Velar is an very old name for a very modern Range Rover. Automakers mining their history for neglected nameplates isn’t new, of course, but all the same few spend so long in the cold as Velar did. Used, nearly five decades ago, on the first “hiding in plain sight” prototype Range Rovers, the badge is back to usher in a very British reinvention of the midsize luxury SUV. No small challenge ahead, then, as Land Rover explained when it invited me out to Cape Town to experience the 2018 Velar in action.
Design is subjective, but I’m of a mind that it’s Range Rover’s best looking car in years – I even tweeted this. Side by side with a Range Rover Sport, and the Velar leaves the bigger, older car looking fussy and overly sculpted. If the full-size Range Rover looks as though it’s been built up of layers of the very rock strata it can scale so adeptly, then the Velar is the smooth stone shaped by the flow of rivers and fjords (and yes, it can wade through those, too). If there’s a weak spot it’s the rear, which could do without the silver lower valance trim, but Range Rover’s narrow LED tail-lamps are a joy. You couldn’t mistake it for anything other than a Range Rover, but neither is it bogged down in nostalgia.
It feels a larger car than Jaguar’s F-PACE, with which it shares a chassis, and much closer to the Range Rover Sport in scale than the Evoque. That sensation persists on the road, where the high hood and tall dashboard left me a little uncertain where the corners of the SUV were. All-wheel drive is, of course, standard, with four-corner air suspension an option. The detailing is key. The flush-fitting door handles which slide out when you unlock the Velar, for instance, and which somehow manage to still feel as sturdy as those on a regular Range Rover. They’ve been cold weather tested so that, even if your SUV is encased in ice, they’ll still punch through. Then there are the copper accents, an unusual finish on a modern vehicle, and the super-slim headlamps. The 22-inch wheels that come standard on the Velar First Edition – and which are options for the rest of the range – fill the wheel arches deliciously. Mzansi will get all of the six engine options Range Rover will offer in European markets: Clean, refined four-cylinder Ingenium diesels are offered n 132kW and 177kW variants, noted for their low 142g/km CO2 emissions and high 500Nm torque output, respectively.
These engines are joined by the new, two highly-advanced four-cylinder Ingenium petrol engines delivering 184kW and 365Nm, for 0-100km/h acceleration in 6.7 seconds, and a more powerful variant with outputs of 221kW and 400Nm, to achieve the 0-100km/h sprint in just 6.0 seconds. The V6 diesel combines an extraordinary 700Nm of torque for effortless acceleration and off-road capability with CO2 emissions of only 167g/km. The 280kW supercharged V6 petrol engine combines exhilarating performance with a unique soundtrack and enables the Velar to reach 100km/h in only 5.7 seconds, before reaching an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h. Like the others it’s paired with a standard ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. The V6 Velar is eager on the road, the gearbox quick to downshift and hard to confuse. Sadly it doesn’t come with the sonorous soundtrack familiar from other implementations of Jaguar Land Rover’s Ingenium powertrain; its growl is subdued and doesn’t exactly encourage eager driving. We’ll have to wait for an – unconfirmed, but hardly unbelievable – SVR variant for that.
What you do get now is a smooth, compliant ride. Leave the air suspension in Comfort mode and the Velar is every bit as undemanding as its biggest sibling, the steering light enough for a few careless fingers on the leather-wrapped wheel to ease the SUV levelly around corners. Flick to Dynamic and the steering loses the slight play Comfort dials in, weighting up nicely. This isn’t a sports SUV, certainly, but neither does it shirk the “R-Dynamic” badging that the First Edition – a limited run of the very first cars – bears. Like the exterior, the interior design language is instantly recognisable. At a second glance, though, the departures from what you’ll find on the dashboard of Range Rover’s existing models becomes more apparent. Most striking is the sheer reduction in the number of physical controls, replaced with touchscreens, multi-function dials, and a few touch-sensitive buttons. A sharply-canted, leather-wrapped console still runs the width of the car, but the narrower air vents and pared-back switch gear leave it far cleaner.
With the new InControl Touch Pro Duo, the infotainment system has been split into two touchscreens. The first is a wide-aspect 10-inch capacitive panel; it motors upright out of the dashboard when you start the engine, and its angle can be adjusted. The second sits lower, in the center console, and is a squared-off 10-inches. Together, they allow Range Rover to separate out the different elements of the interface. Up top, the familiar side-scrolling boxes offer access to navigation, multimedia, phone, and other features. However, because you can also show multimedia and other secondary functions on the lower touchscreen – in addition to HVAC and settings – there’s no need to choose between having, say, both a map and album information visible at once.
Writer: Papi Mabele