Offroad warrior in an Armani suit
Range Rover Velar looks too dapper to take into the dirt, but it actually relishes the adventure
With many SUVs being such accomplished road cars these days, some owners (if not the majority) experience these vehicles’ practicality and elevated ground clearance mostly on tar. Apart from the occasional gravel road excursion or game-park drive, they don’t get to appreciate how skilful these vehicles can really be in real off-road conditions.
The Range Rover Velar almost looks too slick and well-groomed to take into the bush, like asking someone to tackle a Warrior obstacle race in their Armani suit. With its sleek shape, made more so by flush door handles that only deploy when you need them, being parked in front of a five-star hotel seems a far more natural setting for this luxury SUV than being axle-deep in a mud pit.
But as a vehicle that ultimately sprung from the loins of the dirt-munching Land Rover Defender, we set the Velar loose on a 4x4 course to discover how much of its grandfather’s adventuring ability still lingers in its DNA.
Quite a lot, as it turns out, and the Velar’s a very accomplished offroader with its active rear locking differential, intelligent all-wheel drive which continually directs power between the front and rear wheels as conditions demand, and optional air suspension that is able to raise the vehicle to an obstacle-clearing 248mm ride height. The Terrain Response system has different modes which make a notable difference to the driving characteristics depending on what type of surface is being driving on.
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On a 4x4 course I tried the gravel/snow setting up a steep hill with deep ruts and, while the Velar managed the ascent, it was with some degree of high-revving drama. Going downhill I had to use the brakes too.
I tried the same slow and rutted obstacle course again using the appropriate ruts/mud mode and it was an entirely more effortless experience, with the vehicle calmly pottering up the ascent using low revs, while the descent control system automatically slowed the vehicle downhill.
Bottom line is that during offroad adventures you don’t have to figure out which obstacles will require the engaging of low range or a diff lock, as you do with some 4x4s.
The Velar makes it easy for people not well-versed in the ways of gravel grinding. Just set it to one of the six appropriate terrain modes with one button press and the vehicle automatically shuffles the settings of the engine, transmission and all-wheel drive system to suit the turf.
The Velar’s available with several engines, but the 3.0l turbo in the top-of-the-range D300 diesel model is a powerhouse that pays little heed to steep hills. On the open tar road, where the vehicle will likely spend most of its life, it’s a smooth and swift performer with great fuel economy to boot. The consumption of 8.6l/100km is none too shabby for the performance on offer.
The Velar is a polished performer all round, with a refined demeanour that keeps its passengers well muted from external noises.
It has a supple ride on its big 20-inch wheels too, particularly when the air suspension’s set to Comfort mode. The Dynamic setting firms up the ride to limit body roll in corners, helping the big vehicle nip through curves with more agility than expected from its two tons.
Torque Vectoring reduces understeer by braking the inside wheels when cornering limits are approached.
The cabin is an elegant and hi-tech environment that doesn’t lend itself to muddy shoe prints on the carpets, a further reason that most owners probably won’t put the vehicle’s 650mm wading depth to the test.
The R-Dynamic spec, as tested here, has burnished copper bumper accents, bonnet vents and side vents. Inside, the plush cabin is given a sportier feel with satin chrome gearshift paddles and bright metal pedals.
The digitised setting uses two high-definition touchscreens to enable you to make a phone call on one screen while navigating on the other. While most of the interactions are digital, I like that there are also some knobs to twirl for those who prefer a more physical touch experience.
Size-wise, the Velar fits between the Evoque and the Range Rover Sport in the line up and at 4,8m long it’s a large vehicle with a roomy cabin and practically-sized 513l boot.
When the company first announced it was to launch a new vehicle to squeeze between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport, I questioned whether there was really a niche here.
Since then, the Velar’s become my favourite Range Rover. The brand has always married luxury with solid offroading ability, but it’s never done it with as much style.
Type: Six-cylinder diesel twin turbo
Type: Eight-speed automatic
Type: All-wheel drive
Top speed: 241km/h
0-100km/h: 6.7 seconds (claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 6.4l/100 km/100km (claimed); 8.6l/100km (as tested)
Cruise control, rear parking camera, lane keep assist, stability control, ABS brakes, roll stability control, emergency brake assist, six airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, dual-zone climate control, Matrix LED headlights with daytime running lights, powered tailgate, electrically adjustable front seats, navigation, rain-sensing wipers, all-wheel drive, six-mode Terrain Response, hill-descent control, Touch Duo Pro infotainment system with USB ports and Bluetooth, 16-speaker 835W audio system, keyless entry, electric windows, 255/50 R20 tyres
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Maintenance plan: Five years/100,000km
Lease*:R28,494 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Range Rover Velar D300 SE R Design
Performance, all-terrain ability, style
Its offroad ability may go wasted
Probably the most stylish vehicle on the adventure trails
***Value For Money
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