Once, nobody knew how to say Evoque, now they notice THIS new Range Rover and wonder how you pronounce Velar

Once, nobody knew how to say 'Evoque', now they notice THIS new Range Rover and wonder how you pronounce 'Velar'

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Some say the new Velar might prove to be too attractive. If mass-admiration becomes major sales volume, what impact will this have on what must surely be Tata Motors' highest margin models, the Range Rover Sport and Range Rover?

I am yet to find anyone who is indifferent to how the Velar looks. It can't just be those fantastic flush-fitting door handles. These we have seen on many other vehicles. Moreover, the execution of how they deploy has superior elegance on the Jaguar F-TYPE, various Aston Martins and all Teslas. No, it must be some other key element of the Velar's appearance which is responsible for so many people calling it an instant classic.

It isn't often that you see pedestrians slow their pace to gaze at a car from a mass manufacturer. That happened a lot over the week I drove a Velar. Sit in a coffee shop and observe the visual vox pop.

Even parking provokes responses. White Van Men gave it a thumbs up, one of them craning his neck to see the badge. Everybody wants to know how much it costs and due to its length, "is that the new Range Rover?'. Which is a tricky question to answer.

Land Rover's plan to expand the RR name into a model series has succeeded. Wildly. Only recently are sales of the smallest Range Rover falling. Which is incredible when you think about how expensive it is and how long it has been on the market. L551, the next one, is due out in 2019, and if it doesn't have the appearance of a Golf-sized Velar, then we will all be shocked. Land Rover's newest model just looks so right that surely all the Design department needs to do is shrink it.

What I was desperate to know before the chance to finally drive a Velar came along, was would its dynamics be as good as those of the Sport?

How about a thousand pounds (GBP985 but call it an even grand) for an electrically-retracting towbar?

The Evoque isn't class leading when it comes to handling but that didn't matter too much pre-Macan. Even then, the segment just seemed to expand as both Land Rover and Porsche delivered ever more examples of their high-priced C/D sized luxury SUVs, year after year.

The Macan also drew some customers away from the Cayenne. Although that might not seem like good news for Porsche, the pricing of the firm's smaller SUV is still fairly steep and Macan owners tend to want all manner of options on their cars. Therein lies a potential piece of good news for JLR.

Land Rover too has become superb at enticing those who love the idea of any form of Range Rover to click on many extra-cost items when configuring their cars. The press test Velar didn't look in any way over the top, and yet it was equipped with various extra-cost things which most buyers would consider essentials. How about a thousand pounds (GBP985 but call it an even grand) for an electrically-retracting towbar? Once you've seen and heard it in action, it's impossible to resist. Even if you don't (yet) own that jet ski which somehow Santa forgot to leave on the driveway.

Who doesn't need a head-up display? Another click. That'll lift the monthly payments a tad more but what price your licence when there are 20mph zones everywhere?

It's outrageously cheeky to charge anyone for a spare tyre. There, I said it. Yet, as Rowan Atkinson might purr, "this is so much more than a spare tyre". Pull gently on a handle in what looks like the boot floor and a thickly carpeted panel glides upwards, assisted by a gas strut. Below it, the most beautiful alloy and tyre. Its size - 21 inches on this car - is insane. 

I came to realise that the giant wheels and crazily low profile M&S tyres are yet another reason why the Velar looks as if it's a concept car. It does though, doesn't it? Straight off an elevated display at a motor show. Trouble is, in the real world, the Velar and its gorgeous rims would soon get dirty. Which is why I would place all luggage on the back seats. So that nothing could hinder the secret delight of a daily gaze at the shiny spare. Which, I would try not to remember, had cost me eighty quid more than what Alan Rickman paid for a gold necklace.

Eventually, it dawns on you that Land Rover must have really taken its time in designing this vehicle. Some of us had presumed that JLR's bosses cleverly decided that Jaguar must be given the F-PACE some time ahead of the Velar hitting the market. And, that the closely-sized Range Rover should be made a lot more expensive lest its perfect proportions and beautiful interior result in an F-PACE sales collapse the moment it became available.

The 'reductionist' approach to styling works faultlessly for this car. Somehow, Land Rover has finally addressed the nagging questions over the greatness of its vehicles' looks being let down by sometimes iffy rear-ends. Both generations of RRS stand accused of this, while the tail lamps and fussy-silvery plastic strips aft of the Range Rover's back tyres attest to that. And if the Discovery's tailgate really is an improvement over the, by contrast, brilliantly-styled look of the old one, why are some owners prepared to pay (quite a lot of money) for a masking modification? Look again at the pic above and tell me this isn't the sexiest stern of any Land Rover.

This is a vehicle that owners will gaze at after they blip-lock it and walk away.

The Velar isn't a Land Rover into which you climb. It's more car-like, and the default setting of the air springs delivers an additional benefit; exposing only the tiniest amount of space between the tops of the tyres and the bodywork. This is a vehicle that owners will gaze at after they blip-lock it and walk away.

