LET’S face it, most of us older drivers associate the Land Rover name with functionality, an attribute cemented over nearly seven decades by the original model which ended its production run carrying the Defender nameplate. Since then, the Range Rover badge in particular has been associated with go-anywhere luxury (to coin a new phrase) while the Evoque created a new class of compact SUV which blended urban chic with a surprising if largely unknown dash of off-road panache.
Now comes another contender in the Range Rover stable which carries the unusual name, Velar. To save you consulting Dr Google, I can tell you that this was the name attached to disguise the original Range Rover when it was undergoing pre-production testing in the late 60s.
So, for all its freshness, the Velar name is firmly rooted in Range Rover history. Some may understandably ask what is the purpose of the Velar when the Land Rover stable already houses a huge variety of SUVs. The answer, I believe, is to bridge the size gap between the Evoque and the Range Rover Sport.
It does so with a new sense of style marked out by simple detailing that in some ways reminds me of a neatly-crafted bar of soap. There’s a smooth flow from front to back uninterrupted by heavily-wrought metal but accentuated by a swoopy roofline and a fast windscreen that adds a dose of Evoque-style dash.
The fact that it’s still clearly a Range Rover is indisputable but this is a Range Rover that puts the emphasis on understated style. It’s appearance almost telegraphs that it will appeal to a buyer who puts a premium on image ahead of function but let’s not jump to conclusions that the functional aspect has been consigned to the sands of Red Wharf Bay where the original Land Rover was sketched.
Of course, no Range Rover event would be complete without liberal reference to “aluminium architecture.” Land Rover has been a pioneer in the liberal use of aluminium, witness the body panels of the original Landy, and trumpets frequently about the weight-saving benefits of this corrosion-resistant material. Indeed, weigh-bay figures prove the efficacy of the exercise – albeit not quite to the extent claimed – but what should not be overlooked is that as new models, including the Velar, have acquired innumerable equipment additions that weren’t on the radar two decades ago, overall mass has been kept under control to the benefit of handling, emissions and fuel consumption.
On launch in the Western Cape, Land Rover South Africa and sub-Sahara Africa had lined up a mixed fleet of aluminium-intensive Velar models -some sporting appealing new paint hues – with 3.0 V6 Supercharged petrol models sharing driveway space with 3.0 V6 Turbo Diesels and 2.0 4-cylinder Turbo Diesels.
My own experience began with a V6 diesel model chosen not for the motive power but because I liked its bluey-grey paintwork and the fact that the interior was decked out in a very pale parchment colour that contrasted nicely with the black upper cabin surfaces.
I can already detect some of you turning your noses up at the thought of driving a Range Rover with a very pale interior because you will say that it gets dirty very easily. That’s not strictly true as it gets dirty at just the same speed as ubiquitous black interiors do. Rather, it shows the dirt more easily but I can assure you that when you see just how attractive the Velar interior is, you’ll allocate a little more time to cleaning duties which is just how it should be when a manufacturer has taken so much trouble to craft a lovely area to occupy.
For a change, it was not leather that swathed the very comfortable and supportive auto-adjustable pews but rather a premium textile-based material from a leading European supplier, Kvadrat. The material not only looks good, it’s pleasant to sit on and is a welcome alternative to ubiquitous black leather. But it’s not the seats that are stand-out features of the slick new interior.
Rather the ultra-mod presentation of information courtesy of a TFT primary display, with HUD support, and twin centrally mounted displays, notable for their elegant frameless design, are the real eye-catchers along with the simpler-than-before overall design presentation.
Touch-sensitive switchgear, complete with backlit symbols, represents a modern and practical addition to a cabin which despite the aforementioned modernity still manages to feel plush and welcoming and in no way claustrophobic despite the more tapered roof line. Sure, those In the back can’t lounge around as they might in a Range Rover but there’s adequate space for the long haul for two adults. And when it comes to luggage there’s a respectable 558l on offer (with spare wheel) that expands to a cavernous 1 616l with just two people on board.
