The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
An outstanding design brought bang up to date
Revisions to the sleek Range Rover Velar include an electric-only mode, says Andrew English
In the case of The People versus Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s design chief, the prosecution has pointed to the parlous savaging to the rear door of the new Discovery to make it weirdly asymmetrical, along with the shameless draping of fairy lights. It’s not looking good for Gerry in the dock, but at the last moment his legal team have rolled into the courtroom the new Defender and this, the Velar. Cue shocked intakes of breath and the judge banging his gavel, yelling “Order, order!”.
For the Velar (like the acclaimed Defender) is an outstanding piece of design, though both occupy distinctly less than popular market segments. The Velar slots into that most-despised class, the SUV coupé, yet it makes its German counterparts from Audi, BMW, Porsche and Mercedes look as though they were designed by the dog.
So much so, that for this refresh with new engines and this plug-in hybrid model, they’ve barely touched the exterior but for a restyled grille and LED lights. In other words, Jaguar Land Rover thinks it’s just about perfect as it stands.
Named after the 1960s prototypes of the original Range Rover, the Velar was launched in 2017. Such a design-led car was seen as an opportunity for the team under Mark Butler, creative director for interior design, and Amy Frascella, chief designer for colour and materials, to try a range of interior finishes that weren’t simply variations on the conventional luxury theme of dead trees and cows.
Four years on, the interior continues to intrigue. Think grainy dash and door tops, piano-black panels, perforated embossed leather substitute and rubberised materials, all trimmed with a taut discipline reminiscent of Porsche.
While this 4.8m-long vehicle is huge on the outside, inside it’s only just a fiveseater. The interior is comfortable, firmly sprung and luxurious, but by no means large, with rear-seat space on the tight side for six-footers.
The backs of the rear seats fold 60/40 per cent on to their bases, which gives an almost flat load bed of 1,693 litres. A 17.1kWh lithium-ion battery lives under the boot floor, which means the 625-litre luggage space is 123 litres smaller than a conventional Velar’s. Nor is there any provision for a spare wheel.
The facia is indubitably modern, with twin central touchscreens. It’s a complex set-up and requires learning, especially the upper and lower screen duplication of the chassis/steering/ drivetrain settings. In defence of Land Rover, there’s a lot going on, with various off-road settings to incorporate, but it could have been made simpler.
That said, it’s easy to alter the heating, change the radio station and dial in the sat-nav instructions with this latest Pivi Pro system. The digital instrument binnacle is clear and not overloaded with information.
With a longitudinally-mounted engine and gearbox, the Velar is able to utilise transmission specialist ZF’s offthe-peg plug-in hybrid system, which is used by a lot of rivals. A 141bhp/203lb ft AC electric motor sits in the gearbox bellhousing and performs some of the duties of the torque converter as well as supplying additional shove to the 2.0litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine.
Clever mechanically, yes, but that’s only half the story. The requisite software calibration and refinement are key black arts that Land Rover has mastered; exactly what that electric motor is doing at any given moment is difficult to discern as it garners overrun braking energy into the battery, or adds power to the drivetrain when it is required.
With a total system output of 398bhp and 472lb ft, this is a powerful machine and it gains overtaking speed like a sports car. Of course, the fuel consumption claims are nonsense, since they posit two impossible situations: battery completely full and battery completely empty. I ran it on the EV setting for as long as possible (just under 30 miles) then zeroed the tripmeter and saw the initial 100mpg indication fall to 42mpg over two hours of brisk driving.
With three self-explanatory drivetrain settings: EV, Hybrid and Save, the Velar starts silently. Rightly, it will always prioritise an electric start, which capitalises the electric motor’s torque characteristics and saves fuel. It feels brisk and eager from the off, with the engine joining battle when required in Hybrid mode, but otherwise strangely silent. Don’t open the window, though, as the noise from the engine and roar from the tyres assaults the ears.
Apart from excellent insulation of the interior, the latest Velar has an acoustic anti-noise system, and very good it is, too. You’ll hear the engine near its rev limit, but for the most part the petrol/electric set-up is a refined testament to the calibration team.
Unlike some higher-spec Velars, the S PHEV has steel rather than air suspension, although the all-independent wishbone front and multi-link-rear set-up copes well on undulations and gentle bumps and holes. Over the worst broken surfaces, the 21in tyres could be felt and heard. However, on better A-road surfaces the Velar simply wafts along.
It’s too heavy (2.16 tonnes) to be sporting, but the steering has accuracy if not much connection. You need to slow and the Velar will find its own best speed, which is brisk rather than fast.
The car industry has been lobbying the Government about its 2030 ban on sales of new internal combustion engines. Plug-in hybrids like this Velar get a stay of execution to 2035, although that dispensation is probably going to require a longer electric-only range than the Velar’s scant 33 miles.
This sort of SUV coupé is an easy target of scorn, and I can understand why, but the Velar plug-in is swift, refined and reasonably economical. The hybrid system never feels as if you are being fobbed off with something less than suitable for the car, while even in this middling specification the Velar’s looks and the upholstery are genuinely different and undeniably delightful.
I’m far from convinced these luxury plug-ins do much for the planet, but for those running their car through the company, a plug-in hybrid such as this can make good financial sense – as well as looking good in the car park.