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You know Jaguar Land Rover’s Board of Directors knew Gerry McGovern (Chief Design Officer, Land Rover) and his team had another winner on their hands with the new Range Rover Velar, purely for the fact they didn’t even bother building a concept car, instead, going straight from clay model to series production.
Funny thing is, no one seems to be able to properly prove the precise origin of the model name itself, despite the official company line stating Velar is derived from the Latin ‘Velaris’, meaning to veil or cover, which became the codename given to early prototypes of the first Range Rover in the late ’60s in order to throw off rival carmakers and press alike.
McGovern likes to recount a less intriguing story, in which the under-resourced development team of the day, simply didn’t have enough letters to make up the words ‘Range Rover’ for all 26 prototypes running around. Either way, while the mystery is likely to remain unsolved for a while yet, the end result is a genuinely historic model name that also has a certain up-market ring about it.
When Land Rover revealed Velar to the world for the first time at the London Design Museum in March, social media channels like Facebook went into viral meltdown. We know that because CarAdvice posted some of the first pics of the vehicle, and in less than 24 hours, over 13.5 million people had taken a peek.
In photographs it looks simply stunning, but in the metal, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen before; a pure head-turner from the ground up. Up close, it’s hard to take your eyes of it, appearing more like a perfectly proportioned concept vehicle, too good to be a production series model.
But truth be told, Velar was nearly five years in the making. A careful collaboration between equally passionate design and engineering teams committed to Land Rover’s proven design strategy based around modernism and reductionism.
It started with Evoque around six years ago, which not only went on to become a global success, but a vehicle credited with saving the entire Land Rover brand. But even McGovern calls Velar the ‘greatest demonstration of modernity thus far’.
One of the standout things about the design of Velar is the really long, elegant wheelbase against what is a relatively long vehicle for its overall size. But it still looks beautifully planted.
And although it sits above Evoque and under Range Rover Sport, it’s not a smaller version of one, or a bigger version of the other, it’s got its own unique personality and character that might seem worlds apart from its siblings.
While it’s unlike any Range Rover we’ve ever seen, the brand DNA is unmistakable with things like the continuous beltline, floating roof and the overall level of visual robustness of the vehicle.
But there’s also a level of detail not yet seen on any Range Rover. The flush deployable door handles are new to the brand and have been painstakingly engineered to withstand some of the harshest climates on the planet. And for good reason, according to McGovern.
"I’ve been asking for those flush door handles for years, until I was blue in the face, as was Mr. Tata, but part of that is being able to engineer the level of integrity required for the most severe climates. I mean, if you can’t open the doors in deepest Siberia, you’re in serious trouble."
Other new features introduced on Velar are the super-slim matrix-laser LED headlamps and burnished copper detailing on the side strakes, bonnet vents and front bumper blades. They’re not overt or extravagant, more like fine jewellery for a luxury car, rather than plain-old contrasting accents.
But where this modernity thing really does come out, is in the cabin. For it’s here where designers have taken a dramatically reductive approach to design. The switchgear has been completely stripped back so that it's hardly there at all, until you hit the start button and everything lights up – across three beautifully presented, high-resolution screens.
What we have here is no less than a game-changing design born out of new and evolving technology not previously available. Dubbed ‘Touch Pro Duo’ the two state-of-the-art 10-inch touchscreens feature a blade design with optically-bonded surfaces that give a real premium-plus finish to the screens.
All that remains of the switchgear are two uniquely crafted rotary dials of extraordinary tactility and function that seem to float on the piano-black finish on the lower screen. But, they just don’t indicate the climate control temperature, rather, they can control everything from volume to driving settings, with a digital centre that changes according to each function selected.
The rake on the topmost screen can be altered electronically, more towards a driver centric position. But what stands out equally, is the beautifully finished detail around the bright work. Most of it is flush and a cut above that found in even high-end Audi models, synonymous with meticulous cabin quality.
Behind the steering wheel is an extra-large configurable interactive instrument display with crystal clear graphics and colour, though, the super-bright head-up display proved even more useful when wafting along some of Norway’s most picturesque roads.
Even the upholstery is different. Velar offers a choice between traditional leather and a premium fabric from Danish textile manufacturer, Kvadrat. It features a wool-blend fabric with a suede cloth insert created from recycled plastic bottles.
To be perfectly honest, Velar’s cabin already feels like next-generation Range Rover. The plush, leather-wrapped steering wheel gets the same jewel-like black finish on the two mini-switch pads as the console screens, only both are capacitive and can control a broad range of functions, without inhibiting the overall drive experience when conditions permit more fun.
The front and rear seats are endlessly comfortable on long hauls, with loads of underbum cushioning and a seatback that moulds to your spine. The bolster isn't excessive, but does a pretty good job of maintaining an upright torso in the bends. Moreover, the cabin is spacious and airy and there's enough width for two large adults to feel like they have their own space.
