The supercharged Range Rover Velar is a proper luxury SUV
The Range Rover Velar might not present itself as a true off-roader, but it capitalises on the marque's luxury chops perfectly.
Traditionally, Range Rovers have always been about blending two things – incredible off-road performance, and combining it with interiors and styling that are the pinnacle of luxury. But when the company broke with tradition to begin offering the Evoque in 2011 and it became rather a runaway success, it proved that there was a place under the Range Rover umbrella for more stylish and less off-roady models such as this, the Velar, which joined the range in 2017.
Sharing a platform with the Jaguar F-Pace, the considerably more expensive Velar might share its engines and all-wheel drive system with the big cat, but it does serve up a distinctly more premium interior, plusher ride, and even bolder exterior styling in exchange for the extra spend.
Since its launch, the Velar lineup has drawn some heat for being too complicated, as there were an overwhelming 41 different engine and trim level combinations available at launch. That’s why for 2020, the range is being pared back to a far more reasonable 13 variants, with the more potent engines now reserved for higher trim specifications.
The Velar P380 SE you see here, however, is a 2019 model and it, unfortunately for the sake of the relevance of this article, is one of the variants that has been culled from the range, and while you’ll still be able to get this engine and this trim level, you just won’t be able to get them together anymore, but given my test car was fitted with over $22,000 worth of options, it felt closer to the one-step-up HSE in spec anyway, so given the customisation options that do still exist, I’d just disregard the badge on the back all together.
Around half the extra spend on this particular Velar related to the seats alone, but trust me when I say that the upgrade to the 20-way adjustable front seats with heating, cooling, memory, and massage functions ($8150 with heated rear seats thrown in as well) finished in premium suedecloth (part of the $2500 Premium Textile Pack that also adds a suedecloth steering wheel with satin chrome paddle shifters) is absolutely worth it. Some may think they’re just a gimmick, but you really don’t know modern luxury until you’ve sat in a massage seat, especially ones that massage you as well as these.
While I will make a rare exception to justify such expensive options as it truly does elevate this interior to the next level, there are some items on the options list I do take issue with. $940 for digital radio? $520 for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? $890 for privacy glass? Seriously? These are all standard on many hatchbacks these days. And then there’s the Off-Road Pack, which includes the All Terrain Progress Control and Terrain Response 2 systems, that will cost you an extra $1700. I know it might be built primarily for swanky shopping centre carparks, hence why I photographed it in one, but on a car bearing a badge with such off-roading pedigree, it really should be standard.
Options list qualms aside, however, there’s very little to complain about when it comes to the Velar’s interior as it’s a fabulous place to be. It’s a tremendously comfortable place to spend time in, as was evidenced on a day trip out to the Barossa with some friends to help one of them buy a GC8 Subaru WRX – which I should have an article out on soon – which exemplified just how capably and comfortably it’ll fit three big guys in on a long drive.
If there was one complaint from that trip though, it’s that there could be just a little bit more in the way of rear legroom, although it's not too bad as is, and we all agreed that we’d happily see the size of the massive boot reduced to push the rear bench further back, but otherwise, it was a more-than-pleasant journey and showed the Velar right in its comfort zone.
There’s certainly no lack of in-cabin entertainment given its three massive screens, including one for the gauge cluster which has multiple configurations including a full map view, and the very slick InControl Touch Pro Duo dual-screen infotainment system which gives the centre console an incredibly slick look.
It’s a nice system to use and the graphics are mighty impressive compared to JLR infotainment from even a handful of years ago, although the system did crash on me at one point, requiring the whole car to be turned off and on again – any IT Crowd fans reading will know this to be the only right method – to solve the issue, and that’s not the first time I’ve experienced this in a Velar, either. I have no complaints about the 825W Meridian audio system though, which is one of the very best around right now as it offers multiple surround sound programs, including my personal favourite, DTS.
Although the pricier premium materials package did lift the interior quality even further, there’s not a harsh material to be felt anywhere inside, as even the inside of the door pockets are carpeted. In this particular spec especially, from the grained wood trim on the doors to the combination grey cloth and white suedecloth upholstery with Union Jack perforation also seen on the aluminium speaker grilles, it not only feels premium but clearly looks it, too.
And let’s not forget that stunning exterior, which the interior complements perfectly, as while most SUVs tend to look a little ungainly once they reach a certain size, the Velar looks properly gorgeous. Only the F-Pace it’s based on comes even close to looking as good as good as this, as it’s clearly one of the very best looking SUVs around.
While there’s a broad range of four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines available for the Velar, the P380 is the one you really want from the normal range, as it’s largely the same 3.0-litre supercharged petrol V6 found under the bonnet of the Jaguar F-Type, if with more relaxed throttle response, slightly less torque, and a less raucous but equally musical exhaust note.
Producing a hefty 280kW and 450Nm, it’s enough to launch this 1954kg barge from 0-100km/h in an impressive 5.7 seconds, not that you really feel that it’s so brisk as its incredible smoothness and refinement, combined with its impressive sound insulation, means that you never really feel like you’re going as fast as you are.
Hooked up to a silky-smooth ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, it’s a remarkably supple driveline, which complements the smooth ride of its absorbent air-cushioned suspension.
While the air-ride does offer the added benefit of being able to raise the car up for some mild off-roading, it’s most in its element on country roads where it makes even the worst surfaces feel as smooth as butter. Its softness might not make it the sharpest through the corners, although it does handle perfectly fine, but for the comfort factor it offers, I’ll happily take it over sporty dynamics and a firmer ride in a big SUV like this.
But that muscular engine is the real star of the show as it makes progress feel absolutely effortless. It might not be what you'd call fuel efficient, as it chugged an indicated 11.5L/100km during the 500km I spent behind the wheel, but it pulls very strongly throughout the entire rev range which makes overtaking a breeze and helps it sit happily at high speeds, all while making a fantastic noise as you’re doing it, with the creamy exhaust note complemented perfectly by the supercharger whine on-throttle.
While at a starting price of $108,702 for this now-non-existent P380 SE, which was bumped up to $131,597 with options on this car, it’s not what the average person would call a bargain in any way, but much like the similarly-priced BMW X7, it’s a car that stands out to me personally as being totally worth it for the sort of buyer it’s aimed at.
Great to look at, great to be in, and great to drive, the Velar might not be the off-roading beast you’d typically expect a Range Rover to be, but as something that unashamedly capitalises on the marque’s luxury chops, it’s right on the money for what it's aiming to be in my eyes.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on December 31, 2019. The car tested here was provided by Jaguar Land Rover for a week with a full tank of fuel.