2017 Range Rover Velar Coucher in a new one, Dixon in the original… King of the hill. The archetype is still the best: superb Velar takes Range Rover’s original ethos and raises it to new heights. We drive the newcomer on- and off-road. Words Robert Coucher.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that when a brilliant, original idea is created, the innovator remains at the leading edge no matter what the copycats do to try and catch up. This is true of Land Rover with its Range Rover, which was first seen 47 years ago and is still the daddy. Jaguar Land Rover has since expanded the Range Rover line-up to include the smaller Evoque and now this mid-sized Velar.
The design of the original Range Rover was finalised in 1969, and initially 26 development vehicles were built prior to the production car launch in 1970. These were badged ‘Velar’, which is reminiscent of the Latin for ‘to veil’ or ‘to cover’ (see following feature). Surviving Velars are highly collectable and have a near-mythical status in the classic car world, so it’s no surprise JLR has dug the attractive moniker out of its parts bin for this brand-new model.
If you’re in a rush and immediately want the bottom line on the Velar, here it is: it’s fantastic! If you need – or just really, really want – a vehicle of this sort, hurry up and put your name down on what will undoubtedly be a very long waiting list. I suppose I’d better justify this assertion – but just look at it. The Velar is astonishingly attractive, looking more like a show car than a production model. It’s glamorous, classy and elegant, thanks to its design ‘reductionism’ that renders the look clean and unfussy while retaining the classic Range Rover signature floating roof and clamshell bonnet motifs. Clever. It has real presence thanks to a long wheelbase, raked windscreen, plus short front and long, tapered rear overhangs. The slim LED headlamps and flush-fitting ‘deploy’ door handles add to the sci-fi visage, as do the huge alloy wheels – particularly the 22-inch options.
JLR states that the Velar is its mid-sized luxury SUV that fills the ‘white space’ between the Range Rover Sport and the smaller Evoque. I’m not sure about that, but this new vehicle does make the current Range Rover Sport look rather dated, if not the stately full-sized Rangie.
There are essentially six Velar models: two four-cylinder 2-litre diesels, a 2-litre petrol, a V6 3-litre diesel and two V6 3-litre petrols. The supercharged P380 sits at the top of the range. The usual Range Rover trim levels of S, SE, HSE are on offer, as well as R-Dynamic. Prices for the base 2-litre D180 start at £44,830 and rise to £85,450 for the limited First Edition P380. You’ll probably be in for around 60 to 65 grand for a nice one. So, no bargain.
Design director Gerry McGovern and his skilled team have resisted the current trend to reduce this proper fourseater’s cabin space with a coupé roofline, thank goodness. However, I’m afraid they could not resist the fad of ludicrously oversized exhaust escutcheons. To my mind, the rear of the otherwise ‘reductionist’ top-of-the-range Velars suffer from these ’70s boy-racer chrome quads stuck to the car’s bottom. They look wonky and tacked on – and are fake, too, as the actual tailpipes are hidden within. Fortunately, the lesser models that were not available at the global first drive launch in Norway appear to have less obvious tailpipes.
We all know emissions are an issue, so why not revert to a hidden system with a resultant smooth and elegant rear end? And why does a car of this deportment need a diffuser? It’s a bit like wearing a Henry Poole of Savile Row suit (where McGovern gets his sharp threads cut) with airing holes in the seat of the pants. Too much information!
Unlock the Velar via the key fob (the Active Key option is a waterproof transponder you can wear on your wrist, if you decide to go kayaking down the Thames or Hudson rivers any time soon) and those otherwise flush door handles deploy to greet you. ‘Ready and at your service, sir.’ Swing open the large driver’s door and you are met with the most restrained, clean and contemporary interior. The aim is calm serenity, and with its smooth, uncluttered architecture the cabin is aesthetically… Zen. It’s enough to make a Feng Shui consultant pass out cold.
