HEP­BURN ON WHEELS

The new Ve­lar is a dream drive for afi­ciona­dos of Range Rover, if they can find the door han­dle, writes SARAH ENGSTRAND

#Legend - - DRIVE -

ON THE SMALL farm I grew up on, ev­ery ve­hi­cle had to do dou­ble duty. If I was grab­bing gro­ceries, I took the SUV. If I was tak­ing horses to Florida, I used the pickup truck. If the ve­hi­cle was good-looking, it was al­ways a wel­come bonus, but never a ne­ces­sity. To my mother’s cha­grin, func­tion al­ways eclipsed form.

The new­est Range Rover, the Ve­lar, ends the con­test be­tween form and func­tion by com­bin­ing the best of both, and ush­ers in a new era for the mar­que. The Range Rover Ve­lar has the technology, feel and style of a top-of-the-line sports car, with the power, ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity and space of a mid­sized SUV. For die-hard fans, it fills a gap be­tween the Range Rover Evoque and the Range Rover Sport. The Ve­lar is the most road-savvy Range Rover yet pro­duced by Land Rover. I was lucky enough to get up close and per­sonal with the Ve­lar in Nor­way, when the maker in­tro­duced the ve­hi­cle to the

world’s mo­tor­ing me­dia. In two days I drove more than 300km along wind­ing roads, through the streets of lit­tle towns, and up and down nar­row coun­try lanes, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

The Ve­lar made its pub­lic ap­pear­ance in March. The name of the new model ac­knowl­edges the ori­gins of the Range Rover. In the late 1960s, Land Rover was work­ing on a se­cret project which was to re­sult in the Range Rover. So se­cret was the project that Land Rover co­de­named it Ve­lar, Latin for “I hide”.

The new model does away with the clas­sic, boxy shape of the Range Rover. It is sleek and per­fectly pro­por­tioned. James Watkins, who helped de­sign the Ve­lar, says the ve­hi­cle is in­tended to break tra­di­tion. “With this, we could go a lit­tle fur­ther, and cre­ate some­thing the other cars weren’t do­ing,” he says. “We cre­ated a new char­ac­ter, for a new kind of con­sumer.” The new kind of con­sumer is any­one that takes plea­sure in the de­tails, Watkins says.

De­sign­ing the Ve­lar took about five years of painstak­ing work. The re­sult is an el­e­gant ex­te­rior, verg­ing on the sporty, with long, clean lines and strong, taut sur­faces. It’s a fierce-looking but sexy ad­di­tion to the Range Rover sta­ble, made spe­cially for a gen­er­a­tion of tech-minded, qual­ity-con­scious driv­ers.

Looking at the Ve­lar, I had the feel­ing at first that some­thing was lack­ing. I couldn’t put my fin­ger on what it was un­til I reached out to open the door – there was no han­dle, or at least none that was ob­vi­ous. Watkins has an aver­sion to door han­dles, re­fer­ring to them as “eye­sores” and

“ugly things”. The door han­dles of the Ve­lar pop out only when needed, af­ter­wards re­tract­ing to sit flush with the out­side of the door, giv­ing the ex­te­rior sur­face of ve­hi­cle a smooth, un­in­ter­rupted ap­pear­ance.

Like other as­pects of the Ve­lar, the ab­sence of ob­vi­ous door han­dles is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the meld­ing of aes­thet­ics and en­gi­neer­ing, an achieve­ment which will keep the ve­hi­cle at the top of its league for years to come. It is an achieve­ment that has helped make the Ve­lar the most aero­dy­namic ve­hi­cle Land Rover has yet pro­duced, with a drag co­ef­fi­cient of 0.32, which means it uses fuel more ef­fi­ciently. The four­cylin­der, 2.0-litre diesel, gen­er­at­ing 177 horse­power, is the least thirsty of the engine con­fig­u­ra­tions.

Sleek­ness doesn’t mean fragility. Watkins says the dis­ap­pear­ing door han­dles, for example, func­tion prop­erly in the most ex­treme con­di­tions, “We’ve been cov­er­ing them in ice and they still work. Be­sides looking

cool, the Ve­lar is thor­oughly en­gi­neered. It can never just be a style thing for us – it has to work.”

