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1st March 2017

The ‘secret’ name returns as the softest but sportiest Range Rover yet was launched in London tonight

The Velar we know and love had a hose-out interior and a four-speed manual ’box. It was rugged and go-anywhere, full of purpose, but it was a secret – hence the name, taken from the Latin for to veil or hide. It turned into the Range Rover, and hence contributed to Land Rover’s survival and success for the following 40-odd years.

Now, a new Velar is out in the open. Of course our instinct is to think it’s another instance of Land Rover going a bit, well, soft. New Defender still hasn’t been seen, and won’t be for another year, and yet here’s another new model that absolutely isn’t a Defender.

But this is how Land Rover as a company will survive. New Velar is part of that; plugging a gap that you might not think existed in the first place. But it did, and without Velar, that gap would be filled with Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches, sitting between Evoque and the now comparatively crude-looking Range Rover Sport, not just in size but in price terms. An Evoque costs between £30,600 to £48,200 with a typical Evoque customer paying £39,000. A Range Rover Sport buyer shells out an average £72,000, though prices range from £59,700 to £96,900. Land Rover thinks the new Velar will typically sell for £61,000 – the starting point will be £44,830 up to £72,630 for a top-spec model (and £84,000 for a special first edition). Big numbers but you can see where it fits in.

The Velar will be the least capable off-road of any of the current range, but then seeing as, in the hands of most of us, all Land Rovers are significantly better than any previous models, that’s not disastrous. It’s light, powerful, capable and arguably the best-looking vehicle in the Land Rover line-up, which was very much Land Rover’s aim.

Brace yourselves then, because there’s a fair amount of design speak that accompanies its release, not least of which is chief design officer Gerry McGovern’s latest catchphrase ‘reductionism’. What does this mean you ask, eyeballs rolling? Here’s what Gerry says: “If there’s a line you can take off a vehicle, and it doesn’t make a difference, then it shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

Nonsense? Actually, compare the Velar with an Evoque, a Range Rover Sport, anything really, and it truly does have the cleanest lines of just about any production vehicle on the market, not just outside but inside too. It’s the lowest Range Rover ever, and the most aerodynamic (with a Cd of 0.32).

“We were obsessional,” says Gerry. “The glazing is as flush as possible, I want absolutely minimal panel gaps. It even has flush deployable door handles.” 

All Land Rover’s signature design cues are still in place though, like the characteristic belt line around the bodywork, defined by the clamshell bonnet and the line below the windows, punctuated by the tapering sides of the front and rear lights.

Below this beltline are the smoothest sides an SUV has got away with so far, helped by the high sills. Above it is a ‘floating’ roof, just like the original Range Rover’s (or, indeed, Velar’s). The HSE model gets a coloured roof, the Dynamic gets a black roof; both have two neat rear vents in the rear spoiler.

The front grille fits in with the rest of the Range Rover family’s but that ‘reductionism’ was applied to that too, and the engineers talk of crazy fights to reduce the height of the headlights by 40 per cent, demanding new standards of manufacturing and design from French lighting manufacturer Valeo. They’re LED lights, with an option of a laser 
high beam.

Like the Range Rover, the Velar’s body and structure is all-aluminium, setting it apart from the new Discovery, which uses steel chassis members in places. It’s roughly the same as the new Jaguar F-Pace under the skin, with twin-wishbone front and integral link rear, but re-engineered for Land Rover, so that 84 per cent of the chassis is unique to the Velar, and the engine is longitudinal rather than transverse. Most models will be on air suspension but those lower down in the range will be on coils, and so miss out on the useful 100mm possible lift for off-roading. Ground clearance is 251 mm, it can wade up to 650cm and there’s the usual Terrain Response and Wade Sensing systems built in.

Does it drive like a Range Rover we ask vehicle line director Kev Stride. “Oh yes,” he insists. “Refinement was our key goal. There’s a remarkable precision to the way it feels.”

No surprises on the mechanical side: six engine options, from the 180PS (177bhp) diesel four-cylinder to a 300PS (296bhp) diesel and a 380PS (375bhp) petrol V6. The transmission is the familiar eight-speed ZF auto, with a lockable rear diff. In normal driving it will run mostly in rear-wheel drive but it’s capable of sending up to 90 per cent of the torque to the front wheels when necessary.

And the interior? Radically different from anything we’ve seen before. Whatever you think of the term ‘reductionism’, you can clearly see the effect inside. With ignition off, the instruments, fascia and centre console are smooth, shiny black. ‘Secret ’til Lit’ is how the designers refer to it. Fire it up, and digital instruments, steering wheel controls, twin touchscreens and touch-sensitive buttons come to life as the now familiar round gear selector rises from the centre console. Even if you’re thinking that this won’t be easy to fix in years to come, it does look stunning.

The upper touchscreen runs the navigations and in-car entertainment, while all vehicle controls are set using the lower screen, via ‘magic dial’ controls. All the traditional leather and wood interior options will be available but there are also new materials on the way, including a leather alternative that’s made from recycled plastic but feels as soft as Alcantara.

A decade ago we were bemoaning the deletion of the Defender’s bulkhead vents; now Land Rover is leading the world on new technologies. It’s a funny old world, and there are days when we don’t like it, but you’ve got to feel proud that Land Rover has built on its Defender and original Velar concept roots to beat other manufacturers at their own games, while still building in class-leading off-road ability.

By David Lillywhite

What's in a name? 

There has always been a lot of misunderstanding about the origins of the ‘Velar’ name. For many years, the general consensus seemed to be that it came from ‘V Eight Land Rover’, and indeed this explanation has appeared in a number of books on the history of Rover and the Range Rover.

The truth is that Mike Dunn, an ex-Alvis engineer (Alvis had been acquired by Rover in 1965), was asked to create a name containing letters from the words ‘Rover’ and ‘Alvis’ that could be used to hide the identity of the prototype of the new Rover P6BS mid-engined sports car that he was working on.

The Velar name was then applied to the Range Rover prototypes when they were out and about on public roads. Many years later Geof Miller, the lead engineer on what at the time was known as the ‘100 inch Station Wagon’ project, explained that Mike’s knowledge of the Italian and Spanish languages, plus a sense of the secrecy and conspiracy surrounding prototype new vehicles, led him to the word Velar, which in Italian means ‘to veil, to cover’ and in Spanish means ‘to look over, to watch over, to keep vigil’.

By Gary Pusey

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