The dash is covered in a swathe of luscious leather, the steering wheel is tactile and the button count minimal. Two 10-inch high-definition Touch Pro Duo screens take centre stage above the man-sized transmission rotary control, and the sculpted seats are perforated in a Union Flag style named Windsor. Virtue-signalling environmental types can eschew nasty leather in favour of sustainable Kvadrat textile, which is what Gwynnie Paltrow and her Twitteratis will go for in their two-tonne fun machines.
The back doors are adequate, and the rear seats are comfortable for normal-sized adults, being set low to afford ample headroom. Chauffeur-driven plutocrats should stick with the full-sized Range Rover, however, as its back chairs are more commanding. Meanwhile, nannies and children will be just fine in the rear confines of the Velar, and the 632-litre boot space is a whole lot more practical than the tiny luggage compartment found in the Evoque. The gesture-controlled tailgate can be opened by moving your foot under the rear bumper, which is hugely useful when you’re loaded down with shopping from Whole Foods.
Depress the starter button and the Velar quietly awakes. Twirl the controller to D and ease off. On this launch event we were assigned only the range-topping, 3-litre V6 diesel and petrol R-Dynamic, as well as a bells ’n’ whistles First Edition. With all the hoo-ha in the press about diesel cars it might have been interesting to try a 250bhp/365Nm P250 Ingenium petrol four-cylinder, as latest figures show recent UK diesel sales have dropped by a catastrophic 15%.
Do the Velar’s dynamics match its looks? Emphatically yes. The car is fast, quiet, refined, responsive, accurate and peaceful. Its tasteful cabin remains totally chilled, no matter what your speed. The Velar makes you feel like a contented fat cat, because the NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels are so sublime, you simply float above the peasants on air-suspension in supreme comfort. The big P380, with its Twin-Vortex supercharged all-aluminium petrol V6, punches out 380bhp and 400Nm of torque, and will crack 0-60mph in an impressive 5.3 seconds with a 155mph limited top speed. It does feel swift – but not that quick, due to its effortless and quiet demeanour.
The eight-speed ZF auto used on all models is smooth and responsive. It shuffles through the gears to keep the aluminium-intensive and aerodynamically efficient (0.32 Cd) Velar on the boil, especially with Sports and Dynamic modes selected. With ultra-low-profile tyres fitted to the 22-inch split-spoke alloys, the First Edition makes a good fist of pressing on at sports car speeds. But best to dial back a bit and just enjoy its luxurious nature ensconced within that soothing interior. The Velar is really too grown up to thrash about. That’s why the diesel D300 on 21-inch rims is the preferred option. It hits 60mph in 5.7 seconds and tops out at 145mph, which is more than adequate – and the smaller wheels help further smooth the ride.
Having swished around Norway’s fast, open and neardeserted roads, we were then treated to the JLR team’s party trick: a little light off-roading. Actually, it was some serious boon-docking at extreme Land Rover levels of intensity. In very wet conditions, with rivulets running throughout, we were let loose on various challenging courses to learn more about the Velar’s all-wheel-drive capabilities, with help from its Intelligent Driveline Dynamics control systems and active locking rear diff.
Remaining on the low-profile, road-bias tyres, simply select one of the six icons on the touchscreen to suit the conditions. These modes incorporate Eco, Comfort, Grass- Gravel-Snow, Mud-Ruts, Sand and, on the R-Dynamic models, Dynamic. With Grass-Gravel-Snow selected, the Velar raises 46mm on its air-suspension and goes forth where no car should venture. No wheelspin up a frighteningly steep ski run under the ski gondola gantries, where you have to view forward progress through the dash screen because the bonnet is approaching vertical.
Then, coming down the sandy, rocky, slippery slope, the All Terrain Progress Control manages the speed with no need to trouble the pedals. Climbing/falling speeds can simply be adjusted via a steering-wheel switch. To finish, or simply to wash down the mud and grime spatters, a quick river ford that sees water lapping the door bottoms with no evident ingress. The Velar does everything for you with absolutely precise and seemingly effortless control.