The not completely good news lies within. Is it picky to wonder if the look of the steering wheel might not need a bit of a rethink? There is also a ring of metal around the circumference which looks terrific. It's also freezing for the first minutes of any drive in January and you cannot avoid touching it. Sometimes, plastic is better. Sorry Land Rover, I feel bad about pointing this out as most of the interior looks amazing and works well. Although yes, there is heating for the wheel. Not sure that would be too useful in a southern hemisphere January though.

It's only when you are fortunate enough to try out at least one new car every week that things which can grate during ownership are obvious. In isolation, the two screens of the Velar's middle console appear to be wonderful. In reality, they don't work for me. 

Another issue: how about being in one menu as you're driving, and the steering wheel buttons for the sound system vanish after swapping the speed readout for a satnav screen. As with A/C controls on that lower screen being virtual, not real buttons, eyes need to be off the road for a really very dangerous number of seconds.

Am I old school and, pardon the pun, out of touch? If so, BMW is too. The new-shape X3 has an infinitely safer HVAC layout. Get to know where the buttons you want are, remove the left hand from the wheel, feel your way, done. In an instant. Not having any superfluous controls visible might sound like a nice idea and yes, the Velar's screens are gorgeous. The ongoing reductionist approach to design by certain brands - Tesla, Volvo, and now Land Rover - might one day swing back the other way. Certainly, the biggest German OEMs are being very cautious in avoiding the mania for everything on a screen.

Enough criticism of the Velar's insides, though. The driving position is just right, the adjustable head-up display is a safety boon, there is a lot of space to store things, although the centre cubby box and glovebox could be deeper.

In the back, if your knees don't like unyielding plastic, then it's best to pay up for a Range Rover Sport and enjoy the added room. Similarly, the screens on the backs of the head restraints feel all very Economy Class - they felt a little to close for me seated there. That is until you notice a button with arrows. The backrest reclines a little and this is enough to take away the near-claustrophobia. For toddlers and kids, none of this will be an issue. Just don't expect any chance of a third person being able to sit between two child seats. Again, buy a bigger member of the Range Rover family if you need the additional width. One last observation: the back seat's centre armrest has a handy two USB sockets.

The test car was fitted with the Ford-sourced 3.0-litre diesel. A ZF eight-speed torque converter automatic is the only available transmission, and that's great news. The shifts slur just as silently as they do in all other JLR models fitted with one of the German supplier's two such auto gearboxes. Powertrain choices are as follows in the UK:

  • D180: 180PS (132kW) & 430Nm turbocharged 1,999cc I4 diesel, ZF 8HP45
  • D240: 240PS (177kW) & 500Nm sequential bi-turbocharged 1,999cc I4 diesel, ZF 8HP45
  • P250: 250PS (184kW) & 365Nm turboocharged 1,997cc I4 Ingenium petrol, ZF 8HP45
  • D300: 300PS (221kW) & 700Nm turbocharged 2,993cc V6 diesel, ZF 8HP70
  • P300: 300PS (221kW) & 400Nm turbocharged 1,997cc I4 Ingenium petrol, ZF 8HP45
  • P380: 380PS (280kW) & 450Nm supercharged 2,995cc V6 petrol, ZF 8HP70
  • (electrified and supercharged V8 variants are to follow)

Land Rover wants the Range Rover Sport to continue being its most appealing model for enthusiast drivers.

Steering is a touch on the light side compared to a Cayenne or Macan but really, there's not much in it. Roads were wet and slippery during my time with the Velar but other than that, there was no in-the-mud action.

I'm sure this vehicle would live up to the usual Land Rover standards off the tarmac, while on it, there is some lean which is more than made up for by a faultlessly tuned ride. You can play around with dynamic settings too, and tell the pneumatic springing to adjust itself for the preferences of someone who prefers flatter cornering.

Land Rover wants the Range Rover Sport to continue being its most appealing model for enthusiast drivers. Which it is. That's not to say that the Velar isn't very good indeed. It's just not a ten out of ten SUV in the way that the Sport, X5 M50d, Cayenne and Macan are.

There it is then. The answer. No, the newest Range Rover isn't going to steal too many sales away from its larger siblings. And from the Evoque? Yes, most likely. Mainly because of the Velar's novelty and the fact that there has until now been a too-wide size and pricing chasm between the littlest RR and the larger ones. It's hard to believe that the Velar won't take Land Rover volumes and profits to new highs then.

The vehicle supplied for testing was a 4,803mm long Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic HSE D300, priced at GBP70,530 before options (the least expensive Velar costs from GBP44,830). The biturbo V6 has outputs of 300PS and 700Nm. Kerb weight is 1,841kg, CO2 Combined emissions are 167g/km, top speed is 150mph, 0-60mph takes a claimed 6.1 seconds and Combined consumption is 44.1mpg. The Velar is manufactured in England and China at JLR's and Chery JLR's Solihull and Changshu plants respectively.

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