Range Rover Velar: Rough with the smooth

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Velar – an unusual name that can all too easily be mangled into ‘velour’. However, there’s no connection here with that tacky velvety fabric that was so popular for automotive upholstery in the Seventies.

The nameplate for Range Rover’s latest offering harks back to the late-Sixties origins of the first-gen Rangie itself, as the prototypes for that vehicle wore this badge to throw people off the scent. The company didn’t want anyone to get wind of the hush-hush project it was working on, and hence they chose the name ‘Velar’ for the prototypes, as it’s derived from the Latin verb velare, which means to conceal.

The difference this time around is that there’s no hidden agenda with the newbie. Recognising that there’s a gaping hole in its line-up, Range Rover has conceived the Velar to slot between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport, and the vehicle provides a logical next step for buyers wanting to move up from the baby of the range.

That said, company execs suggest the vast majority (around 70 per cent) of Velar buyers will be customers poached across from other brands (mainly out of high-riding wagons such as the Audi A6 Allroad and BMW 5 Series Touring). The suits say there’s not too much danger of the debutant cannibalising its larger, pricier Range Rover Sport sibling, with only about 4 per cent of Velar customers jumping across from the latter. The remainder (approximately 26 per cent, if you do the maths) will be trading up from Evoques.

At the international media launch on the breathtakingly beautiful western coast of Norway, Land Rover execs take great pains to emphasise how the new Velar is a pioneer and game-changer in the same vein as the original Sixties Velar prototype was. That’s a very generous stretching of the truth, as the first-gen Range Rover that the Velar prototype paved the way for was the vehicle that indisputably birthed the luxury SUV segment.

In contrast, the latest Velar is an opportunistic segment filler that doesn’t truly bring anything dramatically new to the game – it’s a genre of vehicle that already exists within the portfolios of almost every other rival brand. That’s not to say it’s not beautiful or capable though, and if you bear with me, I’ll delve into that shortly.

Despite being shod with 22in rims and low-profile rubber, the ride is relatively supple, and the cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise.

While we’re debunking some of the PR bumpf, we may as well also dispel the claim that the Velar is a “clean-sheet design”. It’s not, as its aluminium architecture and most of its suspension is sourced from the Jaguar F-Pace, albeit comprehensively re-engineered to match the slightly different job description of the Velar.

Given that it wears Range Rover badges, the Velar needed to be more off-road capable than the F-Pace… and it is. For starters, there’s the availability of air suspension that provides up to 251mm of ground clearance (213mm with coil springs), plus class-leading wading depth of 650mm (600mm with coils). To provide this amphibious capability, Land Rover boffins either sealed or relocated (higher up in the car) all key electrical and induction-related componentry.

Naturally, the Velar is also offered with the latest Terrain Response 2 and All Terrain Progress Control electronic wizardry that tailors the traction-control, suspension, active rear locking differential and engine/transmission mapping to the optimal settings for whatever terrain mode you select via the touchscreen housed in the centre console.

Look closely at the profile of the car and you’ll notice the rear overhang is appreciably longer than that of the F-Pace, and this is because Range Rover owners tend to stash more stuff in the luggage compartment than Jag drivers. The dimensional stretch means the Velar can swallow 673 litres of kit with all the seats in situ, or up to 1,731 litres if you fold the rear pews. Perfect for those weekend runs to Ikea… or more likely The One, given that you pedal a Range Rover.

Aside from these key differences, the rest of the mechanical package is largely as per the F-Pace, which means range-topping Velars come with a 375bhp/450Nm 3.0-litre supercharged V6, mated to an eight-speed automatic. Also on the menu – good news here for those with tighter budgets – is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo motor that’s offered in 247bhp and 296bhp flavours.

To provide this amphibious capability, Land Rover boffins either sealed or relocated (higher up in the car) all key electrical and induction-related componentry.

