Range Rover Velar hiding in plain sight

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It's undoubtedly challenging to achieve mouth-gaping visual cut-through in a sector packed with cost-no-issue style, but the new Velar really does achieve a powerful presence. Photo: Supplied

True Range Rover aficionados will recognise the historical context of Velar; it's the project name given to the pre-production prototypes of the very first of the Range Rover over four and a-half decades ago.

Why Velar? Because it is Latin for `hiding'; back then it was appropriate because Land Rover wanted to keep what would be a landmark project a secret.
Today, though, the monicker is surely a wry little in-joke. On meeting the Velar, one thing becomes very clear: For anyone seeking a swank SUV in which they might seek to remain incognito, this is possibly the worst choice. It's simply too sensational to NOT be noticed. And, inevitably, if the car is going to draw attention, then so must its occupants.

Over the next year, just 150 Kiwi owners are going to put that pet theory to test; such is the high global demand for Velar that this is the count of cars the New Zealand distributor has been promised. It's been immediately hot here with every landed car being spoken for.

As I say, the attraction is obvious. Range Rover under design guru Gerry McGovern's watch has produced some incredibly handsome product, but this medium five-seater is something else again.

It's as if they simply took a concept car directly from a car show stand and put it straight into the showroom. OK, it didn't happen quite like that, but the truth of how it developed is nonetheless quite unconventional, in that Land Rover's styling team didn't even bother building a full-sized design study, instead going straight from clay _ well, computer-rendered _ models to series production.

It's undoubtedly challenging to achieve mouth-gaping visual cut-through in a sector packed with cost-no-issue style, but the new Velar really does achieve a powerful presence.

Trad cues (the floating roof, continuous belt line) speaking to Range Rover history integrate well with new to the family features such as the super-slim matrix-laser LED headlights and the impressive detailing _ the burnished copper on the side strakes, bonnet vents and front bumper blades _ sticks too. Those who have experienced Land Rover's patchy past record for quality might wonder if it has been too brave with door handles that self-recess into the bodywork, they are also incredibly arty. (For the record, the maker assures they will remain reliable, even when coated in 4mm of sheet ice).

As astoundingly as the car looks from the outside, it's the interior that really sets it apart from everything else.

All current Range Rover cabins are nice places to be, but this one is just amazing. A beautifully detailed and finished all-out homage to minimalism, so dramatically reductive in its approach as to eradicate the usual car clutter and orthodox switchgear. Instead there is almost total reliance on haptic touch screen prompts, via two state-of-the-art 10-inch screens.

The top screen looks like the one in the Discovery and power-tilts towards the driver when the car is started. The bottom screen is a sleek black piece of glass that flows down the centre console. It controls basic functions like climate and seat controls, while the top screen does everything else, though functions can be swiped from one screen to the other. It doesn't take too much head-scratching to become used to the main controllers, a pair of rotary dials.

Does that work for you? First exposure suggested this leap into a sci-fi future is not as daunting as it might first appear. Yes, you need a moment to wonder where all the usual car stuff went, but it's no more (or `just as', depending on your viewpoint) challenging as learning a new smartphone. Yet it surely says much about the intuitiveness of what Land Rover has presented here that I never had to search out the handbook.

Perhaps it's not quite bug-free: A reboot was required when a phone-related sub-menu froze. Also, even though Land Rover reckons the in-house app suite it has created is quite smart, I think it has missed a beat by not implementing Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

I found it a cinch to change drive modes _ both the off-road Terrain Response and the Dynamic settings for on-road driving _ make and receive a phone call, play a podcast, operate the satnav and sort the seat heating and air conditioning. But it felt like I was only just getting started.

The NZ spec for Velar also provide a head up display as standard _ which in addition to the usual functions can show steering angle and more when off-roading _ and most versions have a 12.3-inch TFT instrument screen, in lieu of standard analogue dials. The system can also be linked up to a smartphone app enabling some remote operability (but not self-driving), so it's as future-now as anything can be.

The Velar differs from current product in another way, though, in that it hasn't the usual high-set command driving position. Also, even though it physically closer to a Sport than the Evoque in external dimension, the interior is snug. Head and legroom in the back is fair at best.

The spec in the standard fit base S includes items like a tow bar (2500kg braked weight), leather trim, powered and heated seats, activity key, LED headlights, 19-inch rims, powered tailgate, navigation, and sonar both ends.

The R-Dynamic package brings much more. Larger satin dark grey alloy wheels, tread plates, leather steering wheel with chrome bezel, unique front and rear bumper with integrated exhaust finishers, satin chrome gear-shift paddles, shadow aluminium trim finisher, bright metal pedals, ebony headlining, gloss black mirrors and front fog lights. There's a bundle of wallet-punishing accessories to win your attention too.

The 2.0-litre four cylinder engines available elsewhere might come in future, but the local distributor is content to kick off with the highest-end drivetrain choices, a pair of 3.0-litre V6 engines, one petrol and the other diesel.

The petrol engine is impressive for acceleration and its refinement, but thanks to oodles of low-down torque the diesel feels more muscular and flexible, both on road and off it, and its languid, smooth attitude just suits the SUV style.

The Velar handles especially well in Dynamic mode, but is also surprisingly neat and tidy in the noticeably more compliant Comfort mode too. While the electrically assisted steering isn't quite as communicative as I'd want and it's prone to a bit of body roll, it consistently delivers a highly confident feel.

Better still, it remains a highly compliant one, too. Range Rover ride quality is the stuff of legend and the car won't undermine that reputation. Even though the Velars we drove at launch were on 19-inch and 20-inch wheels shod with low-profile rubber they soaked up the bumps with big rig ease.

The air springs obviously influence the latter, but maybe it's a weight thing too. Despite the extensive use of aluminium, Velar is no particular lightweight: The petrol clocks 1884kg and the diesel is 65kg heavier still. And that's in their lightest formats. The versions we have are extra well-equipped, so patently heft more. Hence why Velars are slower to 100kmh, and thirstier, than the Jaguar F-Pace equivalents off the same platform and using the same engines in identical tune.

All that's left to discuss is the price positioning. Which, even in a cut-above category, is particularly premium. The cheapest Velar is at least $5000 dearer than the most expensive F-Pace; every German rival cited by JLRNZ _ the Audi Q5, BMW X3/X4, Mercedes GLC and Porsche Macan _ in their most comparable formats is also less expensive.

So, it's a rich picking in every sense. But potentially a hugely rewarding one, too.

Range Rover Velar hiding in plain sight
At a Glance

RANGE ROVER VELAR
SPECIFICATIONS
Price: $134,990 to $157,850
Engines: 2993cc six-cylinder turbodiesel, maximum power 221kW@4000rpm, maximum torque 700Nm@2000rpm; 2995cc six-cylinder turbopetrol, maximum power 250kW@6500rpm/280kW@4000rpm, maximum torque 450Nm@6500rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Brakes and stability systems: Disc, ABS, DSC, TV, APC, Terrain Response 2
Wheels and tyres: 255/55 R19, 255/50 R20
Safety rating: Not yet tested
Fuel and economy 3.0TDi/3.0 petrol: 6.4/9.4 litres per 100km on European combined cycle, tank capacity 60 litres (diesel), 63 litres (petrol)
Emissions (3.0TDi/3.0 petrol): CO2 emissions 167g/214g per km
Dimensions: Length 4803mm, width 2145mm, height 1685mm