Gorgeous exterior and tech-heavy interior. Alvin Thomas spends hours fiddling with the buttons and meddling with the throttle to discover how the game is going to be tougher for the Germans and the Japanese now
Slotting sweetly in between the Range Rover Sport and the (de facto) Evoque is the all-new entrant: the Velar. And, by all means, it shouldn’t be a vehicle that steals the spotlight from the range of cars that currently compose the luxury SUV-maker’s lineup… but it does – and it has quickly risen to become one of the brand’s premier vehicles.
There’s a very good reason for that, though: style and substance. I know I’m giving away the gist of the story here, but bear with me for a second. The Velar, despite its echelon, is quite important to Range Rover – but the reasons are far from obvious.
The price and size differences aside, all Range Rovers will now follow the Velar’s exterior design-language and incorporate the latest technologies inside. If anything, it’s a welcome upgrade when
you cognise that top-end Vogues and SVRs were still packing dated tech up until early this year.
Moving on, there’s quite a lot to like about the Velar – as is the case with most Range Rovers. But the Velar definitely stands out when compared to other SUVs in its class strictly due to its on-road presence.
‘Dynamic’ is probably the word that describes this car to full effect. The sharp, flowing full-LED headlamps seamlessly join the grille on the bumper. Additionally, there are three separate air intake vents on the bumper, two of which harbour the LED fog lamps. All cosmetic elements, including the front lip and side skirts in my red test-drive car, were blacked out for a stealthy look.
The side profile and the posterior are also in line with the Velar’s sporty attire. The roofline swoops down like what you’d normally see in the Jaguar XF or XE, and the door handles are docked within the door handles when you don’t require it. The hind, however, splits the audience. The light bar running across the length of the rear is appealing, but the raised profile can be a bit awkward, especially if you’ve raised the ride height for off-roading.
The futuristic exterior is further complemented by an equally Jetsons-styled interior. It’s hard to explain, but the words ‘ingenious’ and ‘modern’ fit the piece.
When you hop into the SUV, you’re greeted with not one but three different screens. The first one, as you would expect, is the navigation screen, which lifts itself to an angle most suitable for your viewing; the second is the instrument cluster; and the third – which is placed under the navigation screen – is strictly for controlling vehicle functions, a/c, vigour of the massaging seats and several other infotainment features.
There’s no way passengers can take their eyes off the one-piece panel that comprises the two screens. Even cooler is that the second blacked-out glass panel also comes with knobs that can adapt to different functions depending on what’s displayed on the screen.
This is also the case with the steering wheel: Like any Range Rover, there are several buttons for you to meddle with, except now the buttons adapt to how you push or graze them.
It all sounds incredibly complicated but, surprisingly, it isn’t. Spending four hours in the car was enough for me to get to grips with all the controls.
Meanwhile, the seats are finished in high-grade leather and are extremely comfortable. You can also adjust the lumbar and bolstering on the seats if required. Oh, and the massage function only adds to the allure of the front seats. Rear passengers, on the other hand, only get reclining seats.
You get a commanding ride height like you would in any Land Rover product, and space upfront is aplenty. Space in the rear, on the other hand, is heavily dependant on how far back the driver has set their seat.
Albeit, at 673 litres, the rear boot is nothing but on a par with other SUVs in this price point and class.
The Velar is powered by a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 engine pushing 375hp and 450Nm of torque. While this enables the car to accelerate from 0 to100kph in about six seconds, the real pleasure is when you tip the throttle to unmask oodles of torque low down the rpm range.
What’s better is that there’s no lag from the engine (that’s sourced from the mental F-Type S) like you’d see in a car with a turbocharged motor.
The powertrain is further complemented by an eight-speed ‘ZF’ gearbox that sends power to all four wheels through an electronic differential. The gearbox performs well under load and even switches gears quickly and effortlessly.
The acceleration isn’t what I would call blistering, but it still picks up pace briskly when you slam the throttle. Kick-downs are fairly quick, too.
We didn’t dare to go dune bashing with the Velar, but its engineers say that it can do so without breaking a sweat. Aside from the e-diff, the SUV gets 251mm ground clearance, with 24-degree break over and 30-degree departure angles.
All V6 models also come with air suspension as standard, so you can alter the ride height depending on your needs. But, the intelligent electronic nannies on-board can alter the height and protect you from slipping on loose surfaces, automatically.
What the air suspension makes up for in functionality and comfort, it loses out in sportiness. Sure, the ‘Dynamic’ mode spruces things up considerably, but there’s still a sizeable amount of yaw and pitch when you get going hastily. Thankfully, body roll is kept low in sharp corners.
Grip from the 265/45 Pirelli P Zero tyres wrapped around 21-inch alloys is abundant and the ride is compliant around town. Most bumps and imperfections are damped down by the air suspension, too.
In all, Range Rover has succeeded in its first attempt at building a new marque from the ground up since the Evoque’s launch in 2011 – and with that gorgeous exterior and tech-heavy interior – there’s no denying that the Velar is going to stick around the lineup for quite a while.
And who knows, it belongs so far ahead in the future that the boffins needn’t update it for, at the very least, a decade or so.
The SUV market has definitely become more competent – and the Velar has re-initiated a game of cat and mouse, wherein all other manufacturers around the globe are trying to catch up. Try harder, Germany and Japan. Try harder.