Land Rover calls this new mid-sized SUV the most road-biased car it has made. So does it still feel like a proper part of the family?
What is that nagging feeling? That little suspicion that not everything is quite as clear cut as it should be?
I don’t know. Because, on the face of it, everything up here in this imperious cabin is very straightforward. There was a gap in the Range Rover line-up, see, and it is now filled. The Range, er, range started with the Evoque and then, via a large leap, went to the Range Rover Sport before naturally culminating with the Range Rover. This new Velar sits in that large space between the Evoque and the Sport.
Mechanically, then, this 4.8m-long car is more ‘Sport-minus’ than ‘Evoque-plus’. It’s not as full of fat as the Sport, sure, but it does sit on a longitudinal-engined, aluminium platform – the same one as Jaguars XE, XF and F-Pace, incidentally – rather than the transverse-engined set-up of the Evoque.
The Velar’s chassis contains more aluminium than any of the Jaguars’, mind. It’s bigger than them all, too, and – fairly obviously – it is more off-road focused. But, fundamentally, that’s where it starts.
The Velar, then, ends up with an 81%-aluminium body, with some steel under the boot floor, where it doesn’t hurt that it brings the weight distribution rearwards (albeit there’s a composite tailgate to maintain a low centre of gravity), and some magnesium under the bonnet to, conversely, lighten the front end. Consequently, the claimed kerb weight for all versions, barring the biggest diesel, is less than 1900kg.
In the same way that the Jaguar models on this platform have double wishbones at the front and an integral link set-up at the back – which is like multi-link but with additional, lateral-rigidity-increasing components – so too does the Velar. Think of the Velar as a semi-skimmed Range Rover, then, to the Sport’s full fat and the RR’s gold top. (The Evoque is… what? Kinda non-dairy?)
“The Velar feels like a Range Rover. Looks like one. Sounds like and is as refined as one”
If you want it less figuratively, compared with the Sport, the Velar’s towing limit is 2500kg, not 3500kg, and it doesn’t get a low-ratio transfer case. Of its six engine options, four are 2.0 four-cylinder engines, the other two V6s; and the four-pots, as standard, get coil springs. Air springing, which Land Rover uses to great effect to increase off-road capability on big models, is standard on V6s and optional on the fours.
Some of those things will inhibit the Velar off road – we’ll come to that – but that might not matter because Land Rover says this is the most dynamically focused Range Rover yet. We’ll come to that too.
But first, inside. Where, because it’s a Range Rover, there is a big, lateral slab across the dashboard; a leather-bound butcher’s block that has been a feature item on Range Rovers ever since Rover met BMW.
Now, as then, it’s meant to feel yacht-inspired; broad and powerful, but light and luxurious, a structural horizontal beam with vertical supports running through it. It’s the feature that really established a Range Rover’s interior as one to send postcards home about; one, surely, benchmarked by, among others, Volvo when creating the new XC90.
But there are two things about the addenda surrounding it this time. First is the Velar’s perceived material quality. On the face of it, things are great: the leather is good – Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) talks about using the same high-end stitching and fabrics as top models – but it flatters to deceive in places. Not everything can be leather, and on lower bits of the cabin, there are harder plastics, some scratchy, which seatbelt buckles have already given a hard time. Some of the metalised plastics don’t convince you well enough that they’re not plastics, aside from providing an authentic, overly harsh glare in bright sunlight. Compared with, say, a Porsche Macan, the Velar is visually a lot more arresting. But while dark, rubbery plastics are boring, they’re not blinding, either.
I’m probably nitpicking, mind. But it strikes me that Volvo does it better. And the XC90, in terms of airiness and finish, is probably the Velar’s closest benchmark. It’s also a car that, like the Velar, has a predominantly touchscreen infotainment system. But here’s point two of note about the Velar: this thing now has a proper one. There is a fully digital instrument panel, with two, large, hi-res touchscreen panels on the dash. Even the steering wheel buttons are digitally highlighted.
And all of it is good. For the first time, I think JLR can turn around and say it has caught up with everybody else. Except? Well, except the lower panel is by your knee. It deals with systems you’ll use less frequently but, honestly, that’s too far away from where you should be looking.
The rest of the interior? Well, it mimics, in its way, the F-Pace, in that it offers a large boot, at the expense of some rear leg room. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s loads of room in the front: the seats are big, there are slidey armrests, that sort of thing. I wouldn’t mind if the steering wheel reached a bit closer to me, but it is a good wheel. And there’s enough room in the back. I’m 5ft 10in and could sit behind my own driving position quite comfortably. Besides which, you get quite a lot more boot space this way (673 litres versus a Macan’s 500, if you’re interested). However, as standard, I don’t like the idea of a Range Rover, even a less than full fat one, having a space-saving rather than full-sized spare. This is an off-roader, after all.
