As Jaguar prepares the global unveiling of its new E-Pace mid-sized SUV on July 13, its sister company Land Rover is about to stage the international test drive of its new Velar. We will bring you driving impressions of the Velar as soon as the embargo lifts, but in the meantime here's the lowdown on the other eagerly-awaited JLR product.
Robert Browning and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe must be required study at Land Rover these days as the design department's “less-is-more” ethic takes a vice-like grip. These two historic exemplars of simplicity in words and furniture respectively (Browning is credited with first using the phrase) are nowhere more explicit in modern car design than the new Range Rover Velar.
This, the fourth Range Rover model, fits between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport in size and price. It's also the acme of the stripped-down style evinced by Land Rover's design department under Gerry McGovern. Even the door handles sink back into the doors and the headlamps are super-narrow LED slits.
"We wanted to elevate Range Rover's design DNA to a new level," says Massimo Frascella, Land Rover's exterior creative director. "We were looking for a new level of simplicity, with the flush door handles and slim LED lights. This will do so much for Range Rover."
The Velar is a striking mid-sized, five-seat crossover vehicle, designed as family transport for the well heeled. The name, which is derived from the Latin for sail or veiled, was used on the 26 first prototypes of the original Range Rover designed by Spen King and Gordon Bashford, launched in 1970 and arguably the world's first SUV.
While McGovern and his team say there are no outside influences for the car, they tip their hat at King and Bashford's work.
"We wanted an emphasis on the classic Range Rover proportions," says Frascella. "The short front overhangs and long tail give an incredible elegance, moving the emphasis rearward like luxury yachts... There's nothing quite like it."
Based on the aluminium-intensive body frame also shared by Jaguar's F-Pace, the Velar will be on sale this summer priced at between £44,830 and £85,450 with a typical transaction price of £61,000.
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You might think that this seems like a mightily expensive embellished F-Pace, which sells for between £35,000 and £52,000, but Land Rover's marketing wonks claim the Velar parks in a £39,000-wide price gap between the £30,000-£48,000 Evoque and the £59,000-£97,000 Range Rover Sport.
This is a lower, longer vehicle than its bigger and smaller Range Rover sisters, with a lower roof height and longer wheelbase relative to length. It's 4,803mm long, on a 2,874mm wheelbase, 1,903mm wide and 1,665mm high, which is 245mm lower than the Range Rover. And while the marque has traditionally based its appeal on all-terrain authenticity, practically the Velar is a crossover and will compete against other conventional 4x4 estates and soft-roader/crossovers, so think BMW X5, Audi Q7 and A6 Allroad, Mercedes-Benz GLE-class Coupe and Volvo XC90/V90 4x4 Country.
The Velar has permanent four-wheel drive and a wading depth of 650mm, but there's no transfer box giving a set of crawler gears, while the maximum towing weight of 2.5 tonnes means it's going to be hard pressed tugging a double horsebox.
That, however, is where the market is headed, according to McGovern, as he expounds "our journey from jungle to urban jungle". There will be those using the current Discovery or old Land Rover Defenders of various stripe who will choke over their marmalade at this, but Land Rover has been remorselessly moving upmarket and abandoning the utility end of the market to the Japanese and the South Koreans, whether they like it or not.
From the dashboard back, the five-seat interior is pretty conventional in dimensions. The rear seats split 40/20/40 per cent and the top-hinged (optionally powered) hatchback opens on to 673 litres of load space with all the seats upright. The facia’s styling, however, sets new design standards, debuting new screen technology, upholstery materials and stark simplicity including the single-piece cross beam facing the front-seat passenger.
Mark Butler, creative director for interior design, says: "There was a huge push with the R&D team to take a real step forward in the technology presentation within the vehicle."
The centre console uses twin high-definition touchscreens stacked on top of each other, with the lower unit in a familiar blade configuration, and the deployable upper using motors to tilt it up and out of the top of the dashboard when the vehicle is in use.
This screen technology and the floating rotary controls are supplied by Panasonic and were introduced at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in the Japanese electronic firm's Concept Cockpit, including the twin multi-function rotary controls known at the time as Magic Knobs – since renamed Magic Rings.
Land Rover's design team has worked closely with Panasonic over the last two and half years to refine the screen technology and reduce the size of the Magic Rings.
This is the first Range Rover to offer a top-of-the-line fabric upholstery as well as leather, a choice that has long been a project for Amy Frascella, chief designer for colour and materials at JLR.
"If I take my personal viewpoint away," she says, "I still think it's the right thing to do for our customers in terms of curator choice and the changing climate - I mean that literally and figuratively. The definition of luxury materials is changing and what customers value in the products they buy is changing as well. We had to be ready for that."
The fabric is a new 30 per cent wool/70 per cent polyester mix, a first automotive commission from unpronounceable high-quality furniture fabric supplier, Kvadrat.
"They had to work very hard," says Amy, "and I have to say that they did everything we asked them to. They never said no."
She claims the salt-and-pepper-hued fabric is just as hard-wearing and easy to clean as leather and costs the same. It has passed all Land Rover's stringent tests for flammability, durability, colour stability, even its propensity to retain moisture, which can create a problem with condensation.
There's also a new man-made diamond-cut material on the seats and dashboard cross beam, which has required superlative standards of fit and finish to ensure the straightness of the pattern repeat.
Four engines will be offered; a 2.0-litre diesel producing 180 and 240PS, the tried and trusted 300PS 3.0-litre V6 diesel, the debut of Land Rover's Wolverhampton-produced 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit producing 250PS and a 380PS, 3.0-litre V6 supercharged petrol engine.
Performance across the range runs from top speeds of 130mph to 155mph, 0-60mph from 8.4sec to 5.3sec and CO2 emissions from 214g/km to 142g/km. All vehicles use ZF's eight-speed automatic gearbox in various guises.
There are five trim levels: Standard; S which costs another £5,590 and introduces 19-inch wheels, grained leather upholstery, powered driver seat, and a powered tailgate. SE costs £3,940 over the S and includes 20-inch wheels, matrix LED headlamps, 12.3-inch TFT screen and 360-degree parking view.
HSE is £6,500 more and gives 21-inch wheels, higher quality leather, power adjustable steering column, adaptive cruise control, park assist and lane keeping assist. R-Dynamic is the top model costing an additional £2,420 and there is also a fully-loaded First Edition trim level with a choice of V6 diesel or supercharged petrol engines costing £83,350 and £85,450 respectively, which is well above the cheapest Range Rover Sport (£59,700) and Range Rover (£75,850).
The Velar's design standards have demanded a close collaboration between design and engineering teams to ensure the lines of the first sketches weren't compromised. It was a similar story with the Evoque, which transitioned largely unchanged from Land Rover's 2008 LRX concept into a fully fledged production car in 2011.
Massimo Frascella says: "I think it's a great product at the end where all three disciplines were working at a very high level in terms of design. The blade, the feel of the interior, the exterior, how it's so beautiful and the materials are challenging lot of traditional conventions. It's a really awesome thing."
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