Just like that, Range Rover’s delicately balanced priorities have fallen in favour of design.
This new Velar luxury SUV subscribes to a new way of thinking for the brand, one that places aesthetics ahead of practicality in a push to pull customers away from established rivals.
Larger than the Evoque but smaller than the Range Rover Sport, the Velar has a silhouette every bit as attractive as the new Land Rover Discovery is homely.
From the resolute glare of its focused headlamps to the narrow glasshouse, swept-back roofline and whopping 22-inch wheels, it looks like a concept car for the road. We believe design chief Gerry McGovern’s brash talk of “visibly upset” engineers working to bend technology to the s strokes.
Based on the unashamedly road-biased underpinnings of Jaguar’s F-Pace (an SUV with direct links to the XE sedan and F-Type sports car), the Velar’s long wheelbase, short nose and extended tail lend visual grace few high-riding wagons can match.
And that’s before you step inside.
Range Rover is rightly proud of the Velar’s cabin, which follows the luxury trend for uncluttered design by doing away with a vast array of buttons. The car’s navigation, entertainment, climate control and drive settings are accessed through beautifully integrated twin letterbox-shape touchscreens.
Sitting within a central beam stretching across the dashboard, the Touch Pro Duo’s top screen usually plays the role of navigator and DJ, complementing a lower display ensconced within a floating black panel that arcs up and away from the centre console. The cleverest touch surrounds a pair of magic dials, rubber-ringed controls that wrap around circular display screens used to back up the main displays.
Those elegant twin screens are augmented in top-spec trim by a 12.3-inch digital dashboard and full-colour head-up display system that take time to master – at one point we had four separate map readouts beaming away from the dash. Familiarity will sort that, as you can tailor the readouts to show dozens of different combinations.
There’s no doubt the cabin is impressive when all the screens are lit, and it also looks ace when the car is turned off, with the displays and backlit steering wheel buttons taking on a smooth-lacquered piano black look before sparking to life.
While the cabin is no doubt more beautiful for ditching buttons, dedicated physical controls in most rivals make it easier to switch driving modes, adjust the climate control or change radio stations. You can tweak them on the fly, but that requires a more than lingering glance at the lower screen, well away from where you should be focused.
It’s also easy to brush the steering wheel’s touch-sensitive volume controls when cornering, bringing a blast of music that undermines the serenity Range Rover worked so hard to achieve.
Enthusiasts may be drawn toward the most powerful engine in the lineup, a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 shared with Jaguar’s F-Type. Offering up 280kW and 450Nm outputs, the sweet-sounding motor helps the Velar reach 100km/h in as little as 5.7 seconds before streaking to a 250km/h top speed.
Range Rover tuned out Jaguar’s pyrotechnic fire and crackle to make the motor more suitable for a prestige audience, robbing the engine of some character. Impressive on paper, the petrol V6 doesn’t feel all that quick in the real world, needing plenty of revs on board to deliver its best.
There’s no V8 variant for now, but it may arrive in the future as part of a planned high-performance model.
A more sensible option surrounds Land Rover’s “Lion” 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel V6 which grunts out 221kW and a whopping 700Nm while using 6.4L/100km of fuel – a full 3.0L/100km less than the petrol V6.
The turbo diesel machine serves up effortless punch with a pleasantly muted soundtrack rumbling away somewhere in the distance. Heavier than the petrol version, it’s not quite as sweet to steer when pushed beyond its comfort zone. But the diesel does a much better job of mimicking the full-strength Range Rover experience – it’s all about fuss-free performance comfortable in the knowledge that the car can do just about anything you ask it to.
Our test drive took place in Norway, on sweeping country roads, challenging mud and rock routes and a series of off-road obstacles set up in a boat shed.
The intention was to prove the Velar has a similar breadth of ability to its bigger brothers.
But the Velar goes about mountaineering in a different way, missing out on expensive low-range transmissions and locking differentials in favour of clever electronics that make the most of unashamedly road-biased hardware.
We climbed mountains lined with slippery shale, crossed streams and scrambled up muddy tracks in a machine that deserves to wear the Range Rover badge.
Much of that was made easier by Land Rover’s All Terrain Progress Control – a sort of cruise control for off-road duty – which handles brake, throttle and gear responsibilities. All you have to do is steer.
Land Rover’s multi-mode Terrain Response system allows drivers to tailor the car’s hardware to a variety of conditions, and an updated version capable of sensing environmental challenges and autonomously adapting to them is available in the Velar.
The V6 models tested here were fitted as standard with air suspension that offers up to 251mm of ground clearance, as well as the ability to hunker down and lower the car’s centre of gravity on tarmac. Both models feature beautifully calibrated eight-speed automatic transmissions that drive all four wheels.
