‘Form over func­tion for ever!’

With swish looks, Bond-style gad­gets and twin touch screens, our man could barely keep his eyes on the road

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CONTENTS - CHRIS EVANS

Land Rover Ve­lar R-Dy­namic HSE ★★★★★

Ilike your hair longer,’ said who, af­ter see­ing me on the telly box last Sun­day in­tro­duc­ing Take That at Hyde Park? My mum? My daugh­ter? My best mate Paulo from Por­tu­gal? Ac­tu­ally, none of the above but good ol’ Peter Kay. The great ob­server rarely fails to no­tice even the most sub­tle changes in his ever more para­noid show­biz pals. ‘And I loved the fact that you dis­tilled all those fancy fig­ures about mil­lions of record sales into “what all this ba­si­cally means is, they’ve got the songs”.’ Right again, pal – that’s pre­cisely the sen­ti­ment I wanted to get across.

There’s an art to pack­ing stacks of mean­ing into the short­est of lines – and I’m very much still a beginner here – but the man who al­ways im­presses in this re­gard is Bear Grylls. Any show with Bear re­ceives ma­jor re­spect in our house re­gard­less, but what I re­ally love is the way he loads even the briefest piece to cam­era or voiceover with heaps of knowl­edge, in­for­ma­tion and back story. None of which is by ac­ci­dent, I can as­sure you. Bear and his team will have burnt much mid­night oil to en­sure that every ounce of ver­biage is culled from each script.

And while we’re on the sub­ject, did I ever men­tion the time Bear in­vited me to join him on one of his Run­ning Wild ad­ven­tures? I couldn’t make the dates work so Mi­randa Hart ended up go­ing in­stead. Since when he’s moved onto such Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters as Ben Stiller and Will Fer­rell, not to men­tion ex-pres Oba­ma­rama. Why am I sens­ing this op­por­tu­nity is now per­ma­nently lost?

And so to the Bear Grylls of the car world. Is there any car you’d rather be in should the smelly stuff hit the fan than a Range Rover? No, me nei­ther. And my, ain’t this new fella a hand­some devil? The Ve­lar is a brand-new ad­di­tion to the Jaguar Land Rover fam­ily, hov­er­ing some­where just be­low the Vogue, while look­ing ever so slightly down its shiny aquiline nose at the Sport and Evoque.

Un­de­ni­ably good-look­ing, even to the most dis­cern­ing eye, what I ini­tially couldn’t fig­ure out was whether this is a big car de­signed to look small, or just a smaller car than I’d been ex­pect­ing. The one thing I was left in no doubt at all about, how­ever, af­ter just a halfhour be­hind the wheel, was the num­ber of death stares I could ex­pect to en­counter dur­ing the week. All of which came from cur­rent Range Rover own­ers. All of whom, I pre­sume, were think­ing: ‘How come I parted with a pot load of cash for some­thing a lot less at­trac­tive than what that smuggo is driv­ing?’ Oops.

The Ve­lar slopes from back to front, like no other Range Rover or Land Rover has ever sloped be­fore. That’s the good news. The bad news is that be­cause of this it’s quite dark in­side, doesn’t seem to be able to ac­com­mo­date a sun­roof and has A pil­lars the size of Pop­eye’s fore­arms re­strict­ing the driver’s view. Never be­fore has form up­staged func­tion to such an ex­tent on the very car whose whole birthright is based on the pre­cise op­po­site phi­los­o­phy. And it doesn’t stop there. The sump­tu­ous in­te­rior is also caus­ing jaws to drop to the floor. Thanks in the main to not one but two sexy touch screens. The up­per for con­tact with the out­side world – me­dia, en­ter­tain­ment, con­nec­tiv­ity – and the (al­most crim­i­nally pretty) lower screen for set­ting the con­trols to your very own Ve­lar­verse: heat­ing, set­tings, driv­ing modes, etc.

The thing is, when it comes to dis­tract­ing the driver, two touch screens means dou­ble the trou­ble.