Rear legroom is comfortable rather than what we we would call luxurious, though taller folk mind find it less so back there. While there's plenty of storage for all the usual stuff (phones, wallets, water bottles), the centre console bin lacks the depth of some rivals. That's not the case with boot space, of which there is plenty of – 673 litres behind the second row, expanding to 1731 litres with the seats down.
There’s a comprehensive range of four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines of varying power outputs from the company’s latest Ingenium family, which counts refinement and response as their most satisfying attributes.
You can choose a diesel with either 132kW or 177kW, badged D180 or D240 respectively, while petrol variants include the P250 with 184kW or P300 with 221kW.
More demanding drivers can choose between the more powerful V6s; the D300 with 221kW and 700Nm of torque, or the P380 with 280kW and 450Nm.
All Velars are mated to the same eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with paddle-shifters and all are all-wheel drive, but there’s no low-range transfer case.
Land Rover didn’t bring any of the Ingenium powered versions to the launch in Norway, but we did cover plenty of distance in the heavier V6 models.
First up was the P380 – the supercharged petrol, from Molde airport to our overnight accommodation some several hundred kays on.
Currently, this is the range-topper in the Velar range and offers the most dynamic performance, though even in this guise, we can’t call it scintillating. Mind, it’ll still motor from 0-100km/h sprint in 5.7 seconds, but does so with a high level of refinement and seemingly little stress on the engine.
We also played around with Velar’s configurable dynamics program – standard on our First Edition tester, once we got some clean road ahead. It ups the ante by increasing throttle response and shift times, while tightening up body roll and reducing power steering assistance for greater driver engagement.
More versatile, though, is the V6 diesel (D300). It’s got similar levels of refinement, but pulls solidly with all 700Nm from just 1500rpm, for exceptional hill-climbing prowess.
And besides, driving in these parts, you just don’t miss the extra punch out of the blocks. In normal driving conditions you’ll struggle to pick this as a diesel, for the lack of noise and intuitive shift program of the silky-smooth eight-speed auto.
Adaptive damping is standard across the entire Velar range, though V6 models also get full air suspension on all four corners. Left in the Normal, ride comfort is rarely challenged by the superb condition of the roads in this part of Norway.
Only when we stumble upon some proper B-roads does the ride become a tad busy, but that's riding on super-large, 22-inch monster wheels, standard on our First Edition tester. Still, for such large, low-profile tyres, the Velar offers remarkable compliance, even from the passenger seat.
By switching into the D300 equipped with 21-inch wheels, the ride was noticeably more cushioned. However, we’d suggest to find the optimum aesthetic/ride balance for Velar, we’d like to try the 20-inch wheel/tyre combination, particularly on local roads in Australia.
Velar is very different from its Sport sibling. It might be built on the same aluminium architecture as Jaguar’s F-Pace, but push hard into bends, and the tallish body of Velar will lean, but not excessively.
It’s also not a vehicle that encourages that type of enthusiastic driving style. It feels more like a downsized Range Rover in that regard, complete with that same elevated Command driving position.
Like all Range Rovers, off-road competence is core to the brand’s DNA. And while Velar is certainly capable of traversing steep slopes in the wilds of Norway, it does so without a low-range transfer case. Instead, relying on a torque on-demand all-wheel drive system to get you out of sticky situations.
On the launch program, we couldn’t fault the system across several off-road sections of various grades. You still get Land Rover’s Terrain Response System that allows drivers to adjust vehicle settings to suit the terrain, along with a raft of other systems depending on which trimline you choose.
In typical JLR fashion, Velar will come with an infinite range of configurations, packs and options, though the entry-level model priced from $70,662 plus on-roads, is still relatively well-specced, boasting equipment such as auto headlights and wipers, electric park brake, torque vectoring, hill-descent control, hill launch assist, gradient release control, cornering brake control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and trailer stability assist.
Other kit standard on every Velar includes a tyre pressure monitoring system, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, auto dimming rearview mirror, rear-view camera with sensors and powered gestured tailgate.
After two days in the saddle of the Range Rover Velar – the fourth new Range Rover model to emerge from Land Rover’s design powerhouse under design chief Gerry McGovern – we are quite frankly blown away by the design itself, let alone with the rest of the vehicle.
It’s not just another game-changing design for Land Rover, it’s the fact that the Velar heralds a new category of vehicle that effectively blends design, fashion, technology and performance like no other before it.
For the greater majority of buyers, it will be about pure lust over its beautifully balanced bodywork and exquisite detailing – inside and out. For others, it will be the interior and cabin comfort that tick the right boxes.
Of course, with Velar, Land Rover has raised the bar so high, you wonder how McGovern and his team will ever be able to trump it.