Range Rover Velar review (2017): King of the urban jungle?
When strolling into a Range Rover showroom, no-one would blame you for wondering why the newest addition to the family, the Velar, exists. At first glance, it takes the sharp lines of the Evoque and scales them up to Range Rover Sport proportions.
In fact, I challenge you to look at the photos on this page while thinking of the Range Rover Sport, then identify the differences. The question immediately is, why would you buy the Velar when the Sport, a car of similar size, proportions and intentions, already exists?
The Velar might be the new kid on the block and it might be wearing the sharpest Range Rover suit, but it offers poorer space and visibility for rear-seat passengers than they get in the Sport, and less luxury for everyone. Yet after just a few minutes with the online configurator, the Velar can be configured to cost over £80,000, or 20 grand more than the Sport’s starting price.
More questions arrive when we crack out the tape measure. The Velar is 4,803mm long and 1,665mm tall compared with the 4,879mm long and 1,803mm tall Range Rover Sport. The Velar is 1,950mm wide, compared to 1,990mm for its slightly larger sibling.
This makes the 2018 Sport 7.6cm longer, 13.8cm taller and 4cm wider. That may not seem like much but, in fact, those few centimetres here and there represent a wide, open goal for today’s carmakers, who are blessed with an uncanny ability to shoehorn entire new model lines where you or I would not have thought possible.
Another gaping chasm for the Velar to fill is with the price, as at £45,100 to £72,600 (plus options), the new car fits neatly between the Evoque and Sport, which start at £30,800 and £61,600 respectively.
Enough with the numbers, because I suspect Velar buyers are far more interested in looking good than tapping away at the calculator. This thought is echoed by brushed copper gills on the bonnet and front bumper, LED lights wrapped around the four corners, and a roof that tapers away towards the rear. When painted a contrasting black and paired with huge 22in wheels, this gives the car a sense of pent-up aggression, like it’s about to launch itself snarling down the road.
Spec up a Velar and you’ll find a car of two halves. On the one side, you have the entry-level and HSE models, which would look as at home on the school run as a Land Rover Discovery. Opt for R-Dynamic and the car takes on a villainous streak, but go all out on the £83,000 First Edition and the Velar permanently looks like it’s up to no good on a Sloane side street.
Range Rover Velar review: All-new, dual-screen infotainment
Step inside and the menace is replaced with calm sophistication and an all-new infotainment system unlike anything previously used by Jaguar Land Rover. Now also present in the new Range Rover and RR Sport, the Touch Pro Duo system is made up of two 10in touchscreens.
One sits in the usual place in the centre of the dash. High up and easy to see, this is where your satnav map is, along with radio and media controls, access to your phone, and some of the vehicle’s more complex settings and menus.
But below this is where things get interesting. Between the front seats is a second touchscreen, squarer than the one above and with two physical, rotating dials placed on top of it. This is where you control the car’s driving modes and off-road settings, the climate (plus seat heating, cooling and massage) and another page of settings.
The interface of this second screen is designed to be as simple as possible. Some virtual buttons – like those for the screen heaters and traction control – are permanently illuminated and always in the same place, while others appear only when they’re needed. In this sense, the system reminds me of Apple’s justification for the first iPhone’s touchscreen – why have a keyboard and physical buttons taking up space when they aren’t always needed?
For example, tap on Vehicle and the right-hand dial cycles through driving modes with a turn, but tap on Climate and the dial then controls the cabin temperature, which is displayed in the middle of the rotating knob.
This all looks fabulous when demonstrated by a pro, and will no doubt win over buyers in the showroom, but it took me an afternoon of motorway driving from London to West Yorkshire to even begin to get used to it.
In reality, it took a long weekend and several hundred miles with the Velar to feel confident about adjusting the climate or driving mode without looking. Indeed, for the first couple of hundred miles, I felt I was taking my eyes off the road far more than if I was prodding at the tactile climate controls of most other cars.
