The new model makes its formal debut at the Geneva Show and goes on sale this summer priced between $50,895 and $90,295. You might think that this seems like a mightily expensive, gussied-up F-Pace, which shares the same aluminum-rich underpinnings and starts at $42,985. Land Rover's marketing wonks, however, claim Velar fits precisely into a $23,850-wide price gap between the $42,795 Evoque and the $66,645 Range Rover Sport.
Velar is a lower, longer vehicle than its bigger and smaller Range Rover sisters. It's 189.1 inches long and 74.9 inches wide on a 113.1-inch wheelbase into which are fitted five seats and 34.4 cubic feet of luggage space ending in a top-hinged hatchback. At 65.6 inches high, it's the lowest vehicle in the Range Rover range, some 9.6 inches lower than a full-sized Range Rover. Rear seats split 40/20/40 percent and there's the possibility of a full-sized spare wheel under the false trunk floor.
While Range Rover has traditionally traded on its off-road authenticity, Velar is effectively a crossover and will compete against other conventional 4x4 wagons and soft-roader/crossovers such as the BMW X5, Audi Q7 and A6 Allroad, Mercedes-Benz GLE-class Coupe, and Volvo XC90 and V90 4x4 Cross Country.
It rides on an unequal-length wishbone front suspension and an integral link independent rear, with a choice of 18- to 22-inch wheels and tires. Most models will come with air suspensions, which allows the Velar to be equipped with Land Rover's terrain response system, which automatically sets up the suspension and driveline for a variety of environments selected by icons on the dashboard. The air suspension gives a maximum ground clearance of 9.9 inches and lowers by 1.6 inches at the rear to aid loading. It will wade in up to 25.6 inches of water.
While in the United Kingom there will be four engine choices, here in America there are just three: Land Rover's own Ingenium two-liter diesel producing 180 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque; the debut of Land Rover's UK-produced two-liter turbo gas unit producing 247 hp; and a 380-hp three-liter V6 supercharged gas engine. We won't be getting the 3.0-liter Lion turbodiesel, but it'll be available in Europe. Performance across the range runs from top speeds of 130 mph to 155 mph and 0-60 mph acceleration from 8.4 to 5.3 seconds.
The sole transmission is the ZF eight-speed automatic and while there is permanent four-wheel drive, there is no option of a transfer box and a set of crawler gears. The V6 models can tow up to 5,500 lbs. A first for Range Rover will be the adaptive electronically locking rear differential.
"This isn't 'white space' in terms of what's out there, but it is for us," says Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's design boss. Citing Range Rover's "transformation from the jungle to the urban jungle," McGovern claims that the German competition "can't compete with Range Rover selling that number of vehicles at that price."
Velar's design is in keeping with McGovern's ruthless reductionism, even going without conventional door handles in the interest of clear body sides.
"We wanted to elevate Range Rover's design DNA to a new level," says Massimo Frascella, Land Rover's exterior creative director. "We were looking for a new level of simplicity, with the flush door handles and slim LED lights. This will do so much for Range Rover."
As a result (and also because of its low height) Velar is the most aerodynamic Range Rover – it's coefficient of drag is only 0.32. Though there's a danger that stripped of its static launch metallic bronze coachwork and 22-inch wheels, it might seem a bit slab sided. Land Rover designers don't acknowledge outside influences (though it's just possible to see some Jeep Wagoneer in there), but they do credit the inspiration from Spen King and Gordon Bashford, designers of the first-ever Range Rover model.
"We wanted an emphasis on the classic Range Rover proportions," says Frascella. "The short front overhangs and long tail give an incredible elegance, moving the emphasis rearward like luxury yachts ... There's nothing quite like it."
In the cabin, this less-is-more approach is continued with a twin high-definition touch screens in the center console using Panasonic's Magic Ring technology in the twin multi-function rotary controls - these were first introduced at last year's Consumer Electronics Show in the Japanese giant's Concept Cockpit. The lower screen is mounted on a free-floating 'blade' and the top screen deploys out of the dashboard top.
The design is stark and futuristic, a kind of car-of-the-future look as envisaged from the 1970s. New materials include an interesting 30 percent wool/70 percent polyester upholstery fabric from unpronounceable high-end furniture supplier Kvadrat. This is the first Range Rover to offer a top-of-the-line fabric upholstery as well as leather, a choice that has long been important to Amy Frascella, chief designer for color and materials at JLR.
"If I take my personal viewpoint away," she says, "I still think it's the right thing to do for our customers in terms of curator choice and the changing climate - I mean that literally and figuratively. The definition of luxury materials is changing and what customers value in the products they buy is changing as well. We had to be ready for that."
She claims the salt-and-pepper-hued Kvadrat fabric is just as hard wearing and easy to clean as leather and costs the same. It has passed all Land Rover's stringent tests for flammability, durability, color stability, even its propensity to retain moisture, which can create a problem with interior condensation. There's also a new man-made diamond-cut material on the seats and dashboard cross beam, which has required superlative standards of fit and finish to ensure the straightness of the pattern repeat.
There are four main trim levels: Standard; S which costs another $4,800, the R-Dynamic SE costs $5,400 over the S, and the R-Dynamic HSE is $7,500. There is also a fully-loaded First Edition trim level offered only with the supercharged gas V6, which costs $90,295. It sits above the R-Dynamic HSE trim, is limited to just 500 units in the US, and comes with a full leather interior with carbon weave accents, a Meridian sound system, and unique 22-inch wheels.
Velar's four-year gestation has required similar levels of collaborative working between Design and Engineering at Land Rover as that required in transforming Julian Thompson's 2008 Land Rover LRX Concept into the Range Rover Evoke production model launched in 2011.
"What we presented with the design did give engineering a lot of challenges," says Mark Butler, creative director of interiors, "but they had an understanding of what we were trying to achieve, so the whole business was pushing in the same direction. Sometimes it can feel as if you're pushing against a brick wall, but this car was different."
"I think it's a great product at the end where all three disciplines were working at a very high level in terms of design," says Amy Frascella, "the blade, the feel of the interior, the exterior, how it's so beautiful and the materials are challenging lot of traditional conventions; it's a really awesome thing."