Every now and then, a manufacturer brings out a model, to fill in a certain niche with its presence - to join the party, so to speak. Such is the case with Range Rover Evoque. This however, whether intentionally or not, created a gap in the brand's lineup.
The Range Rover Sport is quite a lot bigger than the small Evoque. And this is exactly where the Velar comes in. I have to say, this automobile fills in the role of a mid-size SUV quite well. But that's not all there is to it.
This one wants to be more than just a middle child of the Range Rover family. It claims to be a sport SUV. Now, every time I hear such claims regarding a full-size saloon or an SUV, I say to myself "When are the marketing guys going to cut this crap?"
There is no such thing as a sports SUV or a sports saloon in my book. At best we can talk about a perfect compromise between comfort and sport. And here, we need to make an important distinction between a proper sports car and a sport SUV / sport saloon.
Being an SUV, you still get the higher, than a normal car, center of gravity, and although it's much wider than it is tall (2041 mm vs 1665 mm) don't expect GTR-like reflexes in the corners. That said, the driving dynamics are extraordinary, for this type of vehicle.
The turn in is quite crisp and you only get a small amount of the typical SUV wobbliness, when you get near the grip and chassis limits. Especially in "Dynamic mode" where the suspension stiffens up, and the throttle and steering wheel inputs sharpen up.
The ride is a near perfect compromise between comfort and sport, although the smaller road imperfections are a bit more noticeable at times. You do get a surprising amount of performance in return, however. So it is a fair deal.
The task of, keeping you glued to the seat is entrusted to a 300 hp, 400 Nm...4 cylinder. Wait, wait! Yes, we didn't get the Supercharged 3.0 V6, which I really enjoyed in the F-Type S awhile back.
Instead, we had the 2.0 liter Turbocharged unit, from the Ingenium lineup, advertised for its smoothness. And although the way it develops power is more linear than I expected, the sound was....a bit dreary.
Some of the numbers might get your attention though. 0-100 km/h in 6.0 seconds is a bold claim, but we weren't far from it. The car wasn't broken in too.
The engine has plenty of torque, and the gearbox, in dynamic mode, shifts surprisingly quick for an old-school torque converter. It is a bit dim-witted though. When your right foot changes position more often. It just doesn't know what to do, at times.
The manufacturer promises a top speed of 234 km/h. After having the chance to push the car on a few occasions, with speeds of well-over 140 km/h, I am inclined to believe that.
When you're in "Dynamic mode" the car really wants to be driven hard. After Kickdown, the engine stays in the higher rev range for a while, just in case you decide to floor it again.
On the other hand, you can just as easily cruise at 100 kmh, at about 1 700 rpm, achieving the promised sub 7 liter / 100 km (approx 41 UK mpg) fuel consumption on the highway.
It is an SUV, after all, so we have to mention practicality and space. I was surprised to discover, that Velar's rear seats have just as much room in the foot well, as the Volvo XC90. Head room is not as generous, but is still enough, even for someone of my statue.
Cargo space is generous though, with a minimum of 673 liters, and up to 1 731, if you pull down the back seats. All this practicality is wrapped in elegant and contemporary body lines. Imagine having a friend, who is sophisticated and well-mannered gentlemen, but you can still ask him to help carry your furniture, and have a few beers with, after.
Of course interior styling is just as important, if not more, as the exterior. Once again, I'm happy to say, they did a good job. The cabin is dominated by high quality materials, with decent amount of leather, aluminium, and even more exotic materials, depending on how you spec your Velar.
It really manages to recreate that "Club atmosphere". More specifically one of those places with live jazz music, and you suddenly want to sit back, relax, and sip a glass of bourbon...Not while driving of course.
Impressive how they've managed to achieve a perfect blend of Baroque style and modern technology. Almost every interactive aspect in the cabin is digital. You get a digital instrument cluster - no surprise there, you have two center console touchscreens, on one of which you can adjust the angle. Even the buttons on the steering wheel are small displays, which change depending on which menu you're in.
It might look a bit overwhelming for some, but spend some time, messing about with the menus, and you'll see they are actually quite intuitive. The upper screen takes care of the more basic menus - navigation, media, and so on. The lower one is where the madness happens.
This is where you get your Drive modes, Air con, heated seat controls and other stuff you can adjust to your preference. The screen itself is a bit distracting, because of its positioning, and is by far not the most responsive.
Fear not! For I have found a way to navigate through chaos.! The two rotating selectors at the bottom will make your life a lot easier. In my opinion, the best way to work with all this is to limit your screen interaction, to the upper (main) menus. From there everything else can be adjusted through those two selectors.
The Range Rover Velar suffers from a bit of a split personality. And yet, it works! It's trying hard to be more than an SUV, to be thrilling to drive. And it manages to pull it off somehow. But on the other hand, it's not running from its nature.
Yes, it may cost as much as the Volvo XC90 D5 Mild Hybrid, I drove a week earlier - 77 000 EUR, but the Velar showed me something. It made me believe, that you can actually have a bit of fun, even behind the wheel of an SUV.