Range Rover’s mid-sized X3 rival has desirable-tough design but also has compromises
What exactly is a Velar? Well it’s the codename of the pre-production Range Rover prototype from 1969, and now, 48 years later, it’s the next step in the gestation of the British brand’s lineup: It’s anow name of Rangie’s mid-sized SUV that takes the fight to rivals such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus NX and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
It’s no easy market: SUVs are hot, and so is this mid-range luxury segment – the Q5 is all-new, and barely a few months old, while the X3 is also a new-gen model and expected here soon, while the GLC is probably Merc’s best SUV, and has recently debuted in a budget-friendly GLC 200 model.
A sloping roofline, a diminished greenhouse, the tacit use of black on the lower and upper parts of the body all conspire to make the Velar a very elegant-looking machine, not to mention the recessed door-handles that pop-out at the push of a button.
With the elegant styling, the Velar will also be aimed at cars like the BMW X4 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe – in this case, with the range-topping Si6 R Dynamic model tested here, it’s similar in money and performance with a Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupe, though not as fast in a straight line and, in this R-Line spec, considerably more expensive.
How does it drive? Similar to the AMG car, actually, just a little more blunt: There’s likely a lot of grip to be exploited, and the power and pace undeniable. The Si6 Velar has a tad more power than the German, but in the Rangie you have even less of an urge to drive quickly.
The choppy ride stays busy no matter which driving mode is selected, and the use of mixed tyres (meant for semi-dirt and light snow) conditions dilute the on-road experience further. That’s also a problem in the wild Range Rover SVR but the charisma and superior ride of that car make it less of an issue.
You pay for the good looks with porthole-like visibility, too: The sills seem very high, the rear window miniscule, while the bulging, raked A-pillars hinder judging apexes or simply looking out for pedestrians. Traversing tight carparks gets to be a chore, something the Surround Camera System only partially makes up for.
That’s because you shouldn’t drive looking at a screen, but the Velar seems to disagree. Like the exterior, it has an undeniably elegant interior, because Range Rover declared war on buttons, so you’ve nothing but two huge touchscreens and just four buttons to control all of the car’s myriad functions.
The upper screen handles nav and entertainment, but the lower screen is the problem – it handles more commonly used features like drive modes and climate control, which results in you taking your eyes of the road everytime you wish to do something. Not the best choice in a car that already has visibility issues.
No doubt buyers will be drawn to the Velar’s looks – and its heritage – but at this price point, the range-topping Velar is simply less fun to drive, and more expensive, than the actual Range Rover Sport diesel. If you’re looking for the ultimate in on-road performance in this segment, Porsche’s $400k Macan Turbo with Performance Package is spendy, but leaves not an inkling of doubt for the driver.
Lesser Velars, like the 250hp 2.0-litre model, will undoubtedly make more sense – just keep in mind that when it comes to ergonomics, the Velar can be quite larval.
Range Rover Vela r3.0 Si6 R Dynamic
Engine 2,995cc, 24V, V6, supercharged
Power 380hp at 6500rpm
Torque 450Nm at 3500-5000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 5.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 9.4L/100km
Price $398,999 with COE
Agent Wearnes Automotive
Verdict: A shrunken Ranger Rover Sport with even sleeker looks but some ergonomic and visibility compromises
Also Consider: BMW X3 M40i, Porsche Macan Turbo