The meld­ing of form and func­tion ex­tends to the in­te­rior of the Ve­lar, so it feels more like you’re sit­ting in a spa than a car. In­side, the ve­hi­cle is spa­cious and calm­ing, a sort of sanctuary from the road out­side. There are two 25-cm, state-of-the-art touch-screens. The com­fort­able seats will of­fer you a mas­sage. The colour scheme and light­ing are neu­tral. If it had a cof­feemaker, you could stay there all day.

The guid­ing prin­ci­pal for the de­sign­ers of the Ve­lar was re­duc­tion­ism: noth­ing, in­side or out, is un­nec­es­sary or gra­tu­itous. The ve­hi­cle is re­fined to the point where its so­phis­ti­ca­tion lies in its sim­plic­ity and sim­plic­ity lies in its so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Yet the ve­hi­cle is highly cus­tomis­able. You can opt for a leather in­te­rior or for beau­ti­fully wo­ven fab­rics. Out­side, you can even add cop­per de­tail­ing to the vents on the bon­net.

Gone is the plethora of switches and di­als that usu­ally clut­ter up a dash­board, re­placed by two screens. The top screen, the an­gle of which can be ad­justed to make it easy to read, dis­plays in­for­ma­tion needed for nav­i­gat­ing, mak­ing phone calls and play­ing mu­sic. The nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem that can keep any­one you wish in­formed of the progress of your jour­ney, even giv­ing an es­ti­mated time of ar­rival. The bot­tom screen dis­plays all you need to know to ad­just the cli­mate in the ve­hi­cle and the set­tings for off-road driv­ing, of which there are four. The Wi-Fi hotspot can serve up to eight de­vices. There are USB ports ev­ery­where.

While driv­ing, it was the wind­screen dis­play that im­pressed me most. It clearly shows your route as plot­ted by the GPS sys­tem, your speed and the speed limit so your eyes are al­ways on the road. It may sound a bit too much to cope with but if you’ve used an iPhone, you can use the gad­getry in the Ve­lar. It is largely in­tu­itive and can be mas­tered in a few min­utes.

“We’ve been cov­er­ing them in ice and they still work. Be­sides looking cool, the Ve­lar is thor­oughly en­gi­neered. It can never just be a style thing for us – it has to work” JAMES WATKINS

The ad­ven­tur­ous driver can rest as­sured the Ve­lar hasn’t strayed too far from its Land Rover ori­gins. The sus­pen­sion and technology ap­plied give the ve­hi­cle al­most un­be­liev­able cross­coun­try ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The touch-screens give plenty of op­tions for adapt­ing the per­for­mance of the ve­hi­cle to the ter­rain it is cross­ing, al­low­ing you to glide over rocky sur­faces, plough through sand, slosh through wa­ter over half a me­tre deep and climb up or down the most in­tim­i­dat­ing of slopes. The ground clear­ance is 251mm, mak­ing scrap­ing the bot­tom a dis­tant worry.

The Ve­lar per­forms just as beau­ti­fully on sur­faced roads. In this re­spect it is the best ve­hi­cle yet in the Range Rover sta­ble. Zip­ping around the rain-washed curves of Nor­we­gian coun­try roads, it hugged the sur­face, even on hair-pin bends. Steer­ing re­quires zero ef­fort.

The air sus­pen­sion sys­tem means you barely feel any bumps in the road. Nor­way is no­to­ri­ous for its strict­ness in en­forc­ing speed lim­its, so I was thank­ful for the cruise con­trol. Al­though the Ve­lar feels in­side like a full-size SUV, it is re­ally rather a com­pact ve­hi­cle and it squeezed com­fort­ably into Nor­we­gian coun­try lanes.

The Range Rover Ve­lar com­bines the best of technology for mak­ing driv­ing an ef­fort­less plea­sure with the dura­bil­ity and func­tion­al­ity that Land Rover is known for. The ve­hi­cle is a shin­ing example of what can be achieved by the ju­di­cious in­ter­weav­ing of aes­thet­ics and en­gi­neer­ing. Asked who the Ve­lar would be if it were hu­man, Watkins says: “Some­one with in­her­ent style, poise and el­e­gance; maybe some­one like Au­drey Hep­burn.”

See the Ve­lar ne­go­ti­ate the Range Rover ob­sta­cle course at hash­ta­gle­gend.com

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