Range Rover finds the sweet spot
Auto maker finally enters the increasingly competitive luxury mid-size fray with the 2018 Range Rover Velar
Norway in August is like Game of Thrones: The landscape is ancient with crinkle-cut mountains rising improbably out of fierce blue seas. The locals believe trolls live in the hills and I wouldn't entirely rule it out. The lush fjords look computer-generated.
It's beautiful, but cold, which is also an apt description of Range Rover's newest sport utility vehicle, the Velar. It's a modernist marvel, a cool aluminum slab rolling on 22-inch rims. Mies van der Rohe would be jealous.
So, it looks pretty, but why did Land Rover bother making the Velar? Sales of the current models are strong; the company just had its best July in Canada. Why go to the expense of making a sixth SUV?
In short, the answer is because it'll sell. Joe Eberhardt, chief executive officer of Jaguar Land Rover North America, put it more delicately: "We realized there was a white space in terms of both size and price point."
Customers weren't stepping from the $50,000 Evoque up to the $77,000 Range Rover Sport. The mid-size Velar, which starts at $62,000, fills that gap.
Land Rover would be foolish not to pitch an SUV into the luxury mid-size fray.
"It is absolutely a big part of the market, a fast-growing segment," Eberhardt said.
Which is all good, but once seated behind the wheel of the Velar, it doesn't need to justify its existence. It's simply a wonderful place to be.
It's a minimalist living room, conspicuously tidy and expensive-looking with none of the usual car clutter. It's the sort of space you might find in the pages of Dwell magazine. Such deeply considered design is the single best thing about the Velar.
Kvadrat, a Danish textile company that supplies fabric to fancy furniture companies such as Knoll and Vitra, worked with Land Rover to create a wool material for the Velar. It's used on the seats and arm rests. At $4,440, it's an expensive option – although cheaper than the $5,570 leather – but it makes the interior. Besides, it's refreshing to see alternatives to the usual leather, wood and carbon fibre.
Sitting in the cabin, you wonder where all the usual car stuff went. Where are the buttons and clutter? Most of it has been combined into two touch-screen glass panels. The top screen tilts toward the driver when the car is started. The bottom screen is a sleek black piece of glass that flows down the centre console. It controls basic functions like climate and seat controls, while the top screen does everything else.
There's a learning curve, but the screens are crisp and responsive. And there's a sense of wonder when you get in the car. It's a case of good technology being used to enable good design.
Early indications are that the Velar is doing exactly what Land Rover hoped. In Europe, where it's already on sale, 90 per cent of Velar customers are new to Land Rover, coming out of vehicles from other companies, Eberhardt said. Of existing Land Rover customers, most are stepping up to the Velar from the Evoque.
In Canada, the Velar will arrive by September. Be prepared to wait. Supply will be limited by production capacity at Land Rover's factory in Solihull, England.
The Velar is such a solid, complete package – it's so desirable – that I'd recommend it over the more expensive Range Rover Sport and even the full-size Range Rover. You probably don't need seven seats and you really don't need the V-8 engine. The Velar's supercharged V-6 is plenty. It's the complete package – a stylish, refined luxury machine that will be the envy of every parking lot. In case you haven't noticed, I really like it.
- Base price: $62,000; as tested: $95,000 (First Edition)
- Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel; 3.0-litre, supercharged V-6
- Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA
- Alternatives: Jaguar F-Pace, Range Rover Sport, Volvo XC90, BMW X4/X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Audi Q7, Lexus RX, Porsche Macan
Expect to spend about $6,000 above the basic price on interior trim, nicer wheels and satin-metallic paint if you want the Velar to look its best. Wheels up to 22 inches are available, but consider the 21- or 20-inch wheels to improve ride quality.
Not the most spacious mid-size SUV, but it has the best-looking interior in its class. Only the Volvo can rival the Velar in this regard. There's an extensive selection of leather and fabric trim options available in a huge array of colours. You can have carbon fibre woven with copper, or diamond-embossed fabric, or leather seats perforated in the pattern of the Union Flag.
The Velar is not about speed or raw performance. It handles well, with tight chassis control and supple damping, but it's meant for going places in comfort and style. We didn't get to drive the base 2.0 L turbo-diesel, but it would be a frugal option. The 3.0 L. supercharged V-6 is excellent in all Jaguar Land Rover models and it's the same here, providing 380 hp, enough for 0-100 km/h in 5.7 seconds.
Odd that Land Rover chose a mid-range model in which to debut an all-new interior, but its product line is evolving quickly. Variations on the (incongruously named) Touch Pro Duo infotainment system will proliferate across future Jaguar and Land Rover models. It certainly feels futuristic, but haptic feedback and/or pressure-sensing touch capability would help make the system less distracting. Thankfully, a proper volume knob is one of the few physical controls that remain.
The trunk is good for 673 L of cargo, or nearly 2,000 L with the rear seats folded. Maximum towing capacity is 2,500 pounds with the V-6.
The Velar finds the sweet spot in Range Rover's lineup.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.