Diesel is, ahem, in bad odor in Europe right now. Following the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal, state and local governments have announced that diesel vehicles will be banned from cities, and there have been astonishing allegations that Daimler, BMW, and VW funded tests that involved live monkeys being forced to breathe diesel exhaust fumes. The end result is a snowballing backlash against diesel powered cars and SUVs. Sales of diesel-powered vehicles in Europe crashed 20.5 percent in December. In Britain, diesel sales in January were down 25 percent on the same month last year. Few analysts expect the trend line to change direction.
That’s a problem for the Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic HSE D300, the most powerful and expensive diesel-powered model in new Velar lineup.
The Velar is available in the U.S. with three engines, two gasoline—a 247-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four and a 380-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V-6—and one diesel, the 180-hp version of JLR’s 2.0-liter I-4 oiler. But British Velar buyers can also choose from an additional three engines—a 300-hp version of the 2.0-liter gasoline four banger, a 240-hp version of the 2.0-liter diesel four, and a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 diesel that makes 300 hp. And here’s the moral dilemma facing British consumers, post dieselgate: The worst engine is the best option.
Two reasons: Weight, and torque. According to Land Rover’s spec sheet the Velar R-Dynamic HSE D300 weighs almost 4400 pounds. It needs every bit of the big diesel’s 516 lb-ft to deliver the performance to match its breathtakingly elegant styling.
On paper, the turbodiesel-powered Velar D300 is slower than the supercharged, gasoline powered P380—Land Rover claims a 0-60 mph time of about 6.1 seconds for the D300, versus 5.3 seconds for the P380 – though claimed top speeds are similar, 150 mph versus 155 mph. But after driving near-identically equipped P380 and D300 Velar R-Dynamic HSEs back-to-back, it’s clear the diesel V-6’s 55 percent more torque makes the D300 model the more fluidly responsive, more relaxedly rapid of the two, especially on winding British back roads.
The diesel Velar is also better value for Brits. The D300 engine can be ordered on the base-spec Velar, but if you want the P380 engine, you have to order a top-of-the-line HSE model. Even then, an R-Dynamic HSE D300 retails for about 3 percent less than an R-Dynamic HSE P380, and Land Rover UK’s own finance calculator quotes a 7.8 percent lower monthly repayment over identical three-year lease terms. Throw in the fact the diesel V-6 delivers—according to Land Rover—46 percent better fuel economy than the gas V-6 on the European test cycle, and it looks an even more compelling choice.
And then there’s the fact the diesel has lower CO2 emissions than the gas V-6. A moral dilemma indeed…
In truth, most British buyers who want a diesel Velar will opt for one of the less expensive four-cylinder variants, trading off performance for style. Base Velars come standard with 18- or 19-inch wheels, which is a bit like seeing Giselle Bundchen out on the town in your mom’s fluffy slippers. Unlike U.S. customers, however, UK buyers can option a base car with the 20-, 21-, or even 22-inch wheels that work best with the Velar’s stunning proportions. But they pay heavily for the privilege: The cheapest 20-inch wheel/tire combo adds the equivalent of $2,800 to the sticker, while the most expensive 22-inch setup takes it up an eye-watering $6,200…
Both of our six-cylinder HSE-spec Velar testers had air suspensions. The P380 rode on 22-inch wheels and tires, and the D300 on 21s. We’d opt for the 21s. They still look the part, and there’s just a little more compliance in the ride. You could probably get away with 21s even on cars without air springs: The base Velar’s suspension is set up softer than that of the closely related Jaguar F-Pace—which rolls on steel springs—and copes better with road acne.
Although it doesn’t have a low-range transfer case, Land Rover engineers claim the Velar is still more off-road capable than most SUVs. The height-adjustable air suspension, standard on six-cylinder models, can raise and lower the Velar 3.9 inches to give a maximum ground clearance of 9.9 inches, and it can wade through water more than two feet deep. The Velar boasts more wheel travel than the F-Pace, and the finely calibrated Land Rover Terrain Response system delivers better off-road performance. That off-road capability is important, even expected, just like it’s expected a Porsche 911 will do more than 180 mph. But just as few 911 owners ever venture the omigod side of 150 mph, not many Velar owners will take the lowest, most aerodynamic Range Rover in history rock crawling.
Very few production cars deliver the breathtaking street presence of a concept car. The Range Rover Velar is one of the very few. Its elegant, sheer surfacing, extravagant proportions, and obsessively reductive detailing set a new benchmark for modern SUV design. And for many buyers that’s all that really counts.