With patience, however, muscle memory soon saves the day. I would still prefer the dials to provide more tactile feedback when rotated, as it’s too easy to scroll through one option or temperature degree too many when turning them while on the move. However, after a few days I felt like I was getting to grips with everything the system had to offer.
Range Rover Velar review: No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
For all of its new technology, the Velar still falls down on some fundamentals. The navigation system, while acceptable, isn’t as responsive to touch inputs as it should be in a brand-new model of this calibre, and the lack of both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a real shame. There is a downloadable Spotify app, but to access this you need to install a SIM card: the car can’t piggyback off your phone’s 4G through the Bluetooth connection.
It’s a bit disappointing that music playback isn’t as easy as hooking up CarPlay and chatting to Siri, because the Velar’s sound system options are provided by Meridian and include 11-, 17- and 23-speaker configurations with up to 1,600 watts of power.
The rest of the interior is… fine. There is plenty of leather, as you might expect, but also a little too much hard plastic. The door bins are more scratchy than you should find on a car with Range Rover written on the steering wheel and, while not uncomfortable or unrefined, the Velar’s interior is sold short by its stunning exterior. From the outside, I think the Velar can look like a £100,000 car to the untrained eye, but inside the veil is lifted and that figure is halved.
Range Rover Velar review: Driving tech
What the Velar misses out on in the consumer tech stakes, it makes up for with driving tech. Being a product of Land Rover, it has off-roading, river-fording, hill-scrambling DNA pumping through its veins, so can still wade through 650mm of water, drag itself over rocks and bound across sand dunes for fun. The car’s Terrain Response 2 system ensures you always have the car in the right off-road setting, while the optional Terrain Progress Control acts like an off-road cruise control to keep the car plugging along at walking pace no matter what’s happening under its tyres.
These modes are all accessed via the lower touchscreen. Purists will no doubt argue this is incongruous and no match for manually locking the differentials and engaging the low-range gearbox with the pull of a lever. But, really, the Velar is a city boy at heart. It might own a pair of wellies, but they’re Hunters and the only mud they see is on the monthly trips to Soho Farmhouse.
On the road, the Velar is surprisingly good fun to drive for a (nearly) full-sized, 1,800kg SUV. This impression is no doubt helped by my review car’s three-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 diesel engine, which produces 300 horsepower and a punchy 700 newton metres of torque from 1,500rpm. This translates into a claimed zero-to-60mph time of 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 150mph.
Body roll is well tamed, and the Velar feels surprisingly nimble when you engage Dynamic mode – although perhaps not sporting enough to justify the G-metre and lap timer which can be displayed on the upper touchscreen.
The shove from that V6 and extra tightness brought on by Dynamic mode made the Velar surprisingly good fun when the northbound M1 gave way to the A6024. This winding moorland road climbs from 70 metres above sea level on the edges of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, all the way to 524m as it reaches Holme Moss, where the photos for this review were taken.
This twisting road with its Alpine-like switchback corners was used as the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France and, even on a cold and snowy Easter Sunday (weather is weird, isn’t it?), the Velar felt sure-footed and dependable. Any modern SUV should feel the same, of course, but the Range Rover brand exudes a sense of comforting familiarity that others lack.
Range Rover Velar review: Verdict
The Velar, with its less accommodating passenger space and lack of luxury compared with its stablemates, might not be the Range Rover to buy with your head, especially since the price can rise so high.
And when a car has been designed with luxury watches in mind (Land Rover’s line on those brushed copper details), we all know this is a vehicle built more for brunching in Belgravia than green-laning in Grassington.
Yet there is something appealing about the Range Rover Velar. It wears the sharpest suit of all, feels less intimidating to thread through city traffic, and takes a bold new approach with its infotainment system. And, when push comes to shove, the Velar can even roll up its sleeves and get stuck in on the rare occasion that you go properly off-roading with it.