People make mistakes. Sometimes it’s as small as forgetting to pay a parking ticket, and sometimes it’s spending a lot of money on a rally car that ends up parked, becoming a huge pain in the ass. What isn’t a mistake is Land Rover offering the Range Rover diesel to Americans, which is a great way of throwing six figures in hard cash at taking care of the problem of moving an unwanted rally car.
The rally car in question is not mine. It’s the poor bastard child of Jalopnik Social Media Editor Aaron Brown, who owns more cars than shirts, and who needed to move his 1987 Subaru RX from the shop space he was renting near the city to store in upstate New York indefinitely. He happened to bring this up to me while I had the 2018 Range Rover HSE Td6 for a week, so I offered haul it for him to get over my Intimidating Life Achievement Goal of towing something for the first time. We picked a horrible day to do it.
(Full Disclosure: Jaguar Land Rover wanted me to drive the 2018 Range Rover Diesel so bad they dropped one off at my office with a full tank of special sauce and graciously agreed to let me tow my friend’s rally car.)
The 2018 Range Rover HSE Td6 is the same giant luxurious SUV landship introduced back in 2013, but with the company’s updated dual-touchscreen infotainment setup that isn’t great and a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 diesel engine that is.
To everyone else in the world, a diesel Range Rover is essentially the boring normal model, but not to us Americans. We missed out until it finally went on sale here in 2016 and it’s always held forbidden fruit status, even after Dieselgate. The engine offers heaps of torque and decent fuel economy, but it also drastically changes the characteristics of the Range Rover, shifting from a quick, expensive status symbol with 340 horsepower or more, to a slow but torquey SUV that drives like a truck.
We called the Td6 the ultimate SUV with the perfect engine when we first drove it back in 2015, and while I feel like that’s a little bit exaggerated, it is beautifully equipped and impressively competent, and I even think the diesel is probably the best one to get, realistically.
I call it slow because the 2018 Range Rover HSE Td6's 3.0-liter V6 diesel only churns out 254 horsepower, but it’s loaded with 443 lb-ft of torque, which comes in handy if you do something nice like offer to tow a friend’s rally car.
It also gets air suspension, a whole suite of on-road and off-road driver assistance systems, and an 8-speed automatic transmission that’s busy working around a redline just over 4,000 RPM. Towing capacity maxes out at 7,716 pounds.
This one in particular was painted Corris Grey and sat on 20-inch wheels and was fortunately equipped with a tow package. Also included was a vision assist setup that included a surround-view camera and a heads-up display, which were great to have.
Aaron came to own his 1987 Subaru RX in May of last year, after looking around for awhile for a rally car. Since he’s already the proud owner of a 2017 Subaru WRX STI, this RX appealed to him because it was cheap and a Subaru, which meant a turbocharged Boxer four-cylinder and a 5-speed manual with high and low range.
It was also already modified to race in stage rallies, with racing seats, roll cage, harness, rally vent, skid plate and diff plate. In theory it should have been ready for a new life full of racing under Aaron’s ownership. But that never happened because, according to Aaron, rallying is prohibitively expensive.
You would think this aspect of racing would have been clear early on in the research process of buying a rally car, but that’s none of my business.
The car has been daily driven for brief periods in the last year and a half, but its only real rallying experience in that span was the New England Forest Rally in July of last year. It also competed in an ice race in February of this year, but otherwise, it’s spent its time parked in the lot of a garage Aaron rented out with a few of his friends. Since Aaron didn’t want to pay for the garage space anymore, he decided to tow the RX two hours further upstate to his family’s house, and I offered to help.
As with everything in my life, I put off planning and troubleshooting this entire process until the day of, a miserable rainy Saturday. After picking Aaron up in Manhattan, we set off upstate in search of an open U-Haul store with a trailer big enough for a car. After a few failed attempts we found one, signed the papers and within about 15 minutes of pulling into the parking lot we were already off and cruising with a trailer in tow.
Fortunately for us, the New York press car fleet had equipped the Rangie with a tow hitch, and its reverse camera made it super easy for me to back straight up to the trailer, which was heavy enough to feel like a big dog who had given up during a walk.
The U-Haul gentleman was kind enough to make sure we connected everything properly and all of the lights lit up, gave us a crash course in strapping a car down, and then waved us off with a heavy hint of forbearance in trusting us to do as he said.
We loaded the RX onto the trailer and then loaded its cabin full of wheels, spare tires, a jack, and bunch of other miscellaneous stuff you would find in a mismanaged garage privately rented out by a bunch of college-age kids and lined it up for loading.
On our first attempt to load up the RX, Aaron drove and I guided, and it went pretty well. After attempting to strap the two front wheels, though, we realized the car was parked at a very obvious angle, wasn’t centered and wasn’t pulled up far enough, and that made us uncomfortable enough to try again.
On the second attempt, now having a better idea of how to guide the car, we got it right. We strapped the front wheels down, locked up the right wheel fender of the trailer which folds down so you can get out of the towed car after driving it up, and threw the trailer chain around the rear frame of the car. It didn’t really feel like this was enough to keep everything secure, but that’s what the guy said to do and so we did.
The best part of this entire experience was the Range Rover itself, which Aaron didn’t get to enjoy as he decided to drive up his STI to park, too. Getting out of the rain and plopping my ass in a heated leather seat, mounted high enough to make me feel like I was missing a trucker’s hat, felt incredible.
