Velar sets the pace

Velar sets the pace

The much-anticipated fourth member of the Range Rover family has arrived – a mid-sized, luxury SUV that aims at delivering superior levels of refinement, modernity and technology. Wynter Murdoch reports.

In much the same way as Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque captured consumer attention following its introduction to South Africa in 2011, so too is the just-released Velar likely to prove a hit in the sales charts.

The all-wheel drive model – which slots between its smaller sibling and the larger and pricier Range Rover Sport – offers plenty of fashion appeal without deviating too far from the all-terrain path beaten by generations of its luxuriously appointed, safari-grade forerunners.

Like them, the Velar is eminently off-road capable – though Land Rover’s prediction is that very few buyers are likely to take the vehicle into the bush; a little gravel road driving and pavement parking forming the boundaries of most projected, adventure-related activities.

In the eyes of many, the vehicle represents one of the most effectively styled SUVs yet to be produced. While some of its artistically sculptured lines appear to have been borrowed from sister brand Jaguar’s F-Pace – with which it shares its platform – there remains plenty of functionality in its precision-crafted, minimalistic form.

Drag coefficient measures 0,32 – the lowest achieved by any Land Rover – helped by door handles that retract into the bodywork when the vehicle is on the move. Equally, headlight clusters are among the slimmest yet seen on an SUV – yet they house the latest and brightest in LED technology.

“Modernity, elegance and glamour, underpinned by strength, solidity and a fantastic presence,” is the way chief designer Gerry McGovern describes the Velar’s look, adding that tailored technology and innovation have been combined to create a vehicle that the company hopes will resonate on an emotional level with consumers.

In this sense the Velar could be said to have been styled to capitalise on the allure created by the Evoque, a model which helped to lift Range Rover’s popularity on a global level by creating a desirable new segment within the SUV sector. Like that derivative, the new model is said to represent a unique niche in the segment.

On test drives during the vehicle’s launch in South Africa, the Velar drew attention wherever it went – its ability to stand out as head-snapping to onlookers equaling its proficiency in offering its occupants high levels of performance and comfort.

From the stylish interior with its easy-to-operate infotainment system to the diverse powertrain and body kit offerings in the line-up, the vehicle tends to deliver top-notch ratings for refinement, form and function.

From the inside, the car’s appointments are likely to be characterised as elegant though simplistic, with lines flowing gracefully across the fascia and along the doors. “An unwavering belief in reductionism has been fully employed, with switches being kept to an absolute minimum to help create a calm sanctuary,” is how a company statement describes the cockpit.

Centre piece of the cabin is the infotainment system – dubbed the Touch Pro Duo – which features two 10-inch high-definition touch screens that have been integrated seamlessly into the dashboard behind hidden-until-lit surfaces.

The upper screen houses navigation, audio and communication functions while the lower unit is used to operate settings for the air-conditioning and the brand’s trademarked Terrain Response chassis and powertrain controls.

The system is user friendly and easy to navigate, the intuitive displays working with the cabin’s architecture to add elements of modernity. Steering-wheel-mounted touch controls include a module for managing audio programming and volume via an iPod-like circular interface.

Though leather upholstery is invariably mandatory in a Range Rover, the Velar offers as an alternative sustainable, premium textile seat material. The cloth – manufactured in Dapple Grey – has been developed in conjunction with Danish company Kvadrat, said to be Europe’s leading manufacturer of high-quality designer textiles, and is complemented by suede inserts in Ebony or Light Oyster.

The light, stiff, aluminium-intensive body, together with double-wishbone front- and integral link rear suspension, provides a good basis for agile handling and ride comfort. While less resolute in feel than those on Jaguar’s F-Pace, the underpinnings prove adept at soaking up bumps while keeping the upper structure on even keel, helped by four-corner air suspension on top-level, V6 models. Electrically assisted power steering is light but precise.

From the off-road perspective, ground clearance is said to measure 251mm – deemed to be class-leading – though the figure drops 38mm to 213mm for models that aren’t equipped with air suspension. Similarly, wading depth drops from 650mm to 600mm for vehicles with coil springs only. Traction technologies across the range include Terrain Response 2 and All Terrain Progress Control.

Power is supplied by a choice of petrol and diesel engines from Land Rover’s Ingenium range, each matched to smooth-shifting, eight-speed ZF automatic transmissions which incorporate Intelligent Driveline Dynamics.

The diesel units – four-cylinder, turbocharged 132kW/500Nm and 177kW/500Nm variants as well as a similarly force-fed V6 that produces 221kW and 700Nm – are said to be clean and refined. The petrol engine line-up – four-cylinder units that deliver 184kW/365Nm or 221kW/400Nm – is complimented by a supercharged V6 that delivers 280kW and 450Nm.

During the launch I was impressed by the punch offered by the 177kW diesel engine and the smoothness of the supercharged V6, the latter’s ability to offer kick-in-the-back acceleration – accompanied by a sonorous sounding exhaust note – adding appeal.

Common to each of the models was the degree of refinement palpable in the ride quality, with little wind noise, vibration or harshness intruding into the cabin. As eminently comfortable fast tourers, each of the models scored highly for their suppleness in riding undulations and their ability to please and reward in the performance stakes.

Specification levels run from the standard Velar, through the usual S, SE and HSE nomenclatures, with sportier body kit and wheels available if you opt for R-Dynamic derivatives. Additionally, customers are able to specify Black and Premium exterior packs for an individual look or, alternatively, build their own Velars using Land Rover’s Configurator.

All Velars are sold with Land Rover’s Five-Year Care Plan: a five-year/100 000km service plan, a five-year/100 000km maintenance plan and a five-year/100 000km warranty.

One last thing: The model designation for each variant is determined by the output of the engine in horsepower, prefixed by whether the unit is driven by petrol or diesel. Prices range from R947 700 for the D180 variant to R1 539 800 for the P380 First Edition.