‘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
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.