The main worry of the trip for me was towing a car I didn’t own on a trailer that wasn’t mine with another car I didn’t own through a soaking downpour in an area of curving hilly roads, all in my first time towing.
The big question here, though, was how the diesel Range Rover handled it all. Beyond the incredibly comfortable cabin, the already fairly slow engine took an ever bigger hit with the trailer and car combo hanging off of the back, which is to be expected. That’s where the 443 ft-lbs of torque comes in though, and I was able to get moving with no issue at all.
The suspension seemed to have adjusted to the increased load, and the smoothness of the ride with the trailer and car hanging on the back felt just as pleasant as it had without it.
With me being incredibly cautious, I’d say it took about 20 seconds to get up to a highway speed of around 60 mph, but it took even longer to get used to the width of the trailer in the rain, slowing down for every corner and downhill bit of road, other cars going past angrily spraying water onto the windshield. For all of the times I’ve been irrationally angry at people towing on the highway, I am here to say I am so, so sorry I didn’t understand what you were going through.
There were a few terrifying moments on bridges that had been narrowed for construction, but the brakes handled the wet and weight well, and I never once felt like anything was anywhere near out of my control. I took turns wide, tried to stay out of everybody’s way, and did my best to encourage the Rangie to get up the steeper hills, which it did with only about a 10 mph reduction in keeping up with the speed limit, which wasn’t ideal but not exactly the worst.
With the extra length, the seating position, the subtle vibration of the powertrain, the wide turns, the slow but steady progress, unabated stress and ignorantly disgruntled motorists, I felt like the world’s most dislikable trucker, but I was having a great time.
Considering the astonishing lack of knowledge and planning on my account going into this adventure, not a lot really went wrong. The Rangie made things feel easy enough, certainly. Thinking about it in hindsight, loading a car onto a trailer is a rather straightforward operation if you take help when it’s offered and do the minimal amount of homework, even on the fly.
Did I also expect to have some issues with the Range Rover? Well, yeah. When I had the Range Rover Velar just a couple of weeks before this, one half hour journey home was without any stereo—I couldn’t get radio, satellite nor my iPhone to get anything to play through the speakers. The next day it was back to normal. So I kind of expected something would go funny on my Diesel adventure, but nothing really serious ended up happening.
The only thing was the Rangie’s tow assist system. The car detects when you’ve connected a trailer at the back and launches a tow assist menu on the infotainment screen. It’s intended to help you virtually line up the trailer so that it can then help guide you for reversing and parking with the trailer attached. I was encouraged by a company representative to give this a try and write about it.
Well, it didn’t work out. After frustratingly trying to “program” a new trailer by selecting the car trailer option and failing, I took to the manual, where I couldn’t find a detailed explanation on how to interact with the programming options. Then I took to the internet, where I found a short video hosted by Fifth Gear’s Vicki Butler-Henderson that completely ignored the trailer programming process. Other videos I found of people using the system also avoided most of this setup.
The system asks you how many axles the trailer has, two in my case, and its dimensions, which I didn’t know and which weren’t available on the U-Haul website. I am sure there is probably a standard trailer size some towing nerds know about, but that ain’t me. After a quick walk around I tried an educated guess, where I was then prompted to line the trailer up into an orange box on the screen.
Attempts to move the box on the screen, which was pointed at the sky, down toward the trailer with my finger did not work. Attempts to use the physical controls also didn’t work. The trailer was already lined up straight behind the car, so I’m not sure what more I would have had to do, but it wouldn’t let me move on without figuring it out. After multiple attempts with the RX off and then on the trailer, I gave up and just did my best with the concept of steering opposite of where you want it to go when backing up.
The only other issue, after all of that, was a flat tire a few days later when I had to return it. I’m not sure how that happened, but it was likely something in the street on the way to the office that day. Oh, and Aaron forgot to unload the extra stuff from his garage he loaded in the Range Rover at his house, so now a couple boxes of tools live in our office.
Despite the rain and a maddening trailer programming system, the Td6 made for a great first towing experience. I got the trailer, the car on the trailer, and the car to its destination with zero critical issues, all in the comfort of the Range Rover’s recently updated interior.
If you twisted everything into its sportiest setting and shifted yourself, the quick revs to the 4,000 RPM red line and decent performance was satisfying but nothing to brag about. If you behave, you get decent diesel mileage.
I reset the MPG counter shortly after starting my towing journey, and when I arrived at Aaron’s house, the Range Rover had accomplished just over 16 MPG towing. Without resetting it, that number had climbed back to almost 24 MPG during the journey back to Manhattan and the city driving that followed the next couple of days.
I’m not sure that’s enough to sell most people on the idea that this thing will get better mileage than a gas SUV, and the monroney sticker indicates you’re in for $1,500 more in fuel costs over five years, but it ain’t bad for something that feels like a leather-padded tank.
Doing chores in an $108,000 luxury vessel is incredibly satisfying and encouraging, so if you need to tow stuff a lot and want to feel like a boss doing it, pick one of these up. I also found the relaxed, quiet everyday driving of the diesel incredibly soothing, so if you don’t care too much about ridiculous SUV performance, it’s also just nice to drive around in, and a little bit more special compared to a lot of the other stuff on the road.