“It’s the Velar’s refinement, rather than its agility, that is the more prevalent”
Not unlike the Macan, it’s one that costs from £44,000. Only, of course, it doesn’t really, because that gets you a standard 178bhp diesel, and as soon as you’re away from that entry model, what you’re looking at is a car with a price of at least £50,000, most likely £60,000 to £70,000 and, in First Edition trim, as much as £85,500. That might strike you, as it does me, as quite a lot.
All models – 178bhp diesel, 237bhp diesel and 296bhp V6 diesel (tested here), plus 247bhp petrol, 296bhp V6 petrol and 376bhp V6 petrol – drive through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. There are two versions of that, depending on the torque they have to cope with.
All models are all-wheel drive, too, but not in the traditional permanent Land Rover sense (nor even the newer Evoque sense). Instead, because the Velar comes from the same fundamentally rear-driven platform as Jaguars, it’s normally a rear-biased car, with a chain drive to transfer torque to the front when it needs it. There’s Land Rover’s Terrain Response system and you can raise the air suspension, but you can’t lock a centre differential, you can’t choose 50/50 power split, and although the electronics might do those for you, it’s their will, not yours. There is, too, the option of a limited-slip rear differential, likely to make it feel keener on the road and give better traction on it.
When it does come to off-road ability, it’s probably whether the Velar’s 2500kg towing limit is up to Pony Club towing that’s more relevant than the 213mm (coil springs) or 251mm (air springs) ground clearance, or the 24deg approach, 27deg departure and 20deg breakover angles. Or the 600mm (coil) or 650mm (air) wade depth. Despite no low-ratio ’box, mind, ultimately what limits the Velar off road is what usually limits an off-roader: tyre choice and ground clearances. Plus you might not like to damage the aluminium body.
Maybe you thought I wasn’t going to mention it. I don’t always, what with beauty being so subjective. But you can’t not, can you? The Velar looks like the very personification of a concept car, to me. The real thing. Like it just stepped out of a salon. And the finish feels every inch the £70k Range Rover. What an astonishingly good-looking car.
Anyway, as well as being too pretty to damage, the Velar is, I’m told, also the most road-focused Land Rover product yet. So although it’s worth knowing if it’ll get you to your shoot (it will), what’s important is how it goes down the road.
“The Velar looks like the very personification of a concept car to me. The real thing”
There’s a notable sense of relief when a JLR engineer asks you whether it feels like a Range Rover, and you say “yes”, because I suppose there was a concern it’d feel too much like a Jaguar. It doesn’t.
Now, a couple of caveats. I’ve only tried two V6s, the higher-powered petrol and the higher-powered diesel, and they both get air springing, which is unavailable on an F-Pace. So maybe a four-pot on coil springs will be more Jag-ish, but there’s plenty of evidence to think not.
The idea, despite the suggestion that this is a dynamically adept car for a Land Rover badge, is that it has a level of refinement that nothing with a Leaper on the front will match. I think they’ve done that. Ditto nothing with a Porsche badge matches it; nor with an Audi one. At least, not in Q5 terms, although the Velar’s price is such that you might consider a Q7. And an XC90’s lack of engine refinement removes itself from this conversation too.
But, no, it’s the Velar’s refinement, rather than its agility, that is the more prevalent. The steering is light and easy, and the ride, once you’re up to any kind of speed, nudges lumps and bumps aside comfortably. At low speeds, things aren’t quite so clever, as a result of the 21in (or 22in on the petrol model I tried) wheels that suit the Velar’s looks so well. What, when you’re moving, is a barely audible thump turns into a proper whack.
There’s some body movement to go with the isolation, inevitably, but that suits what feels like, to me, a car of decent hush. Another caveat: the roads in Norway, spectacular though they make these pictures, offer you no more than 50mph. And some are abrasive, so there’s some road noise, to the extent that a test in the UK will be essential before a definitive verdict is reached.
But the engine is merely a distant thrum. The gearshift changes smoothly. And Land Rover’s people say that they have put a lot of effort, plus materials and costs, into creating a space that’s more isolated than any of the cars whose basis the Velar shares.
I think that’s important. Look, it’s easy to get a bit tied down in platforms and architectures and whatnot, and it can be quite silly, really. After all, what is any car if not a collection of metals and plastics to a given size? Everyone hangs things from common systems. But it’s important that an SUV with a price of up to £85,000 feels in no way related to a compact executive saloon that starts at £27,000.