The only vehicles available for us to sample at the international launch were the full-fat, limited-run First Edition models (these will be offered only during the first year of sales) that come loaded with all the bells and whistles, plus a few cosmetic tweaks – including copper-hued accents on the nose, bonnet and flanks – to distinguish them from lesser Velars.

Speaking of visuals, the Velar is a beautifully resolved piece of design with lovely proportions and no awkward angles to speak of. There’s an obvious family resemblance to the Evoque and Range Rover Sport, but the Velar is easily the sharpest looker of the lot, with its long, low-slung stance enhanced by the 22in rims worn by our First Edition tester.

When the F-Pace was launched last year, I was in no doubt it was the most attractive SUV out there, but I don’t think too many will debate that the Velar eclipses the Jag’s aesthetics. Chief exterior designer Andy Wheel says his focus was on simplicity, with most of the surface detailing confined to the area below the waistline that merges with the clamshell bonnet.

There are flush door handles that deploy when you unlock the car, so nothing breaks the clean flow of the flanks. Yes, the bonnet and fender vents are fake, but a clever element is the ducts under the rear spoiler that force-feed air over the rear window, helping minimise the build-up of dirt on it when traversing gravel roads and muddy tracks.

The interior, too, is a masterpiece of design. It’s undoubtedly the best you’ll currently find in any Range Rover (Autobiography included), with ultra-clean lines and a skilful blend of colours and materials (you can go berserk with the hundreds of thousands of permutations on offer). The whole centre console blacks out when the ignition is off, and watching it come to life as you fire up the engine is a nice surprise-and-delight feature.

You get more of a ‘command view’ in the Velar than you do in the F-Pace, as the seating position is slightly higher than in the Jag, and the cabin has a more restrained and soothing ambience than the latter. That added calmness translates through to the Velar’s driving demeanour, too, as it’s a more refined and slightly softer-riding animal than the Leaping Cat. The company quotes a 0-100kph split of 5.7sec for the 375bhp supercharged range-topper but, out in the real world, it never feels electrifyingly quick. Brisk, yes, but not rapid in the vein of a Macan Turbo. That said, I don’t think this will be a problem for prospective owners, as most are unlikely to be the lap-record-chasing type.

Our Norwegian road loop winds past some stunning fjords, and the Velar makes easy work of it all. The chassis offers enough dynamism to entertain, and the electrically assisted power steering is nicely weighted, although a little lacking in the feedback it relays to your fingertips. Despite being shod with 22in rims and low-profile rubber, the ride is relatively supple, and the cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise. You’re basically enveloped in a serene cocoon, with the premium Meridian audio providing the sole assault on your eardrums.

A couple of short off-road sections – one man-made, the other formed by nature – provide basic proof of the Velar’s all-terrain credentials, but we’d stop short of making any iron-clad statements about its off-road prowess. It’s largely irrelevant anyway, because Velar owners aren’t likely to be found amongst towering sand dunes or tackling boulder-strewn wadis. However, those who buy these vehicles like to know they can go off-road if they ever felt the need/desire to do so.

The Velar may not bring any ground-breaking abilities to the luxo-SUV arena – a Land Rover Discovery has a greater breadth of versatility/capability – but the new Rangie is still a likeable entity. As the old cliché goes, it’s not about the raw ingredients, but much more about how they’ve been blended and prepared. The Velar an eminently stylish, cohesive and desirable package, and it’s not hard to imagine its arrival will elicit a steady procession of punters in Land Rover showrooms.

Although the entry price for the basic 2.0-litre model seems decent value at circa-Dh185k, you can safely expect the damage to your wallet to rapidly escalate once you start ticking a spate of option boxes. As for the First Edition we’ve reviewed here, expect a sticker price around the Dh400k mark (or more) by the time it lands in UAE showrooms over the coming weeks. That’s a lot of cashola but – on the plus side – it’s a very tasty luxo SUV.

SOURCEwheels
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