The SUV world just got a little more crowded, with Land Rover launching its fourth Range Rover-branded model. It’s called the Velar, and judging by our first drive up near the Arctic Circle in Norway, it’s really rather good.
Here’s what we learned…
Let’s start with the obvious: the Velar is very, very easy on the eye, and makes one hell of an impression in person. When you see it in the metal you get a much better idea of its lengthy wheelbase and low roofline. It’s a pretty, unfussy and slippery car, with its 0.32 drag coefficient being the lowest of any Land Rover ever built.
Land Rover has even gone as far as putting special air channels in the rear spoiler that are designed to cut drag and stop the build up of muck on the rear windscreen. Clever, no?
If you want, you can have your Velar with a 3.0-litre, supercharged V6. On paper, this sounds like a great option, with 375bhp from a six-cylinder engine making 0-60mph possible in just 5.3 seconds, on to an electronically-limited 155mph top speed.
The trouble is, as we’ve found before with JLR’s petrol V6, away from the F-Type with its shouty drainpipe-spec exhaust pipes, it sounds weedy and at times harsh. Plus, with the extra weight onboard the Velar (most models are pushing two tonnes), it feels breathless.
The 3.0-litre V6 diesel is a much better bet: with a 0-60mph time of 6.1 seconds it’s very nearly as quick, but feels much more effortless in the way it goes about its business thanks to a wealth of low-down and mid-range torque. It’s an old engine, but a good’un.
You also get more trim options this way: the petrol V6 is only available as a £70,210 HSE, a £72,630 R-Dynamic HSE, or as the £85,450 First Edition which has all the things fitted to it.
We didn’t get a chance to try out any other powertrain options, but the 246bhp and 296bhp 2.0-litre petrols look tempting. There is a 236bhp twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel, but it’s an engine we weren’t too fond of in the Land Rover Discovery, and it’s scarcely cheaper than the V6 oil burner. Oh, and there’s a 176bhp diesel, but we’d avoid that if you want to make anything vaguely resembling forward momentum without thrashing the poor little inline-four to within an inch of its life.
Other than the disappointing noise and the lack of mid-range guts, the other reason we’re not too fussed by the petrol V6 is because the Velar is a sports utility vehicle that doesn’t place a huge amount of importance on the ‘sports’ bit. Land Rover is keen to point out that its character is closer to the Range Rover than it is the Range Rover Sport, and that plays out pretty much how you’d expect it to in the way it drives.
It’s eerily quiet, and rides smoothly even on the gargantuan 22-inch wheel option (and ever smoother on the 21s, predictably). When it comes to corners the Velar gets on with the job confidently, with the air suspension keeping body roll to a relative minimum.
It’s more competent on a windy road than something like a Land Rover Discovery or a full fat Range Rover, but if you want something to chuck around, you’ll find the Velar runs out of ideas pretty quickly. But that’s fine: if you want something harder, get a Range Rover Sport. And if it’s a go-faster Velar you really want, you’ll be pleased to know a supercharged V8 version has been spotted hammering around the Nurburgring.
Usually when writing about a Jaguar Land Rover product, this is the point at which I’d have a bit of a moan about the infotainment system. While they have slowly been getting better, JLR’s interfaces have a habit of being unintuitive, slow to respond and hampered with naff-looking colour schemes and visuals.
This time however, I won’t be complaining, as the new Touch Pro Duo unit that’s debuted in the Velar is really rather good. It’s based around a pair of 10-inch touch screens located on the centre console, with the upper one dealing with things like navigation, entertainment and exterior cameras, and the lower one looking after vehicle controls like climate and terrain response settings.
Both touch screens are nicely responsive, crisp and - for the most part - logical to navigate. There are a pair of multi function dials that generally operate the driver and passenger side climate zone temperatures, and they feel weirdly satisfying to twiddle (at least they do to me. Is that normal…?).
Pressing them brings up a different function - for instance the heated/cooled seat control - although exactly what comes up depends on what page the lower screen is set to. Over the course of a two day test drive I was rarely sure what was going to come up before prodding the dials, but I suspect this is a system you’d become au fait with before too long, after a bit of use and some hardcore user manual digestion.
Thanks to that Touch Pro Duo infotainment unit, fabulously comfortable seats plus lashings of jolly nice leather and metal work, the Velar’s interior is - on the whole - a pleasant place to spend time in. But, there are a few details which could be better.
Some of the buttons and switchgear feel a bit old and a bit cheap, and the cover for the second cup holder feels ill-thought-out - it opens nicely with the touch of the button, but when being closed, it feels like you’re forcing it and it’s about to break. Sounds like I’m nitpicking, but that’s not the sort of thing you’d find on a Audi, BMW or Mercedes.
Then there’s the Meridian sound system - even the top spec, 1600 watt ’Signature’ option sounds disappointingly flat.
Few Velar owners will ever come close to exploring the limits of the car’s off-road capabilities. You know that, I know that, but Land Rover wouldn’t dream of letting something leave the factory that isn’t capable of dominating almost every kind of terrain known to man. Even the little Range Rover Evoque is a long way ahead of its competitors in the off-roadiness stakes, and it’s the same with the Velar.
It has class-leading approach, departure and breakover angles (24.3, 26.5 and 20.1 degrees respectively, compared to 34.7, 29.6, and 26.3 for a ‘proper’ Range Rover), can wade in up to 650mm of water, and has a bunch of clever off-road systems including Low Traction Launch, Hill Descent Control and Gradient Release Control fitted as standard. If you want, you can go one step further with the optional All Terrain Progress Control (think of it as an off-road cruise control) and Terrain Response 2 systems.
To show what all those numbers and all that tech means in the real world, we were sent over a bunch of seemingly impossible ramps, up (and down) a mountain, and across a river. It’s arguably when you’re descending that the Velar is the most impressive: there were numerous times during our test where a serious trouser accident really should have been happening, but the car has a knack of being confidence inspiring when you’d normally be pondering how many times you’d roll over if you made a mistake…
It’s clear the ladies and gents at Land Rover have thought long and hard about the positioning of the Velar, as they’ve nailed it. The Range Rover is a large and expensive car, but the cheaper, sharper Sport won’t be the best solution for some. The Evoque is arguably too much of a step down from the Sport and a very different proposition, so we can see why Land Rover wanted to create what’s best thought of as a baby version of the Range Rover.
It’s priced attractively (the range starts at £44,830, although it’ll be easy to spend quite a bit more than that), has far less unwieldy proportions than a ‘proper’ Range Rover, yet channels that same air of class and poshness. It’s gorgeous inside and out, and is probably the most convincing thing Land Rover makes right now.