Now that we’ve established that there’s no reason not to feel supremely comfortable and maybe just a little smug, it’s time to fire up that 220kW/700Nm V6 diesel motor which like the platform it sits within, has much in common with the Jaguar F-PACE. There’s no sharing of bits with big brother Range Rover but because of the seating position and lower window line, the Velar for all the world feels like a Range Rover on the move.
That means there’s really good body control on tap but not at the expense of ride comfort. The electronic air suspension derivatives offer more flexibility in terms of ride height but even the steel-sprung versions benefit from adaptive damping. It’s only when sharp ruts and transverse ridges are encountered that there’s any disturbance felt (and heard) in the cabin, possibly triggered by the unsprung mass of the very large wheels fitted.
Happily, various drive modes are offered with Comfort doing just what the label says while Sport lowers the body, stiffens the dampers and sharpens the engine responses with more grunt going to the rear wheels. All the while, the familiar and wonderfully composed 8-speed ZF auto (with paddle shifters) goes about its business with smoothness and speed and perfectly complements the muscular V6 diesel, a motor that provides utterly effortless thrust and relaxed high-speed cruising.
Near silence prevails under most driving circumstances. It’s only when the upper rev range is explored that the V6 diesel makes its presence known with a rather pleasant slightly off-beat thrum.
Where the Supercharged 280kW/450Nm V6 petrol motor scores is in the urgency of its delivery. It’s an altogether sharper tool with its broader rev range and more instant throttle response, not to mention is addictive wail at full chat, but the question of which to choose is a matter of personal preference.
The diesel has all the muscle you could ever want in everyday use and delivers its energy in an even more relaxed manner and I suspect that if – a very big if – the Velar is asked to spend most of its time off-road, then its low speed torque will pay dividends.
And, on the subject of going off paved roads, don’t think the stylish Velar has to back away. No, Sir! It too is equipped with all Land Rover’s famed traction systems which in concise terms means AWD with Intelligent Driveline Dynamics (Terrain Response 2) and Electronic Traction control aided and abetted by a host of additional electronic nannies that collectively make any Land Rover derivative a formidable machine in the dirt.
Our drive was restricted to respectable dirt roads and variable quality tar so the Velar was not asked to achieve what so often seems to be the impossible. It just happens that we ended the day in the 132kW/430Nm 2.0 turbo diesel, a contender from the new Ingenium range which I drove only on motorway.
This smaller-displacement motor certainly has enough horses to make a mockery of the 120 km/h open road limit, wafting along in near silence and only betraying a slightly gruff tone when pushed hard in the lower gears. For most buyers, it will fit the bill very nicely even if the allure and smooth sound of six reciprocating pistons is absent. For the record, a pair of 2.0 Ingenium petrol engines offering outputs of 184kW or 221kW are also on the menu.
In terms of model configuration, the Velar and Velar R-Dynamic ranges comprise Standard, S, SE and HSE trim levels within which Black or Premium exterior packs can be ordered to add an even more distinctive appearance. Further, the number of wheel options is mind-boggling and is just a part of the truly amazing spread of choices available to allow a truly personalised SUV selection which also comes with one of the continent’s best warranty and care packages.
To get a better idea of the extent to which you can specify your own car, I encourage you to go to:
In summary, I think it’s fair to say that Land Rover’s biggest opposition can be found within its own ranks which in Range Rover terms now consists of four model ranges. The Velar doesn’t have to shout its credentials because these are founded in a simple yet thoroughly classy execution which encapsulates the true meaning of “minimalist”. It’s nearer the Range Rover Sport in size than it is to the more design-led Evoque but it’s markedly less dominant visually than the Range Rover itself. All this means that the Velar could well attract new buyers to the marque which is precisely what Land Rover’s marketing gurus would want.
The Velar would be my personal choice but, and this is a big but, I would never take it near any nasty terrain because it’s much too classy to get its otherwise undeniably effective underpinnings sullied with nasty dust and mud. Happily for Land Rover, though, I am one of a kind in not wanting to make best use of all that AWD tech!