The Velar majors on style but it's still a useful car. It's roomy enough for a family, not so big it's awkward in cities, and capable of unusual off-road feats
The Velar plugs a gap in, er, Land Rover’s range of Range Rovers. It’s bigger than the Evoque but smaller than the Sport. It also uses what is for Land Rover a new platform, sharing its underpinnings with the Jaguar F-Pace, which maybe also gives you an idea of is size.
It’s expensive, but it’s its good fortune to look and feel expensive too. It’s luxurious and has more off-road capability than most rivals – and than the Jag. In size, the Velar sits somewhere between a BMW X4 and X6, Mercedes GLC Coupe and GLE Coupe, and above the Audi Q5.
Smooth, pared-back and slimmed-down style takes priority over absolute space or off-road ruggedness. The Velar’s silhouette is quite fast, marked by a rising belt, falling roof, pinched tail and a lot of screen rake. The surfaces are pure as snow. Especially around the nose, it’s naked of step-lines, the grille, lamps and bumper meticulously flush. Which makes the number plate plinth stand out like a flesh wound. Also the fake vents on the bonnet and below the door mirrors.
But in all it’s a very well-worked shape, and if you see it alongside a range Rover Sport you instantly see how the skin has been pulled tight, the roof dropped and the details finely slimmed.
The cabin is even more of a revelation, for the way style and function meet in an all-new glass-cockpit system for displays and controls.
It doesn’t have a low-ratio transfer box, nor the decoupling anti-roll bars you can get on the Sport. So it’s not fully specced to Land Rover’s outermost off roader level. But by most standards it’s massively capable in the wilderness.
The engine range is broad, with a 2.0-litre diesel in 180bhp and 240bhp outputs, and a 2.0-litre petrol in 250 and 300. They’re all from JLR’s Ingenium family. Since they’re all AWD and automatic and all weigh just over 1,800kg, the performance steps between them are roughly what you’d expect: between six and nine seconds for 0-100kph. then there are two heavier V6s, a diesel 300bhp and a petrol supercharged 380bhp. The badging is easy: P or D for the fuel, then numbers for the power output.
We’ve driven a long way in the D300, ie the V6 diesel. In most driving it’s just a background hum, but it opens its throat at bigger efforts. It’s not an unpleasant noise. It starts work well below 2,000rpm, bringing a healthy 700Nm to bear, but is all out by 4,000. The eight-speed auto is programmed to understand this and works smoothly and attentively, especially in sport mode.
Wind and road noise are kept well down. Audi’s Q5 and Q7 are remarkably hushed SUVs, but the Velar comes close.
All Velars have adaptively damped suspension, and the V6s get air springs too. Normal mode is properly adaptive, so you seldom find yourself wanting to switch to the dynamic setting. It swallows urban-speed disturbances with endearing suppleness. Going faster you feel mild tremors of substantial unsprung weight beneath, but the body always feels reassuringly solid.
One notable difference from the F-Pace is the relative seat heights. In comparison with most SUVs – albeit less so than the big Range Rover – the Velar is tall, open-plan and glassy. This encourages you to enjoy the scenery and bowl along with smooth inputs so’s not to get the high body rolling or lurching.
Don’t come to the Velar for Porsche Macan-like agility. Like a proper Range Rover, it’s dignified and in command of most situations, with well-oiled accurate steering. If you’re in a real hurry, the sport mode does tauten the damping, lower the body and shift more power to the rear. Enough to very gently ease the tail out on a wet road. It doesn’t really want to be hoiked around tight corners like this, mind. It’s too remote and isolated. In fact, a Range Rover Sport, with its adaptive anti-roll bars, can actually feel more lithe and engaging.
Acting like this is just one pole of its abilities. The other pole is the off-road modes, raising it off the ground (if it’s specced with air springs), changing powertrain calibration and the traction and diff thresholds. It’s got wade sensing so it’ll ford a flood, and doors that wrap down around the sills so you don’t get mucky calves when you get in and out. When you are in those modes, the head-up display shows axle articulation and inclination angles and diff lock status.