Range Rover says this mainly aluminium SUV is its most road-focused model yet – an interesting thought when you remember this is the same brand responsible for the full-sized Barbie doll accessory that is the Evoque convertible.
It’s reportedly the most aerodynamic Range Rover yet, a car that benefits from a concerted effort to reduce wind, road and tyre noise on sealed surfaces.
Every model in the range features multi-mode shock absorbers, and the pneumatic models we tested showed marked changes in behaviour across dynamic, eco and comfort modes.
Driving only the rear wheels in grippy conditions, the Velar’s light steering loads up nicely in corners, filtering a decent amount of information back to the driver. Body roll is well controlled, and an optional active limited slip differential for the rear-end helps the car tuck into corners before driving away with plenty of purchase.
Weighing in around 1900 kilograms, the wagon feels its size if you over-commit to a corner. And those optional 22-inch wheels contribute to questionable low-speed ride quality that warrants further investigation on local soil.
Softer and heavier than the F-Pace, the Velar isn’t quite as engaging as its Jaguar cousin or Porsche’s popular Macan. But the Range Rover will leave them in its dust when the road turns rough.
This isn’t a perfect car – it’s behind the competition in active safety, some of the tech feels like a distraction, Range Rover has a mixed reputation for reliability and design details such as its awfully blocky pop-out doorhandles don’t fit the luxury theme.
But the biggest hang-up surrounds its price and features.
The Velar Range comprises more than 40 varieties spanning from $70,662 to $135,762 plus on-road costs – that’s if you don’t count a special launch edition available in the first year of production for $168,260 (pictured).
Taking the standard Velar with its base petrol engine ($70,662 plus on-road costs), you can upgrade to S ($11,100) SE ($20,000) or HSE ($36,300) trim that bring extras such as active cruise control, enormous wheels, a premium stereo and more. A cosmetic R Dynamic pack available across the range brings sporty-looking bumpers, chrome gearshift paddles, metal pedals and more for $6000, joining a choice of 17 alloy wheel options ranging from 18 to 22 inches with prices ranging from $400 to $5000.
You can add more than $50,000 in kit to Velar, and stuff like heated and cooled massaging seats ($11,200) or Laser headlights ($8400) are fitting ways to push it into high-end territory.
But you shouldn’t have to pay $590 to have smartphone apps such as Spotify available in the car, nor should heated front seats ($830), front parking sensors ($325) or boot mounted release levers for the rear seats ($290) be on the options list for a luxury SUV. Charging $920 for a few lines of code allowing drivers to create a custom driving mode also feels mean.
Luxury items such as a head-up display ($2370), sunroof ($3480) or air suspension ($2060) start to make the car feel expensive, particularly when you consider that the more spacious and capable Range Rover Sport starts at $90,900 in four-cylinder form, or $103,900 for an SE model with Velar’s diesel V6.
Forget the circa-$70,000 entry price. Most customers are paying well more than $100,000 to get hold of a Velar and the car you see here would cost more than $150,000 in Australia. Well more.
Even so, the brand says it has experienced “unprecedented interest” in a model which has persuaded hundreds of Australian customers to order the car – possibly on looks alone.
The Velar is already a success. Though there is a question over its value – and whether traditionalists will welcome such a departure from the marque’s engineering-led, of-road biased history – this feels like a proper Range Rover, and it has been welcomed by thousands of customers around the globe who haven’t driven the car.
Chalk it up as a victory for design.
2018 Range Rover Velar pricing and specifications
Price: From $70,662 to $168,862 plus on-road costs
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder or 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel or 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol or 3.0-litre V6 supercharged petrol
Power: 132kW, 177kW (2.0TD), 221kW (3.0TD) or 184kW, 221kW (2.0T), 280kW (3.0S/C)
Torque: 430Nm, 500Nm (2.0TD), 700Nm (3.0TD) or 365Nm, 400Nm (2.0T), 450Nm (3.0S/C)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Fuel use: 5.4L/100km, 5.8L/100km (2.0TD), 6.4L/100km (3,0TD), 7.6L/100km or 7.8L/100km (2.0T), 9.4L/100km (3.0S/C)
Our test examples were beautifully-finished cars exuding a level of quality beyond what we’ve seen in Jaguar’s sister SUV.
That said, the Velar’s standard seats aren’t the most comfortable in its class, the cabin is home to some hard plastics (if you go looking for them) and the back seat is a little tight on leg and head room for full-sized adults. That’s the price paid for such evocative proportions.
Australian models offer a choice of six engines split evenly into petrol and diesel options – each fuel type has low and mid-range four-cylinder engines as well as a range-topping six-cylinder unit.
The manufacturer did not have any four-cylinder options at its international launch for the car, limiting our time with the model to its most expensive variants.