The new Range Rover Velar is a stunning combination of design flair and engineering brilliance, says Michael Ryan.
When you first set eyes on the Range Rover Velar, you think it must be some kind of concept car; one of those once-off motor show styling exercises that showcase the designs and technologies that might be incorporated in coming models, but which rarely make it to production.
Viewed from the front, a very deliberate streamlining has pulled tight the normal Range Rover creases, bumps and fat edges to give the Velar a smoother aerodynamic look that just screams style over function, particularly when you add in the integrated Matrix laser headlights.
Walk to the side, peek inside the cabin, and the futuristic frameless glass console and multiple screens again reinforce the fact that this is some kind of pointer to a computerised, minimalist future.
Except that it isn’t. It’s a pointer to the here and now. The Velar is Range Rover’s new mid-size luxury SUV. Its avant-garde design and sophisticated engineering give a real insight into how the marque is evolving for a young, affluent, urban audience that it captured in spades with the compact Range Rover Evoque.
The Velar’s background is that Jaguar Land Rover needed to evolve the Evoque concept into something more grown up, something that would match BMW, Mercedes and Audi in substance (technology, performance and handling) while more than blowing the Germans away with its looks.
At the same time, it needed to start moving its modernity concept aimed at younger buyers (introduced by the Evoque) up the chain, towards the flagship Range Rovers — big, powerful cars that cocoon you in comfort and luxury while confidently traversing a flooded creek on your country property.
So the Velar was created. With its raked silhouette, rising beltline and rearward sloping roof, it’s one of the most visually stunning cars I’ve tested.
The genius of the Velar’s design is that you immediately recognise it as a Range Rover (with hints of Vogue and Sport), but at the same time it’s unmistakably unique.
It’s very long for a mid-size SUV, barely 5cm shorter than full size Range Rover Sport, but it sits much lower.
That the Velar is all about design is evident when you check the details. I loved the burnished copper highlights on the front bumper blades and fender vents, which make it much more visually interesting to look at than a Vogue.
Other unique features include the door handles, which pop out from the sides when you open the car (although, when I left it in the driveway unlocked, the handles didn’t retract, which broadcast the fact that the car was open).
The Velar is so visually sexy, you expect every component to match the overall impression, which is where there might be some room for improvement. I would have loved to have seen bigger brake discs on its magnificent 22in alloy wheels (like the outsized ones on a BMW M3) and sexier brake calipers, because the overall design would well and truly accommodate them.
When driving, the brakes do their job brilliantly to stop the nearly 1.9 tonne SUV, which, in our case, was powered by a 3 litre turbocharged engine that made driving in the city an absolute delight.
Another really pleasant surprise was the turning circle, which was much better than
I would have expected from a car this length.
My only criticism of the Velar’s overall dimensions is that more space could have been given to the rear passengers and less to the cavernous rear boot space. If you need something that crams in more luggage than a Mercedes GLC, Audio Q5, or BMW X4, the Velar is your car.
The interior of this Rangie is just as stunning as the exterior. Inside the cabin, Range Rover has gone for a minimalist approach that’s a refreshing opposition to the German high-tech airliner cockpit look.
The key functions of the display and control system are housed into two large, glass screens, eliminating the need for most of the dials and buttons, making the Velar more Tesla than SUV. What’s truly remarkable is that the bottom screen is integrated fully into the centre console, with side-to-side glass and no bezel.
All the control menus and functions are housed in these screens, as well as two physical dials, one for temperature and another for functions dependent on what mode you’re in, for when you’re driving and can’t look down.
Range Rover says the Velar’s cabin is the most refined of any Range Rover, and it’s not hard to see why. While there’s plenty of glass and carbon fibre weave, there’s also comforting Windsor leather covering the seats, which are perforated in a Union Jack pattern, like faint echoes of the brand’s British heritage.
Range Rover did a couple of thing to ensure the Velar was a serious performance match for its German SUV competitors.
First, it based the Velar on the Jaguar F-Pace platform, which meant it got the same underpinnings and drivetrain as the sporty F-Pace. This means it’s much sharper than other Range Rovers in the handling department. Indeed, with its supercharged 3 litre V6, our P380 First Edition Velar felt uncannily like the Jaguar F-Pace we tested a few issues back.
However, the Velar couldn’t be true to the brand unless it had serious off-road capabilities, something the F-Pace doesn’t have. Rather than weighing the Velar down with the heavy duty off-road hardware found in the other Range Rovers, such as a low-ratio transfer box and decoupling anti-roll bars, Range Rover instead added the off-road capability via electronics.
So despite its sleek city looks and urban smoothness, the Velar lives up to its Range Rover name when it comes to handling serious off-road terrain. That’s what makes it so special against the competition: not only does it look like something an aesthete would drive, but it will take that aesthete much further up the steep vineyard than an Audi Q5, BMW X4 or Mercedes GLC.
The Velar comes in a bewildering array of models and options, starting with the D180
2 litre turbo diesel for $71,550, going up to around 190K for its specced up turbocharged 3 litre versions. Our P380 First Edition is listed at $168,250.