Range Rover’s Steps to World Domination
Our reviewer is almost struck dumb by the new Range Rover Velar. I said almost…
Review by Marc Stickey
Slowly, quietly, Range Rover have a habit of taking over the world with their products. On launch, they are generally well received. Then they become status symbols. Then everybody wants one. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the facts:
– Original Range Rover. Launched in 1970 as an upmarket alternative to the frankly agricultural Land Rover (later titled “Defender”). Farmer Giles (and soon the Royal Family) could hack about the farm by day, hose out the cab, don their pearls and evening wear and head into town for dinner. Like it was a real car and not a tractor van. Boom. The world almost stopped turning. Several iterations later and the Ranger Rover morphed through “Classic” (the light and glassy one – get a V8 Vogue SE), the 1994 P38 (the unloved one, but the V8 got bigger), the 2004 L322 (the start of the limousine on stilts era) and since 2012, the L405 (bigger but lighter and plusher). They became – and remain – a statement of luxury with military grade off-road capability.
– Range Rover Sport. In 2004, it was decided that a slightly more athletic look would be good. Sports personalities and celebrities the world over took note and just had to have one darling. A 2013 facelift kept the RRS looking fresh, in line with big brother. Both versions became the definition of an SUV with the emphasis on Sports. Pretty soon the RRS was on every high street, although perhaps not always driven by your typical Range Rover clientele.
– Range Rover Evoque. They’d cracked big and luxurious. They’d set the benchmark for Sport focussed SUVs. What next? Well, in 2011 the baby Range Rover came along. Something more like a crossover, but competent off-road. Or like a premium hatchback that got the Range treatment. Styled by a fresh team, keeping the concept car looks on launch and even breathed on inside by Victoria Beckham, Range Rover couldn’t make them quick enough. The Evoque became a style statement in its own right. Now six years old, the first Evoques hold their value like a Rolex and with a coat of wax could still pass for a brand new car.
So the Velar…are you ready for this? Because it will be dominating the market. It’s going to redefine the SUV segment. And here’s why…
Range Rover pulled out all the stops for this World Press Launch. Flown by executive jet to Molde in Norway, with an explanatory video of the few days to come displayed on personal iPads (only for the journey) and glossy booklets to give even more of a heads up, the effort devoted to this roll out was clearly immense. On arriving at the small airport, the jet rolled to a stop. Outside were parked what must have been (at the time) 95 per cent of the World’s supply of the hottest new car of 2017. The Velar (pronounced Vell-Ar) looks good. Really good. Like a super refined station wagon, but thanks to cleverly designed features (glass area, tiny panel gaps, swages in all the right places) it looks purposeful and almost compact.
Don’t let appearances deceive completely though – the Velar sits between Evoque and RRS, as the first “mid-sized” RR. So it isn’t small, but neither is it behemoth full Range Rover. The name hints at the marque’s heritage – the first RR development vehicles in the late 1960s were badged Velar, from the latin velare (to hide). The in-flight literature espoused that for the Velar, great designers and engineers came together as one. Names like Gerry McGovern. Massimo Frascella. Amy Frascella. These are car and interior design royalty.
Phrases like “Burnished copper detailing”, “Sanctuary”, “Integrated technology”, “Glamour. Strength. Solidity” and “Compelling design, tailored technology” could just be marketing buzz words, but looking across the assembled launch Velars, I’m sold. They are imposing, without being brash. Elegant, without losing ruggedness. If the driving experience is merely above average, then they’ll sell like hot cakes. But I have high hopes. Climbing aboard, there’s luxury and technology abound. Launch editions get either cut diamond signature perforated leather or a first (for a car) of Kavadra – a wool blend (think tweed, or armchair textile). They can also specify satin finish paint. Sounds dubious, looks amazing, especially with those burnished copper trim inserts.
