Named after a 1969 prototype, the new Range Rover Velar is anything but retro: beautifully proportioned with taut surfaces and ultra-modern detailing, it’s a Range Rover for the 21st Century.
The Velar was unveiled at the Geneva motor show back in March, and is aimed at the small gap between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport. Based on the same chassis as the Jaguar F Pace, it’s physically in the middle (look at the wheelbases, for example: Evoque 2660mm, Velar 2874mm, Sport 2923mm); and it’s similarly pitched in the middle in terms of pricing – forget the listed base price, no-one ever orders a base-spec Range Rover on steel wheels.
With the average Evoque costing around ZAR755.62 k and the average Sport around ZAR1,175.41 k, the Velar starts at ZAR752,762.95 and tops out at ZAR1,434,833.68 (for the specced-up-to-the-eyeballs limited ‘First Edition’).
So the Velar makes sense on Land Rover’s market segmentation spreadsheet (yawn) – but is it any good on the road?
Well, it’s certainly a looker
The Velar is a great looking car. Low (for a Range Rover), raked back and with a swept-up tapered tail, it’s also incredibly fuss-free. Gerry McGovern talks about the design being ‘reductive’, and while designers often talk nonsense I look at the Velar and I can see what he means.
One the one hand it’s a simple shape, but just soak up the details for a minute: those slender LED headlights are the slimmest ever found on a Range Rover nose; there’s that continuous shoulder line, which sweeps unbroken around the glasshouse; and of course there are those flush door handles, that pop out when you unlock the car and glide back in as you drive off.
Altogether this could be Team McGovern’s masterpiece, one of the cleanest, tightest, most cohesive designs on the road today. Range Rover’s only problem is it makes everything else in the line-up look dated.
Does it go as well as it looks?
The Velar is launched with three diesel options and three petrol (including a top-of-the-range 375bhp supercharged V6, borrowed from the F Type).
Our test car is fitted with the top turbodiesel, a 3.0-litre V6 that’s good for 297bhp at 4000rpm and a healthy 516lb ft of torque from not much more than tickover.
It makes for an effortless drive – there are paddles for the 8-speed ZF gearbox, and all V6s come with adjustable air suspension as standard. So you could put everything in Dynamic model, tweak the hell out of it till it’s stiff, potent, hair-trigger… but really, that isn’t what the Velar is about.
Equally, you can jack the car up till its on stilts and deploy the raft of intelligent off-road electronics, like Terrain Response 2 and All Terrain Progress Control. We had a brief play off-road up a seriously steep track of broken bedrock and loose boulders, nasty enough to ensure a standard hatchback could not have got up it. The Velar pounded up like a tank. But really, that isn’t what the Velar is about, either.
Okay, enlighten us, what’s the Velar really about?
The Velar is really a long-distance GT dressed as an SUV. What it does brilliantly is track straight and confident, with minimum input from the driver, in the way that would fill you with confidence on an autobahn.
It cruises fast and clean through the air (it’s Land Rover’s most aerodynamically efficient car, ever) with little noise, little effort and loads of style.
Even on a twisting mountain road – it’s no lightweight sportscar, and despite its smaller-than-a-Sport dimensions and a lot of aluminium in its construction, it still feels like a Range Rover – but that doesn’t mean it can’t accelerate, brake and steer accurately when you ask it to. It just doesn’t feel like that’s what it was built for. It’s built for devouring distances.
So the interior is probably an important factor
The interior is as much a treat as the exterior styling. Our car is lit by a panoramic sunroof (a ZAR18,722.52 option) giving it a bright, airy feel. The dashboard has been similarly ‘reduced’, consisting of two large 10-inch colour touchscreens and a couple of camera lens-inspired rotary knobs.
Needless to say, the graphics are cool, the functionality is clear and well thought-out, and the sound system is awesome.
Our car is fitted with leather, but Range Rover is also offering a new textile trim made from a tough wool blend – its natural softness adds to the sense of warm Scandinavian comfort when you climb in.
You probably get the feeling that I like the Velar. But I don’t just like it – I absolutely love it. I love how it combines the adventurous, go-anywhere connotations of the Range Rover brand with the sleek, long-distance confidence of a German supersaloon. If you said to me, ‘Mark, we need you to drive to Naples right now, non-stop, through the night,’ the Velar would be my very first choice.