Automobiles

Range Rover Velar Review: First Drive

Originally Published On Auto X |

The Range Rover Velar looks more like a concept than a production car. But the car that you see here is exactly what you can book come September 21st, 2017. So, stay tuned…

1969 – that was the year the name ‘Velar’ first appeared on the front of a Range Rover. Truth be told, there was no Range Rover back then! Velar, in fact, was the name that the Land Rover engineers put on the bonnet of the test mules of the first Range Rover.

Velar is derived from a Latin word that means to conceal or hide. Naturally, they wanted to conceal the identity of the first Range Rover until they were ready to unveil it to the world – an act that completely revolutionized the SUV world. The fact that the phrase ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’ didn’t exist at the time is immaterial. And the fact that Land Rover has decided to bring the name back with this model gives you some indication of how important they perceive it to be.

The Velar – the new one – sits between the Range Rover Evoque and the Range Rover Sport. It slots right into one of the fastest growing segments in the market globally, and also one of the most competitive. So they have to get this right – there are no second chances. Well, fortunately for them, the first signs are pretty good. The Velar was immediately hailed as a revolution in design, following its unveil at the Paris Motor Show last year.

Reductionism

Truth be told, it does look pretty stunning. In fact, it still looks more like a concept than a production car. The Velar makes everything else on the road look immediately dated – both from the inside, as well as the outside. Gerry McGovern, the Design Director of Land Rover, calls the clean lines of the Velar ‘reductionism.’ Call it what you want, stunning is the word that comes to mind.

The incredibly clean front end was achieved thanks to advancement in headlight technology. The matrix laser LEDs allowed the designers to shrink the size of the headlights, and give the Velar its sharp and aggressive front end. If you happen to have one following you, it looks as though it’s glaring at you while it bears down on you in the rear view mirror. The clean profile, meanwhile, was achieved thanks to the deployable door handles. Not only are they integral to the design, they’re also crucial to the .32 coefficient of drag – making it the most aerodynamic Land Rover ever. The whole package, right from the light signature – both front and back – to the clean lines provide the impression that the Velar has been transported via time machine rather than formed through years of design and development. Even the car it shares its platform with, the Jaguar F-Pace – the current World Car of the Year – which is one of the most beautiful SUVs on the road, looks rather conventional in front of the newest Range Rover.

Where have the buttons gone?

This modernist theme continues into the cabin as well. As you get in, you wonder where all the buttons have gone? Traditional dials, buttons and gauges have all been replaced by screens of different shapes and sizes. So, let’s start with the first one – the erstwhile instrument cluster, which has been replaced by a TFT screen behind the steering wheel. Now that in itself is nothing new, but Land Rover has gone to great lengths to improve the resolution and quality of this display. And it seems to have worked – even the sweep of the digital needles on the speedo and tach appear more natural than before. Plus the display for the navigation and other vehicle functions now sits in high definition between these two digital gauges – just like it does in Audi’s virtual cockpit, which has been the benchmark thus far.

There’s another 10-inch screen where you expect to find one – in the centre of the dash, right below the slim air-conditioner vents (which are also reductionist in size and shape). This screen is now used essentially for navigation, since the audio and climate controls have moved to a flowing touchscreen that sits atop the floating centre console, which extends all the way to the rotary transmission controller. While the whole thing is a glass touchscreen – the likes of which we’ve seen only on concept cars so far – it also consists of three rotary knobs. One is a traditional knob for volume, which is a welcome addition, but the other two have customizable displays within the knobs themselves. For instance, fan speed for the air conditioner is displayed within the knob, as is cabin temperature, and even the intensity of the seat massage – depending on which function you’ve selected. You can even adjust the Terrain Response system through one of the knobs.

The cabin looks so futuristic and modern that it makes even the flagship Range Rover look dated in comparison. Even the controls on the steering are touchscreen, and in some cases customizable – although in this case it’s plastic, not glass.

Sure, all this sounds horribly complicated – but it’s not! It’s actually quite intuitive, responsive and easy to use. The only trouble in India will be trying to explain it all to your chauffeur – you may just need to hire an out-of-work IT professional to drive you around. The only other problem with touchscreens is fingerprints – as we’ve seen with the latest generation Volvos, which attract fingerprints like Winnie the Pooh to a pot of honey. Land Rover engineers have gone to great lengths to design the touchscreen such that it doesn’t show up fingerprints, and – for the most part – they’ve succeeded. But, for the odd fingerprint that will inevitably show up, they also give you a microfiber cloth with the car. All the tech in the world can’t sidestep a good old-fashioned dust cloth it seems.

