Taking the rough with the smooth: what I discovered about Range Rover's new Velar
First drive in Norway: Range Rover, Velar
In 25 years of testing cars, this is as near as I've come to reviewing one without really 'driving' it.
That is despite the fact I was behind the wheel for several hours in 300km+ of the most cautious driving I've undertaken.
The car, Range Rover's new Velar, with its concept-like looks, 81pc-aluminium body and powerful engines, was surely built to be driven.
But the fastest I drove it was 80kmh. Well maybe I slipped over by 2km/3km inadvertently. We had been most stringently warned and we obeyed. Police in Norway mean business; 80kmh means 80kmh, as others found to their cost.
So instead of powering on against a backdrop of wondrous land and seascapes, we tiddled along in dread of being caught for doing, in many cases, 42kmh in a 40kmh zone.
Yet, like every cloud, there was a bright silver lining. Instead of pushing and testing its dynamics at pace and power, we focused greatly on the key areas that, let's be honest, matter more to those who want a mid-size Range Rover for the comfortable drive to school or work.
So we concentrated on:
* The display and workings of the debutant Touch Pro Duo infotainment/display system. It has two high-definition 10in colour screens down the centre of the dash/console. The top one has digital controls for nav, phone and media; the bottom one climate control and Terrain Response (you or the system chooses mode for prevailing conditions), for example. Even I felt totally at ease with the interactive, idiot-proof nature of the screens as I selected controls for everything from sat nav to temperature.
I'd crib, however, at how low down the far corner of the bottom screen can feel. And I had to take two backward steps to reset the temperature if I happened to be in driving-response mode. Overall, though, it was mighty impressive, simple and intuitive. Audi's virtual cockpit and Volvo's iPad-like tablet have been emulated.
There are two large knobs that also let you adjust whatever is the prevailing mode (sat nav, Eco drive). It works. Thankfully, there is also a single button for volume control (four sound systems). And there are two USBs and three 12v power sockets in the front row.
* The seats. Big, broad and comfortable. You notice these things after a three-hour drive at an average speed of 50kmh/60kmh.
* The space. We had loads out front; there was enough, no more, in the rear. There could be more but the boot won that battle and has 673litres (Porsche Macan 500). Even the cooled glovebox extends to 7.5 litres.
* It has AWD but it's not permanent on the 4cyls. Not that we could tell on the road. Basically, it is a rear-wheel drive biased motor but can bring in the front wheels in milliseconds so you have AWD. It can also transfer all torque to the front wheels if needs be. A diff lock only comes as standard with 6cyl versions. Velar's towing limit is 2,500kg (Range Rover Sport is 3,500kg). There is no talk of a 2WD version.
* Powering it are Jaguar Land Rover's 2-litre diesel engines (180bhp, 240bhp), a range-topping 3-litre V6 diesel (300bhp), 2-litre petrols (250PS, 300PS) and a 3-litre V6 petrol. All have 8spd auto transmissions (slick).
* The dynamics. We did get to sample them off-road, where the Land Rover tradition of going nearly anywhere was strongly upheld. Particularly impressive was the off-road cruise control that drove us up craggy climbs without us touching a brake or accelerator. The other test was a steep, flinty climb to the top of a cable-car station where we brunched while looking down at the clouds.
* Off-road prowess contrasts so much with looks that suggest it should be on a well-lit podium somewhere as a concept, rather than a production, car. I mean it has flush deployable door handles. Chief designer and Jaguar Land Rover board member Gerry McGovern (parents from Leitrim) told us that was the plan. Talk about taking the rough with the smooth.
* Dimensions. Some figures to help put it in context. It is a five-seater but is nearly as big as the Range Rover Sport (seven-seater): 4,803mm long, v 4,850; 1,930mm wide v 1,983. Wheelbase is 2,874 v 2,923. The Audi Q5, for example, trails in length (4,663), width (1,893) and wheelbase (2,819). I was surprised they see it as a rival for larger Volvo XC90s, BMW X5s, Audi Q7s as well as the Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC and Volvo XC60. When I sat behind the wheel and looked around, it did feel and look a much bigger car than all the latter.
* Standard spec. Will include sat nav, LED lights, reverse camera, Touch Pro Duo, InControl apps (remotely open/close, select air con etc), cloth upholstery (leather in S and SE), space saver spare wheel, AWD, Terrain Response, many driver assist systems.
* Price: Technically on sale but the action will start for the January market. As revealed weeks back by Motors, prices start from €62,240 for the seemingly well-specced entry model but I'd expect €70,000 or so to be the average. There are several trim levels and a range of options. They expect around 500 people to buy one next year.
* The basic suspension uses coil springs (213mm ground clearance), integral rear axle and has adaptive dynamics technology as standard. Air suspension (251mm ground clearance) comes on 6cyls - also drops height by 10mm at 105kmh road speed.
This is the fourth Range Rover on the market (along with Evoque, Sport and flagship). Now I've sampled every other aspect, I'm looking forward to 'driving' it.