Admitting that he is really sorry about it, Iain Robertson has tried all manner of unguents by which to gain a truer comprehension of a car he drove firstly at its launch, subsequently on test and, now, with (hopefully) less jaundiced eyes, in mid-life revised form, except that it continues to baffle him and pretty much the entire new car scene.
Way back in the late-1960s, when Solihull-based Land Rover was contemplating its future very carefully, frankly, it had not the foggiest about how successful the (then) new Range Rover brand would be. For several months, strange Velar-badged ‘vans’ could be spotted on the typical West Midlands test routes, running between the factory and the exciting banked industry test track of MIRA, at Nuneaton. Of the couple of dozen prototypes, around ten survived and were sold, as was the way, only for them to surface in more recent times, with fast escalating values of the now classic original Range Rover continuing to hit new peaks. While original Velars are coveted, I cannot see a time, ever, when the current model will become similarly graced.
On prior occasions, I have outlined Velar’s position in the company’s heirarchy; it is sized and priced to sit above Evoque but below the all-singing-and-dancing Range Rover Sport, in the Range Rover sub-brand. Land Rover has its own mildly confusing line-up to deal with. While niche-filling may be logical, across a much broader product portfolio that might include city cars, crossovers, estates and sportscars, Land Rover’s remit is centred on indefatigable 4x4s (and, yes, I realise that an Evoque can be acquired in rare 2WD form). Filling niches in its own line-up is not just economically unviable but it serves to confuse the consumer and me to the point of distraction. In addition, a little matter of internal competition between LR and RR can seem wrong, when several models are little more than badge-engineered variants of each other. I do wonder about the impact on the larger volume models and how much is being lost to other brands also playing in the £45,000 to £75,000 range.
However, then there was the case of the ‘unreliable’ Velar. Delivered to me as a test car, its triple layout of electronic instrument panels, two in the centre console and one ahead of the driver, failed to start-up, at start-up. In fact, they did not work at all for the first 100mls I drove the Velar, which was mildly unnerving. Upon restart, they did work. Yet, later that night, when I needed headlights, they conked out quite dramatically just as I reached the non-illuminated stretch of the M42. Fortunately, it was late and traffic densities were low. Eventually, I had full beam and side lights only (no dipped beam) for the rest of the trip home. I did request a report and, when nattering with a factory engineer, I was informed that the three screens came from three different manufacturers and the problem lay with their inability to communicate…the lighting situation was a ‘glitch’, related probably to the ‘auto-on’ detector. The problem, judging by Velars left at dealerships and those deposited at the Bruntingthorpe ‘technical centre’, is that the technological issues are myriad and not restricted to screens and lamps, as the Ingenium engine range, produced in Swansea, has been responsible for innumerable VOR (vehicle off road) reports. It does appear that Land Rover’s attendance to quality assurance has slipped consistently over the years and even contracting the services of independent rectification exponents has not resolved the problems.
Naturally, it is always hoped that a revised model line-up, a second generation, can signify a resolution point. Land Rover has also undergone some internal management changes, which may go someway towards remedying the situation. The latest iteration of Velar is now much harder to discern from the Range Rover due to the larger range adopting the concealed door handles and smoother body style of the lesser model. Yet, the svelte appearance is one of Velar’s key attractions. To me, this smacks of design indolence and also a need for parts-bin sharing as a means to cut manufacturing costs and return to potential range profitability.
To be fair, this is not a total transformation of Velar, as it is more to introduce the new HST style package that has drawn-in customers for Range Rover. However, as it does present an opportunity to upgrade other packages, we have to presume that elements of corrective surgery have also been applied. Bigger gloss black alloys from 20.0-inches diameter on regular Velars and from 21.0-inches on HST versions are just the start. The new Velar range starts at £46,645 in D200 trim (2.0-litre, 204bhp TDi), with the D300 (2.0-litre, 300bhp TDi and PHEV) at £69,865, a £25k and six trim levels gap that ought to be negotiably narrower. The petrol variants start with the range extending P250 (2.0-litre, 249bhp) at £55,685, almost £10k pricier than the diesel, while the P400 (2.0-litre, 404bhp) tagged at £65,185 is another near-£10k repetitive hike. If you desire the HST, then be prepared to fork out £73,815, bearing in mind that you lose the PHEV benefits with the 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine, rated at 400bhp….and therein lies one of the issues: too many packaged models all promising but not necessarily delivering value-for-money and it is kind of conspicuous, especially as the HST, despite its performance advantages, is a whopping £18k costlier than the entry-level model. Range Rover needs to rationalise not expand its line-up.
The interior now features black suedecloth headlining and wrapped steering wheel, while a sliding panoramic roof ensures a light and airy cabin and a mix of chassis technologies ensure the perfect balance of ride comfort and handling. In fact, the HST includes electronic air suspension with adaptive damping for optimised comfort and control, the system monitoring road conditions constantly and adjusting suspension responses accordingly. It can be reconfigured by the driver to tailor the experience to suit personal preferences. While it would not be on my list of demands, Amazon Alexa can be factored into the mix, which is said to work efficaciously with the Pivi Pro touchscreen package. The tell-it-what-you-want service, as long as Alexa does not become recalcitrantly argumentative, is of course fitted at extra cost and the customer does need an existing Amazon domestic account to make it work.
Conclusion: Velar is a long estate car. It looks and is surprisingly streamlined, which helps a little with reducing operational costs, although the non-HST version with mild hybrid plug-in will provide the stirring blend of performance, with an electric-only range of around 35mls. If the company has fixed its innumerable glitches, Velar would offer that compelling price advantage over a Range Rover but it is still rather expensive.