I can­not be­lieve this car ar­rived the week af­ter I de­clared the cur­rent fad for in-car touch screens a mor­tal threat to the hu­man race. I prom­ise, this is the last time I will go there but or­di­nary mo­torists sim­ply can­not cope with the con­cept of touch and drive, with­out un­con­sciously drift­ing into other driver’s ter­ri­tory.

This is why there are spe­cific laws in force to keep our eyes on the road.

Yet here’s Range Rover giv­ing us al­most no choice but do the op­po­site. Go fig­ure. Yes, the tech­nol­ogy looks stun­ning but please, you might want to read Matthew Syed’s Black Box Think­ing? It tells of how al­most every in­dus­try on the planet could learn from the world of avi­a­tion but seems bizarrely re­luc­tant to do so.

Among the many fas­ci­nat­ing

ex­am­ples of sim­ple tweaks that have saved tens of thou­sands of lives over the years is the chill­ing story of an un­der­car­riage con­trol lever fit­ted to a US WWII bomber. The lever in ques­tion was lo­cated right next to an­other, al­most iden­ti­cal lever that had sweet Fanny Adams to do with low­er­ing the land­ing gear. Af­ter count­less fa­tal crash-land­ings, caused by pilots con­fus­ing the lat­ter with the for­mer, some bright spark thought to re­design the un­der­car­riage lever with a set of minia­ture rub­ber wheels at­tached. The re­sult of which was all such tragedies be­ing wiped out overnight. The pilots could now iden­tify the cor­rect lever by touch alone – even in the dark.

OK. I’ll leave it at that.

The Ve­lar range starts at £45k, which seems ex­cel­lent value for money, con­sid­er­ing the one I drove came in at nearer £80k. But whereas mine was the ab­so­lute top of the range, with the most de­sir­able en­gine and al­most every con­ceiv­able ex­tra, the el cheapo ver­sion is primevally ba­sic. Apart from, of course, boast­ing the abil­ity to do all those amaz­ing of­froad Range Rovers tricks, the ones that hardly any­one ever uses but are might­ily im­pres­sive to have up your sleeve.

To drive on the road then? Well, in spite of my ini­tial protes­ta­tions on be­half of all crusty old Range Rover tra­di­tion­al­ists, 72 hours of cos­seted, com­fort­able, lux­ury com­mut­ing to Lon­don in the worst week of weather this side of sum­mer had me within a hair’s breadth of dish­ing out the soft­est five stars of the year so far. I couldn’t get enough of my fully au­to­mated, heated seats, heated steer­ing wheel, vari­able built-in multi mas­sage pro­grammes, air sus­pen­sion and the usual lofty bird’s-eye view of the world a Range Rover af­fords all on board.

But this was not good enough. I needed to be more rig­or­ous. There was only one thing for it – a school run and some straight talk­ing from the mums and kids. In no par­tic­u­lar or­der then, here’s what they had to say. ‘The shape is gor­geous.’ ‘The touch screens are so cool.’ ‘The head-up dis­play is like a fighter jet.’

‘The but­ton that low­ers the rear sus­pen­sion is awe­some.’

‘When the door han­dles ap­pear from out of the door – I love that.’

So there you go, in a nut­shell. Ev­i­dently, from now on form of­fi­cially trumps func­tion for ever. As long as ev­ery­thing looks fan­tas­tic, smells fan­tas­tic and there are a cou­ple of James Bond-style gad­gets into the bar­gain. And the most im­por­tant quote of all: ‘It still feels like a Range Rover.’ Which it does, to­tally. The only is­sue re­main­ing is the fact that the Ve­lar is so good-look­ing, it has sud­denly made even the Evoque and the Jaguar F-Pace look wor­ry­ingly dated by com­par­i­son. The an­ti­dote to which might be to fo­cus on the price tags in­stead, in which case, one could ar­gue, beauty has proven once again to be only skin deep and ex­po­nen­tially more ex­pen­sive.

If non­sense like that makes you feel the slight­est bit bet­ter.

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