And it doesn’t. At least, in no way does the Velar feel like any other JLR model any more than a Macan or an XC90 feels like another car from their respective ranges or groups. It feels like a Range Rover. Looks like one. Sounds like and is as refined as one. So why the little nagging doubt? The four-star rating that feels solid, but not outstanding.
One day after driving it, I’m still not sure; for which, reader, I apologise. Perhaps it’s the 50mph roads. Perhaps it’s some of those interior touches, which make the Velar feel less complete than its design suggests inside. Or, and this is equally likely, that it’s the two models I’ve driven – an R-Dynamic HSE diesel and a 376bhp petrol in First Edition trim – cost £70,530 and £85,450 respectively. And at that money, for all the glitz, for all the showroom appeal, I’d rather sit myself in the even more refined, even more capable, Range Rover Sport. Style is great and all, but a Range Rover is about substance. There’s enough of it lower down the range. But up here, Range Rover is pushing the boundaries of this platform’s qualities. Yet these are trims and prices to where loads of buyers will flock. I guess they’re paying for less tangible things; and I guess you can’t blame Land Rover for letting them.
The tyres, even on 22in rims, are 40-profile Continental CrossContacts, which give good off-road capability. MP
WE DRIVE THE VELAR THAT KICK-STARTED RANGE ROVER
A gentleman is never exact — or so I’ve heard it said. Perhaps that means his car needn’t be, either. This speedo certainly isn’t. Having accelerated away from the car park of an English country pub and up through its four manually selected gears, the ‘classic’ Range Rover Velar prototype I’m driving can’t decide if I’m doing 49mph, 55mph or something in between.
Before the introduction of the latest addition to the Range Rover family, I’d doubt if more than a handful of people in the world remembered there ever was a Velar. The model identity was a ruse; an invention of Rover’s 1960s development engineers, who wanted to disguise the origins of their prototypes for the very first Range Rover and hit upon the direct Latin translation of ‘I hide’, which it just happened to be possible to spell using letters that already featured on the front of a Land Rover.
Opinions differ on how many Velar prototypes were built between 1967 and 1970, but our Land Rover source reckons only nine are still in existence. And yet, however rare and little known, the Velar fathered the original Range Rover (which has since fathered the Range Rover brand) — so using that moniker as an anchor for an entirely new product with no direct antecedent at all is a clever way to borrow a bit of history and authenticity. And, a cynic might argue, a new Range Rover product whose mechanical basis is fairly widely known to have been found within the technical armoury of sister brand Jaguar could do with every bit of added authenticity it can get.
So can the Velar connection be anything other than superfluous? Perhaps. Remember that the Range Rover sprung out of an earlier project to develop a ‘Road Rover’; and that the new Velar is defined as the most road-focused modern Range Rover model. You could call these cars answers to the same question posed twice — once half a century after the other.
My colleague Matt Prior explains how effectively the new Velar fulfils that brief (see main story, left). But the original one is from a time before there ever was a Range Rover. The defining SUV type it was translating was the Land Rover’s. And it’s certainly much easier to drive, and more manageable on the road, than the car that came to be known as the Defender.
From a modern perspective, it’s the luxury and refinement we associate with a Range Rover that’s most obviously missing. The Velar has a medium-heavy clutch pedal and a long-levered and pretty stubborn four-speed manual gearbox and neither likes to be rushed.
Coming from the days before the Range Rover’s 3.5-litre V8 was even fuel injected never mind enlarged, the Velar’s engine produces a pretty modest 130bhp — but because the car’s gearing is chosen to make that enough off road as well as on it, it rarely seems to labour. There’s easily enough torque to leave the car in top and let it pick up from low revs at town speeds, which it’ll do willingly and smoothly, if slowly.
The slow-geared steering is lighter and more manageable than an old Land Rover’s and surprisingly easy-going at parking speeds. It’s undeniably vague around dead-ahead at road speeds, though, and requires plenty of input for cornering. Body roll is pronounced but there’s decent underlying grip, creditable handling and good road-speed stability. There’s a much more supple and sophisticated ride than you’d have found on a contemporary Landie too.
Still, beyond the similar driving positions, there’s probably little that a new Velar owner would recognise in the driving experience of the old one. That’s just the net result of 50 years of car-making advancement, though: it doesn’t mean the cars aren’t fundamentally similar. There are now so many reasons to buy a modern Range Rover, of course, but how many new Velar owners, do you think, would reveal that their primary motivation for choosing the car was the same idea that has been selling its various antecedents of all types for decades? “I want a proper 4×4 — but it’s got to be one I can actually use.”