Range Rover’s newest product continues its quest to win over hearts and minds, but this Velar D240 model leaves it somewhat vulnerable…
Fresh from a glowing road test (of the D300 R-Dynamic HSE), the Range Rover Velar netted a podium finish in the category for Best Premium Midsize SUV/Crossover in March 2018’s Top 12 Best Buys awards.
We’re not the only ones who appreciate Land Rover’s new boutique SUV. Buyers, likewise, adore its blend of striking, concept-car-like design and sumptuously trimmed, tech-laded cockpit; up until the end of January, 436 Velars found homes in South Africa.
That’s a big number for a vehicle that’s brazenly premium priced, and which sits uncomfortably close in the JLR pecking order to the bigger, even more prestigious RR Sport. Only two Velar models dip below a million – the D180 and P250, both in base spec – and it would be a veritable travesty to choose them; someone who desires to own a Velar would undeniably sniff at comparatively puny 18-inch wheels, Luxtec-covered (rather than leather-covered) seats, and a sat-nav-free Touch Pro Duo infotainment system.
No, S level is where it starts getting interesting. SE? Even better, but not quite as appealing as full-fat HSE specification. Opt for the latter and Land Rover adorns the Velar with 21-inch wheels and intricately designed matrix LED headlamps, and inside adds 20-way adjustable seats sumptuously trimmed in perforated Windsor leather, digital instrumentation and an 825 W Meridian sound system.
The hitch, of course, is luxury items generally have a price tag to match. The D240 HSE assessed here costs more than R1,2-million, with this test vehicle specced to R1 518 176. Have we mentioned it operates a modest 2,0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel under that gently scalloped bonnet?
Ah, the engine. Part of Jaguar Land Rover’s Ingenium range of powertrains, the unit in the D240 develops 177 kW and 500 N.m of torque at 1 500 r/min. Functioning through an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission channelling drive to all four wheels, the 2,0-litre is generally a competent engine, but in the Velar its performance is throttled by the vehicle’s weight (a perennial problem with JLR products). After taxing our scales at 2 073 kg, the Velar took a sluggish 10,32 seconds to reach 100 km/h on our test strip. Once up and running, matters improved slightly, but its in-gear acceleration figures still trail rivals with similar-capacity engines.
Thankfully, suppression of diesel clatter is more in keeping with the Range Rover’s status, the Ingenium engine sounding more civilised here than in other JLR products so equipped. Only an occasional trigger-happy transmission response on downshifts irks.
Coupled with class-leading noise, vibration and harshness levels, plus that sumptuously comfortable interior, making progress in the Velar is a serene affair. Only the chance pothole and road scar sent a shudder through the stiff structure, but they’re more heard than felt thanks to the optional (R18 000) air suspension. On that note, the latter can dip the suspension by 40 mm for easier access, or raise it above default mode by 50 mm when scaling large obstacles (this is a Range Rover, after all).
Elsewhere, the appeal of the Velar is undimmed. The R32 200 Silicon Silver shimmering paintwork and R12 200 Premium Exterior Pack – including black highlights on the bumpers – emphasise the vehicle’s manifest interesting design cues, including the cinched glasshouse and slender head- and taillamps.
Grab one of the electrically protruded door handles, pull open a surprisingly hefty door and slide into the seat. At 1 655 mm, the Velar is a relatively low-slung SUV, but the driver’s perch is adequately lofty to grant a clear view of the road ahead. The front seats are firm rather than cossetting, but they support in all the right places, and are ideally sited for prodding away at the two console-mounted screens, no matter the driver’s height.
And prod they will. Small icons and a lack of haptic feedback mean the displays draw too much of a driver’s attention, and utilising some basic functions needs two or three steps. That said, the displays’ resolution is above criticism and, with some tailoring to logically apportion information between the three screens (including the instrumentation) and adapt the user interfaces, usability improves.
Does the humdrum Ingenium engine dent the Velar’s appeal? To an extent. For the money, the D240 should be quicker off the line, flightier on the move and more hushed at all speeds. To that D300 we tested before, the V6 engine added enough culture to make its list price more palatable. Here, however, Land Rover is knowingly stretching the boundaries of this class by pricing the Velar D240 at such a lofty level.
To that end, would we pick this D240 HSE model over a number of either cheaper or better endowed rivals, both from within the JLR stable and across the English Channel into Europe? The team’s consensus was a carefully considered no. Happily for the British company, however, when it comes to products that aim for the heart rather than the head, consumers tend to eschew rational advice and heed emotional resonance. And who can blame them when the vehicle in question is this distinctive?
*From the April 2018 issue of CAR magazine