CAPABLE: The Range Rover Velar looks likely to be an urban favourite when it arrives in SA. Picture: DAVID SHEPHERD/LAND ROVER
CAPABLE: The Range Rover Velar looks likely to be an urban favourite when it arrives in SA. Picture: DAVID SHEPHERD/LAND ROVER

We were given an exclusive preview of the upcoming Range Rover Velar in February. Nothing could be recorded, phones were confiscated but in a small courtyard at Jaguar Land Rover’s UK headquarters, we stood alongside chief design officer Gerry McGovern to watch the prototype wheel into view.

The near-production-ready car was parked beside an early clay rendition and the striking thing about the two was that they were virtually identical.

"We call the Velar the avantgarde Range Rover. It brings a new dimension of glamour, modernity and elegance to the brand. The Range Rover Velar changes everything," McGovern said.

Fast forward six months and we’re in Norway for the global media drive and once again, it looks the same. Those razorsharp shut lines, the retracting door handles, the elegantly thin LED headlamps and overall long proportions of the early clay prototype had all made it into production.

Slotting above the Evoque and below the Sport, the Velar will almost certainly be the biggest-selling model of the range, catering more to the on-road suburbanites than the hard-core off-roaders, yet still capable under most conditions.

The name Velar pays homage to the first Range Rover prototype before pre-production mules were dressed in camo paint and followed by hordes of paparazzi. The team simply badged it Velar to throw the press and other manufacturers off during testing. The word comes from the Latin "velaris", meaning to veil or cover, but it was also easy to quickly make a badge using letters from a Rover 3500 badge and modify the letter E to be an L and invert the letter V to make the A. Velar was born.

While few will ever try it, the Velar still shows it has Land Rover DNA off-road. Picture: DAVID SHEPHERD/LAND ROVER
While few will ever try it, the Velar still shows it has Land Rover DNA off-road. Picture: DAVID SHEPHERD/LAND ROVER

Evoque has been a huge success for the company, bringing new people to the brand and it’s expected that Velar will do the same for those who don’t want to commit to the full-size Range Rover but are attracted to the brand nonetheless.

The investment Jaguar put into developing the F-Pace was always going to be shared with Range Rover, so it’s no surprise to know that Velar shares the same underpinnings and footprint, yet they feel quite different from behind the wheel.

Whereas the F-Pace has a very car-like feel, Velar feels as though it sits taller and rolls a bit more through corners, a bit like the larger Range Rovers. It’s a plush ride and despite being more road-focused like the Evoque and less off-road like the Rangie Sport, it feels more accommodating at handling the rough stuff than the Jag.

The model we tested was the 3.0l, supercharged V6 petrol which produces 280kW at 6,500r/min and 450Nm at 3,500r/min and like all Velars, runs through an eight-speed auto transmission with paddle shifters.

Other engine options include two variations of the 2.0l turbo four-cylinder petrol putting out 184kW and 221kW as well as two diesel four-cylinder turbos and a diesel V6 turbo.

At 1,884kg, the company claims the V6 gets from 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds and tops out at 250km/h.

Like the F-Pace, its all-wheel drive system is heavily rear-wheel drive biased with no transfer case or low range like its bigger brothers. It only calls upon the front wheels when traction is needed. Likewise with the traditional Range Rovers, there’s no manually centre-locked diff, but all three diffs do lock up as they detect wheel slip, which can be monitored on board through one of the centre screen displays.

Velar also includes Land Rover’s Terrain Response System (TRS), which works its magic depending on whether you’re driving across rocks, snow, sand, mud or sealed roads. The drive was a mix of on-road and gravel fire trails that included a steep climb to the top of a ski field, which in winter is only accessible by chair lift or snowmobile.

It crawled effortlessly in low gear, finding grip as the rocks dislodged and on the way back down it was a solid 15-20 minutes where I left it in hill descent mode and let it crawl its own way without touching the pedals. At the bottom a brief wading exercise through a creek up to mid-door height confirmed its ability to cross rivers even with roasting hot brakes from the long descent.

The interior combines typical Range Rover luxury with some new tech. Picture: DAVID SHEPHERD/LAND ROVER
The interior combines typical Range Rover luxury with some new tech. Picture: DAVID SHEPHERD/LAND ROVER

Once back on the bitumen it was a flick of the TRS system back to the Road setting and lowering the ride height and we were good to go for another few hours of supremely comfortable highway touring.

I challenge anyone to not love the style of the Velar inside or out. Externally it retains the trademark Range Rover continuous belt line and floating roof but the matrix-laser LED headlights, thin shut lines and the burnished copper detailing along the side, bonnet vents and front bumper are exquisite. On their own, they’re small details but when combined, give the feeling of wearing a beautifully crafted watch.

Easily one of the best interiors I’ve seen in the past decade, the Velar’s cabin is about simplicity, yet still opulent. Dominated by three large hi-res screens, there are no buttons and just two dials and its not until everything lights up that you get the full picture. It was instinctive and immediately comfortable.

The two, 10-inch touchscreens control everything from volume to driving settings via a digital display that changes according to each function selected.

Possibly sparked by the influence of the company’s Indian owner Ratan Tata, the Velar also features what’s been dubbed as a "vegan option" interior which, if you’re inclined to stay away from the traditional leather cow hides, is a premium fabric from Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat comprising a wool-blend fabric with suede cloth inserts made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s another area that shows the Velar could actually be the game-changer its makers promised it would be from the start.

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