First Drive: 2017 Range Rover Velar

First Drive: 2017 Range Rover Velar

The name “Velar” conjures up thoughts of glamorous and exotic trappings. But I would be lying if I said I knew what the word meant until 30 minutes before writing this story.

A dictionary says the word pertains to a veil of sorts — derived from the Latin word velare — which means to hide.

Land Rover did the opposite at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit last week, when it took the wraps off its Range Rover Velar for the first time on local soil for the edification of selected members of the motoring press.

Until then we had only had a chance to see the model in the cold blue light of a computer screen. Having seen it in the flesh, as it were, we can now confirm that it delivers on its formidable digital promise. The model will go on display at Sandton City in Johannesburg later this month, as part of a special campaign by the manufacturer.

But apart from waxing lyrical about the way it looks, we can also tell you what it’s like to drive, having been allowed a quick stint behind the wheel.

Let’s face it, though: this is going to be a hit among the well-heeled set with a penchant for the finer things.

Never mind that it’s another product that may fuel the notion that Land Rover and its luxury sub-brand have moved into the business of creating accessories, rather than authentic terrain-mashers. To its credit, Land Rover has proved that even though its products might appear softer, the off-road abilities remain an integral part of these cars. That excludes the Discovery Sport and Evoque, of course.

The Velar occupies an interesting spot in the Range Rover lineup. It slots in above the Evoque but is a cut below the Range Rover Sport and the regular, original, Queen of England-favoured flagship version.

It shares most of its architecture with the Jaguar F-PACE, a car we’ve praised on these pages before, notably for its dynamic adeptness. How does that translate into Range Rover format? After a familiarisation lap of Kyalami, it was clear that the Velar was designed to err less on the sporting side.

An obvious deduction perhaps, as it needs to stay true to the sumptuous, cosseting tenets of a Range Rover. And it simply can’t be positioned as more performance-oriented than the bigger Sport model — although you might find that it actually is quite sporty, should you have the chance to drive them back-to-back. The Velar weighs less, after all. Just make a note that it lacks some of the bundu-bashing hardware of the larger Sport, although you can still have four-corner air suspension.

Our stint was behind the wheel of the full-cream R-Dynamic HSE version. This is powered by Jaguar Land Rover’s supercharged 3.0-litre V6 engine which, in the chronicles of automotive journalism, has been described on more than one occasion as “fruity”. Yes, this is a rather sweet engine — both in terms of acoustics and pace. An eight-speed automatic transmission shifts the grunt (280kW and 450Nm) while the manufacturer claims a sprint time of 5.7seconds, if you were curious.

The digital interface inside could be described as a game-changer for the manufacturer. The transition from conventional switchgear to screen-based infotainment systems is inevitable. And you’re not going to find many buttons on the fascia of this rakish Range Rover.

We’ve always criticised Jaguar Land Rover’s digital interfaces for being unresponsive and lacking the display clarity boasted by peers. It seems the manufacturer has heeded the recommendations, because this Touch Pro Duo system appeared impressive during our initial interaction. Granted, it was a brief one and we look forward to giving it closer scrutiny.

The system will filter into the rest of the Jaguar Land Rover range in the fullness of time.

While the digital aspect might be new, the appointments through the rest of the cabin are familiar. High-quality leathers and trims abound. The steering wheel is sizable. And the driving position is ideally suited to sneering haughtily at those in lesser vehicles. Cue Rowan Atkinson’s famous impression of a Range Rover driver on that memorable episode of the old Top Gear.

Range Rover ownership has never been billed as affordable. But ever-rising prices and the disparity that results in the model lineup mean the manufacturer has to keep interest stimulated. That’s what the Velar does. And at just under R1-million — R947 700 — it wouldn’t be surprising if it encroached on the territory of the heftier, pricier Sport model. – Brenwin Naidu