The future behind the wheel

By Andrew Clarke
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With its stunning sporty design, and hi-tech features, the Range Rover Velar is the SUV we’ve all been waiting for

It is one of those simple little things, so basic but exciting all the same. It shows the detail that has gone into this car and the details with which Range Rover has applied to what may be the most attractive SUV of all time.

The Range Rover Velar is like a sculpture, its curves defining its sexuality and allure, dragging you in over its shape and seducing with its beauty. And then you press the unlock button and the door handles appear from nowhere. Ever so gently and evocatively, they slide into being. I love it… lock, open, lock, open. Ahhh…

What you get with the Range Rover Velar is a feel good experience doubling as an incredibly competent car.

The Package

Range Rover calls this a mid-sized SUV, but there is nothing ‘mid’ about it aside from where it sits in the RR price spectrum. To that end, it is more expensive than an Evoque but is less than the Sport/Range Rover Series at the top of the tree. The price spread for anything with a Range Rover badge is from down around $60,000 to a dizzying $400,000—with the Velar spreading from $80K to $200k.

It is a low slung car, the roofline much lower than its bigger brethren, with a definite focus on its road presence and capability. In terms of physical size, the Velar is a fraction shorter than a Ford Territory but more than 10cm wider. Inside you feel the width, one passenger complained it was too wide to sit the arms comfortable on the armrests—I had no such issues.

Hi-tech is the story of the interior. The twin 10 inch HD screens on the centre console (Touch Pro Duo) can be configured to control most of the car, including the heads-up display. The lower of the two screens replaces buttons for some of the basic functions, such as climate control, and then some of the nicer features too—such as the seat massagers and coolers/heaters.

It is also where the chassis controls live. Lowering and raising the ride height or selecting the chassis settings from Dynamic or Eco, to any of the off-road settings. Of course, given the clever electronics in play, it can all be left on automatic and the Velar will make the choices for you.

The top screen is the more standard screen, but it is the way the two interact that is important.

Then you get to the dashboard, again an LED and ready to be set however you like. I went for one central dial and the satellite navigation display on one side and the lane departure warnings on the other. Any other warnings—such as the rear traffic monitor which hunts for dangers when reversing out of a driveway or parking spot—all come up on the dashboard as needed.

Keeping up with the tech, the buttons on the steering wheel are also touch activated rather than traditional buttons. The controls light when touched or needed, bringing up settings for the things we are used to on a steering wheel, such as phone controls or cruise control.

Every other part of the interiors works on the feel good factor. The optional ambient lighting can shift from blue to red with most of everything else in between. Both front and rear seats are special. Up front we were equipped with seats our own personal masseurs inside, as well as cooler and heaters. Even without the tech, they were seriously good with adjustments to help any sized and shaped body get comfortable behind the wheel.

There is plenty of space inside, three adults across the rear seats is easy although the design makes the one of the middle a little lumpy. The seats can be set for 2, 3, 4 or 5, there is no 7 seat option because the roof line is too low, so if you need that you have to step up to the Sport.

Outside the design is just stunning. The long and low design is highlighted by curves that in the right paint colour bring it to life. The Velar has the traditional Range Rover floating roof design and every other feature from the headlight and taillight design and the streaks on the side of the car, as there to make the car look fast standing still. Which may be an old cliché, but in this case for a car like this, it is true.

Driving

It doesn’t take long to love this part of the experience. The diesel engine is strong and lusty and capable of very rapid progress. It is coupled to an eight-speed gearbox, which may be overkill for a low revving diesel, but it works well. The changes are smooth and in full auto mode intuitive and partially dependent on the chassis settings chosen.

The sportiest function hangs onto gears, changing down earlier and up later. For the full sport experience though, flick the paddles behind the steering wheel and take full control.

Given it is a Range Rover, there’s a good chance you’ll try some country driving. It takes a little time to get used to the car, even on the firmest suspension settings the body roll can be quite noticeable, but push harder and you simply feel the grip. There is plenty of it, and when you work that out and get the flow up and running, this car is stunning.

It soaks up bumps and potholes and mid-corner undulations do nothing. It just grips and goes, and is much faster than you realise. Dirt roads, spots of gravel, no drama the smart 4WD system works through it all and you never feel at risk. And the steering gives just the tight amount of feedback with an effort level that doesn’t tire you out.

It can be dizzyingly fast, which is why all the tech is so good. The brakes are stunning, almost race car like, and they seem intuitive when you brake into corners on any kind of surface.

Even the headlights are special. From the driver’s seat it was really the fact that it turned night into day with a penetrating 550m high beam that seemed to matter. But then they did more than shower light like a rock concert. The sales pitch talks about Matrix-Laser LED Headlights. The high beam changes depending on what speed you are doing, at more than 80km/h it reaches well into the distance, but then you can leave the high beam on as cars approach, a set of cameras looking forward spot oncoming traffic and creates shadows for them so you can keep high beam on without blinding them.

The heads-up display means you can see everything from speed and gears to your navigation directions, I would have preferred the lights on it to be red (doesn’t affect night vision) but I’d rather have it in white than not at all.

Off-road, yes we did take a $150k SUV off-road, it is better than most SUVs and 4WDs, but perhaps not as good as the RR Sport or standard Range Rover. Crank up the ride height and target the puddles, and it grips and goes. A little squirm here or there, some lights flash on the dash to tell you the differentials are shifting the torque to where it is needed, one wheel and one axle line at a time.

This same technology is what makes it such a good car to drive fast on the road. The computers tucked away inside the car and working hard to get the right grip levels at the right spot of the car… no matter what you are doing and how fast you are doing it.

We didn’t get to test it too hard off-road, but it is also not the point of the Velar. Being a rapid grand tourer is its forte.

The Future

I am looking forward to an SVR version of the Velar. SVR is RR’s performance arm, and when you start work with such a great base, we will end up with something truly amazing. But the future for Range Rover is not really in SVR performance, it is about embracing technology and the environment that no car on the planet can take you to in the same manner.

Land Rover—along with its sister company Jaguar that both fall under the control of Tata—has announced that by 2020 every car in its line-up will have electric or hybrid power plants. Some of this will help reduce pollution—depending on how the electric charge is generated—while others parts may be used for performance. Look at Jaguar in Formula E racing, that is about performances, so don’t start thinking about the shocking Toyota Prius as the only approach to hybrid and electric technology.

Now, a hybrid diesel Range Rover Velar, that will be something else.

The risk with the Velar, for Land Rover, is that it is such a quantum shift for the brand that it makes it hard to follow. Yes, the Sport and Range Rover are much more serious off-road, but this is so much better on the road. And it does it with so much sex appeal it is going change everything we know about the brand.

 

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Madmimi


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