The Range Rover Velar is further evidence that Land Rover has no intention of being an ironic note in automotive history as a dedicated 4WD brand that missed a beat during the SUV craze.
While the original Range Rover xxisted alone for more than 30 years, the past 13 years have now seen the ‘Rangie’ line-up quadrupled with the Sport (2004), Evoque (2011), and now Velar (pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable).
The latest stiff-upper-lip SUV from Britain takes its name from the prototypes that tried to put the industry off the scent that Rover (Land Rover didn’t officially exist as a brand until 1978) was developing a vehicle that was as good on road as it was off it.
If there’s any sign that Land Rover is as much about design today as it is 4WD engineering, the 21st-century Velar is it.
And Land Rover has its axles crossed it will prove to be as successful as the style-focused Evoque, above which the concept-car-for-the-road Velar sits to fill the pricing “white space” between the baby Rangie and the Rangie Sport.
The vast range (40-odd variants) starts from $70,662 – a touch below the Jaguar F-Pace with which it shares many components and its aluminium architecture – and up to $135,762.
In profile, it’s possible to appreciate the Rangie and Jag share wheelbase (2874mm) and hard points – though while they share an athletic posture, there’s a more conceptual look to the Velar: the way the rising waistline and plummeting roofline create an even more pronounced swept-back stance; those ultra-slim LED headlights and tail-lights; those contrasting overhangs; and the flushness of the body – including the chunky door handles that deploy electrically outwards when you press the key fob.
The interior differences are starker. Where the F-Pace’s perception of quality struggles against an Audi Q5, the Velar has the potential to compete for cabin leadership.
We say potential as our test P380 variant here is the limited-run First Edition that costs $168,862.
While based on what will nominally be the range-topping, $135,762 R-Dynamic HSE P380, it adds a raft of extras to the standard-equipment inventory, including: All Terrain Progress Control (a low-speed off-road cruise control system); Terrain Response 2; active rear locking diff; wade sensing; black contrast roof; sliding panoramic roof; 22-inch alloy wheels; matrix-laser LED headlights; carbon fibre and copper weave interior trim; suedecloth headlining; premium carpet; customisable ambient interior lighting; heated, reclining rear seats; heated steering wheel; head-up display; Meridian 1600-watt, 23-speaker audio; surround-view camera; Activity Key bracelet.
We could pick more than a couple of items from that group that buyers of a regular HSE P380 might have expected to be standard for a vehicle that costs nearly $150K once on-road costs are factored in.
While the First Edition showcases the Velar’s interior in its finest form, the striking Touch Pro Duo system that is very much a cabin centrepiece is standard across the range.
(And there’s another Jaguar link here, because the twin 10-inch touchscreen arrangement seems inspired by the C-X17 concept that previewed the F-Pace.)
The upper screen, which looks like an oversized iPhone embedded in the dash, tilts forward on start-up and serves as the digital infotainment digital. Like a smartphone, it features swipe and pinch functionality and is reasonably responsive to the touch. (Apple CarPlay/Android Auto isn’t available, mind.)
The lower screen blends into the lower console, and houses controls for climate control, seat heating/cooling, and the multi-surface-mode Terrain Response system.
There are specific touch-buttons for choosing between modes that include Dynamic (if sportier-looking R-Dynamic trim is chosen), Comfort, Gravel/Mud/Snow. Or two physical, rubberised dials can rotate through the modes (or change cabin or seating temperature if Climate or Seats are selected from the top of the lower screen).
Velar’s high-tech look is completed with a 12.3-inch virtual instrument cluster (standard on mid-range SE upwards; base S get a 5.0-inch TFT display), head-up display (optional all models), and capacitive steering wheel controls with changeable options.
The latter combines with the two-tone design to give the Velar’s tiller a hybrid modern/classic look, though the controls and corresponding menus lack the intuitiveness of the touchscreen set-ups.
The leather wheel isn’t just nice to hold but also guides the mid-size Range Rover with linearity and accuracy.
Its weighting feels spot-on for all motoring scenarios, even if it doesn’t provide the same level of feedback as the F-Pace’s steering. The Velar doesn’t have quite the same enthusiasm for corners as the Jaguar, either, and its 1.9-tonne weight, though not much heavier, feels more noticeable.
Yet the handling is composed, and ably supported by plentiful grip from the big rubber and strong, progressive brakes (which are bigger on six-cylinder variants).
V6 Velars also gain air suspension as standard, though the First Edition’s 22-inch wheels do more for completing the concept-vehicle styling than delivering ultimate comfort.
There was an underlying suppleness to our test car (in Comfort mode) that suggests going with 19s or 20s might bring the Velar closer to mimicking the flagship Rangie’s famously cosseting ride (strange Dynamic variant excepted), but those 22s feel (and sound) heavy-handed over joins and imperfections, and create a layer of firmness that never allows a truly relaxing drive around town or along country roads.
The tyres are surprisingly quiet on coarse surfaces, though, contributing to refinement levels fulfilling the luxury-SUV brief.
We wouldn’t mind if the 3.0-litre V6 petrol was a little more vocal. Compared with its installation in Jaguars, it sounds subdued and uninspiring here. It also needs plenty of revs on the tacho before momentum feels properly effortless, and sustaining that approach drains the fuel tank at an alarming rate.
The supercharged six gels beautifully with the ZF eight-speed auto, though. The transmission provides fluid shifts in D, while twisting the rotary gearshift dial to S brings well-judged downshifts under braking.
Drivers can alternatively use the standard paddleshift levers (the same disappointingly plastic flippers from the F-Pace). They make most sense when used in conjunction with the petrol V6, though the V6 twin-turbo diesel D300 presents a convincing case as the engine of choice with its superior torque – 700Nm v 450Nm.
While the Velar shares its on-demand, rear-axle-biased 4WD system with the F-Pace, Land Rover claims benchmark off-roading ability for the mid-size SUV segment.
We stuck to the bitumen, in consideration of those 22-inch wheels, though if you are so inclined to climb gravelly or muddy gradients, air rather than coil springs are the pick – providing greater ground clearance (251mm v 213mm) and slightly deeper wading capability (65 v 60cm). Just don’t expect to go as far off the beaten track as the bigger Range Rovers.
The view out isn’t quite as expansive, either, especially without the flagship Rangie’s classically tall glass area or its more commanding seating position.
That aside, the front seats are lovely to sit in, especially with the HSE spec’s supple Windsor leather, and the Velar takes an ergonomic victory over the F-Pace by placing the window switches on the door armrest rather than door beltline. Storage is excellent, and the Land Rover button on the console that reveals an extra cupholder is a neat touch.
Rear passengers aren’t treated to quite the same amount of legroom as the Jaguar despite identical wheelbases, but the Velar brings a bigger boot at 558 litres (v 508L).
Although the First Edition P380 is loaded with all the fruit, that $170K price tag also means most people will need all their oranges in a row at the pokies to afford it. It’s a lot of coin for what is only a mid-sized SUV, and we think there are sweeter spots to be found in a Velar range that spoils you for choice.
And even if you had that budget, we’d point you towards either a Range Rover Sport SDV6 Autobiography or even the entry-level flagship, full-size Range Rover that will both gain the Touch Pro Duo system in 2018, but more importantly are more complete Rangies.