What a beautiful, quick, luxurious, hi-tech, capable and impressive vehicle. If it were mine, I’d never subject it to this sort of off-road abuse, but rather enjoy it as a svelte, sporting, well-sized SUV on the road. All I could think about in the rough were those lovely alloys being scarred and scratched, and the tyres shredding. Yet the Velar shrugged off the onerous ask with haughty disdain, and not one mighty alloy spun, scrabbled or locked during the entire drive. An all-terrain vehicle of the highest order, the Range Rover Velar is back, and it’s never looked so good.
Tech and photos
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 2017 Range Rover Velar P300
Engine 3-litre V6, turbocharged
Power 297bhp @ 4000rpm DIN
Torque 516lb ft @ 1500rpm DIN
Transmission Eight-speed automatic
Steering Electric power assisted
Suspension Front: independent by double wishbones, air springs. Rear: independent integral link with air springs
Brakes Ventilated discs all round
Performance 0-60mph 5.7sec. Top speed 145mph
Above Velar is by far the most successful interpretation of the current Range Rover ‘look’, appearing more like a concept car than a compromised production version. Clockwise from top left Coucher revels in Velar’s luxurious cabin; beautifully thought-out detailing includes flush door handles; steering-wheel controls are neat and self-explanatory. Right and below Whether it’s a gentle offroad slope or a frighteningly steep ski run, Velar tackles it with skill and panache, whatever the engine.
‘I’d never subject a Velar to such offroad abuse, but enjoy it as a svelte, sporting, well-sized SUV on the road’
HERE’S ONE THEY MADE (A LOT) EARLIER
Mark Dixon gets behind the wheel of a 1969 Velar…
What’s an old Range Rover worth now? In this particular case, the answer is £132,250. At least, that’s the price this vehicle fetched at auction in 2014, so it’s probably on the low side by now…
That eye-watering price tag is partly down to its chassis number, 33500001A, which marks it out as the very first of the pre-production Range Rovers – disguised at the time as ‘Velars’ – built in 1969, after seven engineering prototypes that had chassis numbers 100/1 to 100/7. But it’s also because this is an outstandingly original example, restored at a time when you could still get the really rare bits, and retaining matching-numbers chassis, engine, transmission and axles, not to mention its original body.
It drives nicely, too – but then, early Range Rovers always do, even the tired ones (which this one emphatically isn’t). That unique combination of lazy, softtune V8, long coil springs and huge, thin-rimmed steering wheel is remarkably relaxing, and the original Rangie’s lighter weight makes it feel much more sprightly than you’d expect of a big 4×4 that has ‘only’ 132bhp on tap.
You can surf across a tussocky field in great comfort, with none of the crashiness you’d be suffering in a contemporary leaf-sprung Land Rover – although the long, willowy gear lever is a constant reminder that they are not so distantly related. Unlike a Land Rover, however, the Range Rover has permanent four-wheel drive, so there’s no need to bang down a little yellow knob to select it.
Inside the Spartan but notably airy cabin, it strikes you that the 1969 Velar has at least one thing in common with the 2017 Velar – both vehicles look as though they went straight from styling studio to factory floor, with not much interference in between. Whereas the new Velar’s interior is all concept car glamour, however, the 1969 version appears more like the studio’s initial mock-up; something roughed out in clay using a steel rule as a scraper. As a result, it seems exceptionally pure but also slightly unfinished, with its stick-on instrument pod (intended for easy adoption to left- or right-hand drive), flat, rectangular door cards and razor-edge dashtop.
However, whereas the interior is so very Space 1999 in its futurism that it now looks severely dated, the exterior still appears ageless, its details (those vertical-strip door handles!) a constant source of delight. And with Jaguar Land Rover now offering fully rebuilt 1970s examples from £135,000 and up, that 2014 auction price for the first-of-the-first suddenly looks rather good value.