The technology – the central touchscreen (touchpro duo), is next gen stuff. It reduces buttons and allows customisation. There are a reduced number of menus and Smart controls. There’s a 60gb hard drive, 4 usb ports, Hdmi and a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can connect via smartphone or watch. OK, so far, so tech-fest. Press the start button – there are six global engine options: four x 4cyl. Two V6s. Three are diesels, three petrol. The 4cyl petrols come in 250 or 300ps outputs, with 365/400Nm of torque respectively and crack 62mph in 6.7 and 6.0 while emitting 173/178g/km of the dreaded CO. The 4 cylinder diesels are 180 and 240ps, with a V6 twin turbo diesel at 300ps and the top spec V6 petrol with 380ps. Those engines will be familiar to Jaguar Land Rover fans and shouldn’t disappoint. There’s no unruly V8 version at launch, but give them time… besides, the V6 petrol will get from 0-62 in 5.3 seconds and that should be quick enough for now…
With over 80 per cent aluminium construction and less inertia than the RR big brothers, the focus for the Velar is on dynamics. Again, there is technology on hand to assist. The Intelligent Drive Dynamics (IDD) will move all power to the rear wheels on the highway (that’s A-road and motorway to you and me) and then move that power and torque around with a rear differential, torque vectoring, air suspension and a terrain response system all working together to give the optimum ride for the environment. Roll is also controlled. I soon found that the Velar is incredibly accomplished on the road – in fact, in choosing Norway as the launch location, the RR team had almost scored some own goals. Firstly, the scenery is so breathtakingly beautiful that you don’t want to miss any of it. But also in the fact that the speed limit is 50mph at most and more restrictive in most other places. With that 380ps supercharged V6 at my disposal, I wanted to play… the other almost faux pas is that the Velar is so refined that it almost disguises its performance accomplishments.
Almost disguises… Charging into bends at high speed, completely flat, with barely a woofle from the exhaust, the refinement of the Velar was surreal. Eventually the mild bending of regular driving physics induced a smile on my face. If you leave the drive mode in auto, the car’s brain will decide how to control roll, how to set the suspension and ride height for the road ahead and whether any of those trick gadgets are needed. It feels like a large luxury saloon. The dual touch screen, combined with the driver’s instrument display, can be configured to display almost endless variations of data, but at times some of that seemed not to have replaced the need for a button or dial – in fact to select through menus and sub menus to uncover a digital button or change the function of the two on screen dials seems not to have so much moved on the game of cabin arrangement as given a new version of control – which at times was harder to access than selecting the right button or dial from a multitude on the console. That said, the cabin is an incredible piece of luxury engineering. The materials are as premium as you would expect and there is tech aplenty to keep things fresh.
Venture off the tarmac and you can select snow/ice/gravel, mud ruts or sand modes from the IDD, each with corresponding changes to ride height and drive chain variables. Down the gravel track to a lunch stop, the Velar felt as at home as on the road. When we later ventured into the extreme off road playground, the angles possible were incredible. I seriously doubt If even one per cent of Velar owners will test their cars like this, but as a Land Rover Range Rover, it has to be capable. I had just got over the mind bending feats accomplished on that playground – I see-sawed the Velar, hanging the front and rear on the balance point 6ft off the ground, I tackled the 20 foot knife-edge climb and traversed a 50˚ curve, with my passenger hanging on for dear life – when we turned onto what is best described as an animal track. Guided by Land Rover Experience staff at waypoints, the Velar turned into a mountain goat, able to accomplish the steepest of angles with ease. And we’re not talking climbing a kerb or a grass verge, this was cliff climbing. In fact the last time I took a vehicle to these extremes, I was still in the Army…
Some sensible stuff. The Velar has the expected lighting technology. LED adaptive matrix headlights with laser high beam. Bright… There’s space. Using a maximised wheelbase of 3m in a 5m length, there’s plenty of legroom, 673l of loadspace with a 1.8m load length. Those smaller than expected engines leave good mpg and low emissions.
In summary, the Velar is incredibly accomplished on road and as I found out in the wilds of Norway, takes THE most extreme off road circumstances in its capable stride. It’s going to conquer much more than the SUV segment – I reckon it’s aiming for World Domination.