But we didn’t go all the way to Norway – courtesy of Land Rover – just to fiddle around with touchscreens. No, we went to drive – on tarmac of course, but also off the beaten path. This is a Land Rover after all!

Off-road cred

Sure, this is very much an urban SUV – just look at it – but in order for it to live up to its name and lineage it needs to have proper off-road cred. And that won’t be easy, considering its 22-inch rims. But, we found out very quickly indeed – both while driving up a rocky ski slope (minus the snow, of course, at this time of the year), as well as while tackling some very interesting obstacles that had been set up by the Land Rover Experience folks – that the Velar has everything it needs to get its swanky boots muddy.

In fact, with Terrain Response 2, and especially All Terrain Progress Control (ATPC), the Velar is completely idiot-proof on the rough stuff. The driver just has to select ATPC and the Velar literally drives itself. With the exception of steering, it’ll do absolutely everything itself. The surprising part is that, considering how firm the air suspension feels on the road, the articulation off-road is very impressive. Another aspect that’s impressive is the structural integrity and rigidity of this aluminium-intensive architecture.

Handy in the twisties

The other thing that’s surprising are the grip levels on any surface – from wet tarmac to slick dirt. On the road, though, it’s not as aggressive as the Porsche Macan for instance. The Land Rover engineers insist that they’re aiming more for grand touring ability rather than sports car rivalling road manners (this is a Range Rover at the end of the day), but the Velar is certainly quite handy when the roads get twisty. The front-end of the petrol variant is extremely light and responsive – it’s very happy to dart from one corner to the next at the flick of the steering. The front end of the diesel model, meanwhile, feels a bit heavier – but no less athletic.

India will get three engine options – the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, Ingenium diesel producing 177 horsepower and 430Nm, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, Ingenium petrol producing 246 horsepower and 365Nm, and the range-topping 3.0-litre V6 diesel that generates just short of 300 horses and a full 700Nm of torque. We got to drive the 3.0-litre diesel and the 3.0-litre petrol V6, which won’t make it to our shores. The V6 petrol makes 375 horses, 450Nm, and accelerates to 100km/h in 5.3 seconds – from behind the wheel, though, it doesn’t really feel that fast. Perhaps it was the muted exhaust note – especially considering that this motor crackles and pops on demand in some of its other (Jaguar) applications. Surprisingly, despite being about 80 horsepower down, it was the V6 diesel that felt the more urgent and responsive of the two. Well, I suppose 700 newton metres of pulling power can have that effect!

We didn’t get to sample either of the Ingenium engines, but they should do the job as well. The new 2.0-litre diesel is very refined and responsive, while the petrol is incredibly free-revving and urgent in its power delivery. While the V6 diesel will be the fastest of the three, the folks at Land Rover India feel that the 2.0-litre petrol could hit the sweet spot in India. And we’re inclined to agree, especially considering that the four-cylinder Velars are expected to start around the 75-lakh mark, while the V6 diesel will cross the 1-crore mark.

To describe the Velar driving experience, the one word I’d use is ‘fluid.’ All your inputs are executed absolutely seamlessly. Even when you’re hurrying down the road, the Velar seems perfectly composed and unflappable. The driver’s seat of this Range Rover is certainly a very nice place to be. The trouble, in India, will be that rear-seat room is limited.

The other concern is that, since this car is packed with so many electronics, it opens the door to an increasing number of software and sensor glitches – especially in our dusty conditions. We had a few hiccups ourselves over the course of our two days on the road. Sure, these cars have been driven very hard by unforgiving journalists from across the globe over the past several weeks, but the more electronic systems you have the more potential there is for gremlins to rear their ugly heads.

Breaking barriers

But, then, you don’t break barriers and open up new frontiers without pushing the boundaries – and that’s exactly what the Velar does. It’s literally dragging the future, kicking and screaming, into the present. With the Velar, the future is NOW – and it’s very well executed.

Bookings in India open on the 21st of September, while the launch is planned for the 23rd of November. So, mark your calendar and start saving now. Or buy that lottery ticket immediately – if you’re lucky, you could be driving into 2018 in one of the most cutting-edge machines on the market today.

 

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