What lies beneath: Velar is a deal with a difference
The Velar is stylish but it lacks a little substance
I'm having a €3 McDonald's tea-and-muffin deal as I begin writing about this week's car. Parked outside, and drawing admiring glances I might add, is the Range Rover Velar luxury SUV.
I've been driving it a lot; sitting in it for hours waiting, pitting it against the elements in all sorts of conditions over several days. So I just felt like a cup of tea and something sweet. As with food, sometimes you need to go back to basics with cars to gain a perspective.
And you need perspective with this 'fourth Range Rover' five-seater with concept looks that make it so different from the rest.
It is based largely (but not entirely) on the underpinnings of the Jaguar F-PACE and counts among its rivals luxury SUVs ranging from the Volvo XC60 to the BMW X5.
I think it is a car whose looks you take to, or you don't (regardless of whether you can afford it or not). It is not all about looks, of course, but if you like them it helps a lot of other stuff to fall favourably into line.
The Velar fills the buying gap between the highly successful smaller Evoque and the larger, energetic Range Rover Sport. So its logical starting price is in the lower €60,000s. But the real kick-off point for many will be €70,000+ by the time they get the bits and pieces they want. And I think that's where you need to closely scrutinise what you're getting for your money.
Put it this way: it's not a €3 tea-and-muffin deal. It's a Range Rover premium menu. So let's take a run through the 'à-la-car-te' (I'll get my coat...).
I'm giving it top marks for that wonderful design (the handles slide out when you press the key fob to open). Yes, if I had the money I would feel good being seen in a car like this.
And it gets full points for the most intuitive, easy-to-use double-screen infotainment/control system in the business. It's not only simple, it's brilliantly thought out, clear (finger print smudges do linger though) and precise.
I can also vouch for the excellent seating in my test version: I loved the size, shape and fabric. Not everyone's cup of tea maybe; the conservatives among you might prefer a more traditional Range Rover feel to the cabin.
But I think the makers realise, a bit like myself sometimes, you've got to move on or become trapped by the past.
I didn't drive it off-road here but I did in Norway some time back and it matched expectations of what a vehicle from this stable can do. Mighty impressive climbing, descent and water wading.
So, straight away you have four major elements winning high marks. Surely that's enough?
For some, yes. But I think it is less clear-cut after that. Even allowing for the more daredevil approach to individual aspects, the cabin (especially the rear) is bland, and lacks a sense of warmth and luxury you expect from a Range Rover. Of course the display and dash catch your eye, initially, but for those in the back there is certainly not as much room to enjoy. The space instead goes to a huge boot which, admittedly, has room for several golf bags.
The 240PS diesel engine had good punch. They have quietened it a lot but it still has a bit to go for a Range Rover. It delivered power at a fair rate, especially in the course of one dramatic dash, but was a bit slow to respond. Good marks, but not tops.
My test car had air suspension, not coil springs. Initially it felt a bit bouncy even in Dynamic mode. Yet when pushed into corners or during swift changes of direction or propulsion it was quite accomplished without, by any means, reaching the sharpness of bigger-brother Sport or first-cousin F-PACE. There was only a reasonable level of steering feedback and I had to adjust angles far too often, even on the motorway.
A disappointing factor was the level of rumble in the cabin over fairly ordinary surfaces. My passengers noted it too.
So, after all that I've taken a fresh look at it. And one key question keeps popping up: ultimately what is the Velar about?
Is it about peerless poise and powerful performance? I don't think so. Go to your big-daddy full-grown Range Rover for that. Neither did driving it really stir the automotive soul. Pity.
Is it about changing how we look at what a 'fourth' Range Rover can be? Yes, it most definitely is. How successfully it does that remains open to question. Behind the slick, concept-car appeal, lie areas where I'd want more, especially for that sort of money.
For someone with the dosh who craves a change from established offerings (BMW, Mercedes, Audi, etc) it is, undoubtedly, a proposition with a difference.
Like the odd cup-of-tea-and-muffin deal, it makes a tasty, if less than overwhelming, change.
FACTS & FIGURES
Range Rover 2.0D 240PS 4WD Auto R-Dynamic SE diesel; 8spd transmission; 154g/km, €390 road tax. Prices from €62,240 (2-litre diesel 4TD4 180PS 4WD Auto). R-Dynamic SE trim car on test: from €86,950. Lots of extras push price to a whopping €99,640.
Basic spec includes a big spread of driver assist systems, Touch Pro Duo, InControl apps (lets you remotely open/close, select air con etc), AWD, Terrain Response, satnav, LED lights, reverse camera.
Extras include special 21ins wheels, air suspension, electric steering wheel adjustment, black roof rails, ambience lighting, Terrain Optimisation 2.