On the inside
It’s not as tall as a Range Rover or a Sport, but you still feel elevated. And it does feel like a distinct product, whereas an Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Alfa or Jaguar crossover of this size has a cabin that’s merely a vertically stretched version of those companies’ saloons and coupes.
Ahead is Range Rover’s usual minimalist rectangle of leathered dashboard, with a T-piece coming down as the centre console. The shapes are clean, sparsely ornamented but wrapped in subtle, plush texture. The doors carry big planks of wood, but a reserved, monochrome grain. The perforations of the seat leather and speaker grilles quietly align themselves into Union flag motifs. The screens’ frameless integration serves the minimalism.
The big news here is the display and control system. In the centre console are two big touchscreens, both apparently edgeless and glossy-black when the ignition’s turned off. The lower one carries a pair of knurled twist-and push knobs.
Switch on and the upper screen is much like any other upmarket car’s: it carries navigation, entertainment, comms and lots of configurable car features. It’s not overloaded by having to carry the climate control though.
Climate is on the lower screen: it has very nicely rendered graphics of zephyrs of temperate air wafting into the occupants. The two knurled knobs control driver and passenger temperature. Or push them and they’re the seat heaters, their markings changing to suit. Or hit the seat massage button on the screen and their markings change again, helping you turn up or down the massage’s vigour.
You soon realise this is a whole lot easier than using a touch-screen alone. And those wheels have other context-dependent functions, each time changing their markings to suit. If you hit a tab that replaces the climate screen by the dynamics mode screen, you can change off-road mode with the knob.
You’ve also got a reconfigurable set of TFT driver instruments. Plus a head-up display. With all this screen area, some of which can be sub-divided at will, it’s easily possible to have everything you want on show all the time. You don’t have to keep jabbing at buttons for ‘nav’ ‘media’ or ‘car’ because they can have a screen each. This makes it far easier to use than many screen-based systems.
For instance on a long drive through unknown country you can swipe the music display and controls down onto the lower screen, then use the upper one for a full north-up map, and have your 3d local map in the instrument cluster. If you’re swapping often between dynamic modes, leave that on the bottom screen, and divide the top screen to show entertainment and nav, and have your trip computer in the instruments.
It’s not just about smooth graphics and shallow menu structures. There is enough processor heft too: the response times are quick and the touchscreens sensitive but not jumpy.
Even the steering wheel’s buttons are context-dependent, touch-sensitive and stroke-responsive, and their backlit typography and pictograms come and go with the situation and disappear to black when irrelevant.
The system has fast data, serves as wi-fi, does fancy mapping and has a bunch of apps for remote control and travel and commerce.
Because the front seats are bulky, there isn’t the legroom you’d hope for behind. It’s OK for most adults though, and they get ports and vents and lights.
Cabin storage is tight. There’s no deep storage bin in the centre console. The boot is big in area but a little shallow, but because this is a long car the overall capacity beats rivals. Under the floor it only makes room for a space saver, but that’s better than just a can of repair gloop when you’ve slashed a tyre in the wilderness.
Special mention to the optional Meridian sound system, which sounds like music rather than like a music system. That’s unusual in a car.
Another option is the textured cloth upholstery, for vegetarians who don’t want leather.
The Velar majors on style but it’s still a useful car. It’s roomy enough for a family, not so big it’s awkward in cities, and capable of unusual off-road feats. In a way it’s hard to see direct rivals: the Jaguar F-Pace sister car goes up against the ‘sportier’ German opposition.
The Velar’s cabin and new display/control system are good to use, and beautiful. It’s a nice place to be in the long-term, but the initial impact is stunning. Give anyone a lift and they’ll be wowed.
For the driver, it’s about relaxed security rather than engagement. Let it lower your heartbeat and enjoy the panoramic view of the scenery.