There’s a change of focus at iconic off-road brand Land Rover and nowhere is it more obvious than with the upmarket Range Rover Velar.
Although Range Rover is doggedly hanging onto the SUV title, the Velar is a true crossover, not only in reference to its road-biased dynamics, but also with regard to its concept car-like styling that looks more like a sleek estate than a rough-and-tumble off-roader.
Under the dramatic exterior Land Rover has used sister-brand Jaguar’s chassis technology - shared with the F-Pace and related to sedans like the XE and XF - to deliver a new dynamic champion for the brand, and at the Velar’s launch in Norway we got to discover just how different this new Range Rover really is.
Vehicle Style: Prestige medium SUV
Price: $70,662 - $168,862 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 221kW/700Nm 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo diesel, 280kW/450Nm 3.0-litre 6cyl supercharged petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.4 l/100km diesel, 9.4 l/100km petrol
Somewhat unusually for a prestige brand, the Range Rover Velar will function as a flagship, despite not being the largest, most powerful, or most expensive model in the Range Rover line-up - but those looks, the dramatic low roof and big wheeled stance, demand attention.
Land Rover will also have a massive range of variants for buyers to pick from, with six engines arriving locally, including two petrol four-cylinder, two diesel four-cylinder, and two V6 engines, one each fuelled by petrol or diesel at the top of the range.
There’s also set to be a range of trim options as well, with S, SE, and HSE, plus an R-Dynamic styling pack, along with a fully-loaded Launch Edition which will give the Velar a price-span reaching from $70,662 plus on road costs up to $168,862 in Australia - and that's before delving into the extensive options and packages available.
Positioned between the urban Evoque and larger Range Rover Sport, the Velar finds a unique niche between those two existing products, and sticks with five seats rather than the utility of seven, leaving the practical side of things to the Land Rover Discovery and Discovery Sport, leading to a very full catalogue for the Land Rover brand.
With each successive addition to its portfolio, Range Rover seems to be moving its interior styling further away from the realms of reality and towards a more svelte concept car style. The Velar takes another leap forward with minimalist surfaces, a reliance of large, glossy touchscreens, and impressive material combinations.
Now a pair of letterbox shaped touchscreens handle interior controls, stripping the dash almost entirely of physical buttons and dividing the control centre into entertainment and navigation functions up top, with the lower display tasked with climate controls and vehicle settings, with a pair of active screens set within rubber-ringed dials creating a new control system.
Top-spec cars go further still with an additional 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster display and a full-colour head-up display system allowing a hugely customisable array of information to be set to the driver’s preference. It can take some getting used to, and can provide an information overload, but familiarity with the comprehensive system helps get the best out of it.
As with other touchscreen systems the lack of physical buttons means having to shift your gaze away from the road ahead for a moment longer than is ideal to find the control you’re seeking, and on test we discovered that the steering wheel’s touch-sensitive volume controls are simply too easy to graze, resulting in a blast of music in the process.
The cars sampled at the international launch showed an exquisite level of fit and finish. Better than that of the related F-Pace, but if you go searching there’s still hard plastic to be found, and the seating size and shape may not prove ideal for all.
The Velar’s sexy styling also means that practicality takes a back seat, or rather that back seat practicality suffers slightly, with rear head and legroom pared down to achieve the new crossover’s dramatic proportions.
ON THE ROAD
As an introduction to the Range Rover Velar, Land Rover didn’t have its four-cylinder engine on hand to test, leaving the flagship petrol and diesel V6 engines as a first impression.
The smaller engines, all 2.0-litre in capacity feature 132kW and 430Nm or 177kW and 500Nm in diesel guise, or 184kW and 365Nm up to 221kW and 400Nm for the petrol versions.
Where the four-cylinder range is Jaguar Land Rover’s own, from the Ingenium family, the six-cylinder engines carry over from JLR’s past ownership under the Ford umbrella but with 280kW and 450Nm from the supercharged petrol or 221kW and a thundering 700Nm from the turbo diesel ensuring the Velar is competitive with rivals.
As expected from its generous figures, the 3.0-litre twin turbo “Lion” diesel propels the Velare with effortless ease, and generates a subtle but menacing soundtrack that offers a gentle hint at the potential underfoot.
The diesel engine itself is heavier than the petrol V6, blunting some of the front end accuracy of the petrol model, giving it a little more of a traditional Land rover feel: Capable of anything that’s thrown at it, but without the ‘always-on’ alertness of more sporting SUVs.
Remarkably, despite Land Rover pitching the Velar as an urban dweller, the launch drive saw us tackling country roads, rocky tracks, and muddy surfaces in an attempt to prove the Velar is cast from the same mould as its more capable range-mates.
There’s certainly a degree of ability away from the tarmac, although in this instance off-road assistance is provided by electronic assistance and stability control intervention, rather than the usual low-range transfer case and locking differentials of a ‘proper’ Land Rover.
Range rover has included Terrain Response control which allows the driver to set the car to tackle the conditions outside, with the latest generation also featuring an automatic mode that can observe and adapt to road surfaces accordingly.
Of the V6 models that took part in the first drive, all were equipped with air suspension allowing up to 251mm of ground clearance in rough conditions, or able to be lowered for a more sporting feel back on the tarmac.
Range rover calls this its most road-focussed model yet, even more so than the already city-centric Evoque, with extra effort invested into reducing wind noise via improved aerodynamics, as well as reducing road and tyre noise.
On-demand all wheel drive sends power to the rear wheels only when all-paw grip isn’t a priority, resulting in light but accurate steering which loads up nicely in bends, sending an informative dialogue back to the driver about the surface underneath.
Among the extensive options available, buyers will be able to pick such dynamics-enhancing items as the previously mentioned air suspension (though adaptive damper are standard on all models), an active limited slip rear differential, and 22-inch alloy wheels which are sure to have a marked impact on ride.
Land rover has also been careful to leave the donor F-Pace as the dynamic champ in its class, dialling out some of the petrol V6’s exhaust bark, and tuning the suspension to be more supple.
Ignore the Range Rover Velar’s arresting looks and futuristic interior and this newest Land Rover isn’t as instantly appealing as some of its key rivals with price in particular causing some consternation.
Amongst prestige SUV’s, the Velar isn’t out of its league starting from $70,662 (plus on-road costs) in Australia, but step through the range and the Velar S, Velar SE, and Velar HSE add $11,100, $20,000, and $36,300 respectively. Ouch.
Get tick-happy with your order sheet and it’s possible to add over $50,000 of options to the Velar, some of which should arguably be standard in a vehicle of its standing. Suddenly the larger range Rover Sport (from $90,900) starts looking like a more sensible proposition.
That’s okay though, because ‘sensible’ and ‘desirable’ aren’t always happy housemates, and the Velar’s appeal comes from its sensual form, from the fact that it is expensive and exclusive, from an exterior that looks like a Land Rover from the future right here in the present day.
The appeal of the Velar is such that Land Rover claims “unprecedented interest” in the new model, with hundreds of pre orders already lodged in Australia, making the Velar a success before it even turns a wheel on local soil. Thankfully for those early adopters this new beginning for Range Rover feels exactly the way a proper Range Rover should.