The tail end of 2020 is a strange time to be launching a new diesel engine, especially in a car that is coming up for replacement within the next 18 months. But that’s what Land Rover is doing with a new six-cylinder version of its Ingenium diesel powerplant, one that is set to quickly spread across the JLR family but which we experienced in full-strength D350 guise in a Range Rover Sport driving in the cold and damp of an autumnal UK.
While other makers are turning away from diesel, JLR has little choice but to stick with compression ignition – despite starting to offer petrol PHEVs, the vast majority of Land Rovers sold in Europe still lack spark plugs.
The existing ‘Lion’ V6 and V8 diesels played a long innings – dating from a joint venture between Ford and PSA and launched in six-cylinder guise as long ago as 2004.
There have been plentiful updates and tweaks for the V-banked engines since then, but the old tech has struggled with both emissions standards and matching rival’s economy.
The new straight-six ID6 is replacing both of them, with integrated 48 Volt mild-hybrid assistance through a starter-generator standard on both the D300 and D350 versions that will come to Australia in both the Range Rover Sport and Range Rover.
The D350’s headline power figure is slightly better than the outgoing 4.4-litre V8 – 257kW versus 249kW. But peak torque has fallen from 740Nm to 700Nm, although this is available from a lowly 1500rpm, 250rpm less than before.
There’s better news on the other side of the scale, where the all-alloy 'six is claimed to be 80kg lighter than the old V8. That saving hasn’t turned it into an off-road Elise, but an EU kerb weight of 2278kg is pretty svelte by the standards of this gargantuan segment.
Performance has improved over the V8, too, with Land Rover claiming a 6.9-sec 0-100km/h time, three-tenths inside the old car.
Performance feels acceptably brisk, although some way short of the serious g-forces the brawniest petrol-fired SUVs are capable of generating. Land Rover hasn’t told us how much electrical assistance the 48V starter-generator is capable of adding, but leisurely low-rev responses as the turbochargers spool up suggest the contribution is a modest one.
The standard eight-speed auto is also less than snappy when asked to deliver sudden acceleration; there’s a distinct pause as the system decides how many ratios to shed and then delivers this. But once in the right gear and with the turbos puffing the Sport pulls strongly, and in the Sport the new engine has a muscular, hard-edged exhaust note under full throttle which suits the car well. (Cruising refinement is still excellent.)
Peak power comes at 4000rpm, but the ID6 will happily pull beyond that, although it hits the treacle someway short of its ultimate 5000rpm limiter.
The rest of the driving experience sticks to a similarly laid-back brief. In European HST trim the Sport lacks the firmness and aggression of punchier alternatives – including its own SVR sister – but it is still accurate, comfortable and capable of impressive speed, especially over some very low-grade UK tarmac.
As its name promises, the Sport is sportier than the full-on Range Rover, but it still rolls with the road’s punches rather than trying to impose iron-clad discipline, using suspension travel to absorb and digest bumps and compressions.
Even with the switchable Dynamic mode selected, and with dampers and air springs firmed up, it stayed impressively pliant despite riding on huge 21-inch alloys. Steering remains another highlight, with much more feel reaching the rim than is usual for this segment.
The Range Rover Sport has aged well, but it is now one of the oldest cars in its segment. Even seven years after it was launched it still looks great, lower and sleeker than the full-sized Range Rover but without any of the ungainly bottom-heavy proportions common to 'coupe-ised' SUVs.
While less spacious than its bigger sister, the Sport remains impressively practical, too – although the optional third-row seats are cramped and hard for even the most flexible children to access, space for first and second row occupants remains respectable.
The minimalist cabin design has been brought about by the use of a double screened version of JLR’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, with this being the feature that – although only introduced mid-life – feels most out-of-date.
InControl remains unintuitive and glitch-prone, repeatedly dropping the Bluetooth bond to my phone and with the need to track down functions within sub-menus.
The new Pivi system fitted to the Defender is cleverer, better-looking and much easier to use, but unfortunately hasn’t made it across to the pricier Range Rover Sport. It’s the sort of detail that shouldn’t really matter that much considering how good the rest of the car is, but it does feel like an obvious failing in this ultra-connected world.
I also got to drive a Range Rover fitted with the same D350 engine, and although not worthy of a separate review it gave a useful reminder of the very different characters both vehicles have.
The installation in the Range Rover is quieter and much less vocal under hard use, with the full-sized car’s extra bulk obvious under acceleration or when asking it to change direction.
Although a superb cruiser, the Range Rover ID6 felt too soft to give the confidence necessary to push on twisty roads. Unless you really need the prestige of the range-topping Rangie, the Sport undoubtedly remains the better choice.
The new engine hasn’t radically transformed the appeal of the Range Rover Sport, but the upgrade demonstrates Land Rover’s commitment to brawny diesel powerplants beyond the life of the current model.
The rest of the Sport is starting to feel its age, but it will be retiring at close to the top of its game.
Engine: 2997 cc, straight-six diesel, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power: 257kW at 4000rpm
Torque: 700Nm at 1500-3000rpm
Top speed: 225km/h
Weight: 2278kg (EU)
Fuel consumption: 9.1 l/100km [WLTP combined TEL]
CO2: 238 g/km [WLTP]
Price: TBC – the Australian-market 2020 258kW 'D350' HSE is priced from $152,813 before on-road costs, and the D350 HSE Dynamic is priced from $160,113. See our pricing story linked below.