-financial calculations are making your head spin, there’s always the (ridiculously named) SVAutobiography Dynamic, with a 577-hp V8 and a 14/19-mpg thirst for premium gasoline. Incredibly, you could have two Range Rover diesels for the price of one SVAutobiography, which starts from $178,195. My girlfriend, I now realize, would want the price-no-object model: It comes standard with hot-stone massaging front seats. 

Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.