GRR

First drive: Range Rover Velar – the svelte urban SUV

23rd July 2017
erin_baker_headshot.jpg Erin Baker

We can write endlessly about the engineering marvel that is the new Range Rover Velar – its excellent Land Rover off-roading ability and its on-road prowess, and that sleek new design, especially apparent at the rear. But my feeling is that 99.9 per cent of customers will buy this car for the extraordinary interior. 

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It really is a step change for Land Rover. To date, the upper echelons of the company’s models – Range Rover Vogue, new Discovery HSE, the SVO derivatives – have deployed lashings of leather, exemplary stitching and large, simple knobs and switches that reflect the utilitarian prowess of the engineering.

But even the Evoque has not touched the sheer élan of the Velar. There are very few switches or buttons inside: instead, a glossy black glass surface contains a series of illuminated words - touch them and they activate as controls. Others have done this - the Porsche Panamera, for example, has just such a smooth-touch surface.

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But the Velar goes a step or two further with its system, which is boringly called Touch Pro Duo, but ought to be called Stroke of Genius. A large, convention 10in touchscreen sits above the sheet of touchable glass; it revolves out of the dashboard and gives access to normal home screen functions: satnav, phone, music, Bluetooth, cameras etc. The glass surface below it, which curves down to JLR’s rotary gear selector, allows you in-depth access to functions – i.e. select climate, and you can heat or cool your seats; select vehicle settings, and you can explore the extensive menu of off-road settings. But it’s the beauty of the design which is enough to rival anything from Apple – if you select a song from, say, Ed Sheeran’s album Divide, the blue album cover will appear as a background for the entire screen. If you select “Mud ruts” from the terrain settings, the Velar appears across a scene of destruction, car tearing up the paving, mud flying everywhere.  

There are two silver dials on this expanse of glass, but they change function depending on what you’ve selected on the glass. It’s just beautiful.

Then there are the new materials – high-quality surfaces made to look like leather but punctuated with technical weaves and contemporary patterns. There’s a luxurious mixture of metals, plastics and leathers, and wood gets more natural grains and open-pore finishes.

Still, I suppose we’d better get round to the exterior and ultimate function of this vehicle: movement. It’s all very well designing car interiors as the “third space”, but we do need to get from A to B.

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After the controversy of the new Discovery, the looks of the Velar have gone rather unremarked. From the front, this car bears the familiar Land Rover family grille but at the rear, it’s a far more urban, svelte look. The door handles sit flush against the body and pop out when you unlock the vehicle before folding away again when the car moves. The Velar is designed to sit between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport, but it does rather leave you questioning why you’d have the Sport, unless you were after seven seats, which the latter offers.

The first thing you notice once you fire up the 2.0-litre diesel engine (there are six powertrains, ranging from the 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel to the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine) and set off is how quiet the cabin is. At speed, it’s complemented by a typically composed chassis, although there is that slight lateral jiggle which seems to dog SUVs of this size. The only negative is the way the car crashes horribly through potholes. My colleagues and I all remarked on it on our drive through Norway, where broken road surfaces sent jolts up through door panels and into our teeth.

It was a strange anomaly in an otherwise excellent car. 

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Off-road, of course, this car is amazing - we were sent on the usual Land Rover trail of offset ramps that got one wheel in the air, near vertical walls that we traversed on one side, through a river with the brakes steaming, and down muddy mountain trails using the hill descent control. It was all par for the course, which is to say, unfaltering - your bravery will fail before a Land Rover does.

We tested a few versions: the smooth two-litre Ingenium diesel engine in 240PS guise is enough for this car (there’s also a D180 version), mated to the ZF eight-speed auto box, but the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel matches the luxury air of the Velar, with its air suspension which is only available on V6 diesel and petrol derivatives.

The price on the test vehicle is deceptive - we drove a First Edition launch car in R Dynamic spec which is the highest of five trim levels. The First Edition will be sold in the first year alone and has all bells and whistles on it, hence an £80k-plus price tag. But the range starts at £44,830, which squeezes it in between Evoque at £30,760 and Range Rover Sport at £60,050 (it clashes with Disco, at £43,995).

It’s wonderful to see the reprise of this name, which graced the first Range Rover prototype in the late Sixties, used now as a badge on cutting-edge British design. How far Land Rover has come in the intervening years, but what original strength there is in the badge still.

The Numbers
Engine: 3,000cc turbo diesel V6
Transmission: 8-spd auto, AWD
bhp/lb ft: 296bhp/516
0-60mph: 6.1sec
Top speed: 150mph
Price as tested:  £83,350

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