by Craig Duff
A STYLE-driven Range Rover was an anathema until the arrival of the Evoque. The brand that built its reputation on boxy but luxurious SUVs with serious off-road capability switched the focus to a sleek, slick city vehicle that could easily venture down a bush road if required.
More than 600,000 Evoque sales later, Rangie is growing the "urban SUV” concept with a fourth model, the Velar, which sits between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport.
Jaguar Land Rover Australia boss Matthew Wiesner says the Velar's "reductionist” design previews the future direction of Range Rover.
"This gives you an indication of where the brand is headed,” Wiesner says. "The interior and exterior are as clean as we can make it.” A twin-screen infotainment display has enabled the designers to do away with most buttons on the centre console while the exterior shape has been stripped of clutter to the point where the door handles sit flush with the door panels until the car is unlocked.
Land Rover says 400 buyers have pre-ordered a vehicle, despite a bewilderingly large model line-up: there are 50 Velar versions to choose from, ranging in price from $70,662 for the base 2.0-litre petrol turbo to $168,862 for the supercharged V6 First Edition version.
The Velar can be had in four trim levels - regular, S, SE and HSE - for each of the six engines (three diesel, three petrol).
Buyers also have the same engine and trim choices with the Velar R-Dynamic versions, which add sportier exterior styling cues and an upgraded interior including leather seats. R-Dynamic versions cost $6000 more than their regular Velar counterparts.
Finally, the six-cylinder diesel and petrol engines can be ordered in First Edition guise, which is a Velar "with the lot”. The price grows accordingly to $168,250 for the oilburner and $168,862 for the V6 petrol.
The logic, according to JLR marketing director Kevin Nicholls, is to create a bespoke service that lets buyers choose which level of luxury and performance they want.
Beyond the engine/trim choice comes a very long options list - and a long wait for delivery. Someone wanting a base car with all the safety gear can tick a box and the car should arrive nine to 12 weeks after a customer orders their vehicle.
The default safety gear includes autonomous emergency braking up to 80km/h and lane-departure warning. Disappointingly only the top-spec versions are fitted with adaptive cruise control with high-speed emergency braking and active blind-spot and lane-departure assist to help keep the Velar in its lane.
ON THE ROAD
Being competent on the tarmac and capable on rutted fire trails is the Velar's party trick.
The car is theatre quiet at freeway speeds, especially on the 20-inch rims standard on the four-cylinder models. The steering doesn't give a huge amount of feedback but is impressively direct and quick to respond to inputs. The engine choice determines whether progress is moderate or meaningful. The supercharged V6 petrol is predictably quick off the mark; the turbo six-cylinder diesel isn't as fast initially but the 700Nm ensures it cruises effortlessly up any incline.
The base four-cylinder engines - diesel and petrol - are for Rangie buyers who want the bling without the zing, while the higher-output fours will satisfy those wanting the looks backed by a decent response when they floor the right foot. A 211mm ride height - the same as the Evoque - expands to 252mm when the air suspension (standard on the six-cylinders) is set to off-road.
At that point the Velar's biggest limitation in the bush is the absence of a low-range transfer case and how averse you are to scratching the paint, given any colour other than black or white is an option costing from $1780 to $3550.
This car will traverse trails that most sane owners will never contemplate in their prestige wagon and it does it in a typically unflustered Rangie fashion. An occasional thump as the rear suspension rebounds is the only intrusion on cabin ambience; otherwise the Velar is as composed as its more expensive stablemates over ruts and rocky outcrops.
All versions use a space-saver spare wheel - not ideal - and can tow up to 2400kg.
Looks like Range Rover is on another winner. The mid-sized SUV is expensive compared to the F-Type but adds off-road ability the Jaguar can't rival, even though most Velar owners will never explore those capabilities.
AT A GLANCE
RANGE ROVER VELAR
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
ENGINES 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol, 184-221kW/365-400Nm; 3.0-litre V6 supercharged, 280kW/450Nm. 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel 132kW-177kW/430Nm-500Nm; 3.0-litre V6 turbo, 221kW/700Nm.
SAFETY Not rated, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane-departure warning
FUEL From 5.4L/100km to 9.4L/100km