PERHAPS it’s apocryphal, but Richmond football club’s Jack ‘Captain Blood’ Dyer is said to have hated local rivals Collingwood so much that he refused to watch black and white television. I’m guessing the man who broke the collarbones of 64 opponents probably wouldn’t have approved of the colour scheme of the newest resident of the Wheels garage, a Range Rover Velar P300 R-Dynamic SE.
Nicknamed ‘The Stormtrooper’ by the Land Rover press office, this particular example seemed like the departing Nathan Ponchard’s idea of a horrible joke. “Yeah, it’s white with 20-inch black alloys and a blue interior,” he enthused. I didn’t want to sound unappreciative of his efforts in securing my next long termer but, frankly, it sounded hideous. When it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d toyed with the idea of asking for smaller wheels and beefier mud and snow tyres, but I’ve since seen a Velar on 18s and they look ridiculous.
I’d also envisaged the blue interior being something like the shiny, overstuffed lounge in royal blue that I used to sit on while visiting my aunt, miserably pretending that I wasn’t repulsed by her inept baking. Instead it’s a technical finish on the dash and perforated leather with black suede and neutral stitching on the seats, nicely counterpointing the brutalist monochrome of the exterior. Chapeau, Ponch.
Most intriguing of all is the engine choice. That P300 designation means it’s a petrol engine that makes an honest 300PS (221kW) driving all four wheels, so if you’re that way inclined – and I am – it’s easy to imagine there’s something akin to a Lancer Evo or an Impreza STI lurking beneath, only driving through an auto ’box and lugging a bunch more weight. All of which sounds like a recipe for utterly catastrophic fuel economy, but the initial signs are good. Returning a little over 10 litres per 100km isn’t at all bad, and one of the very first trips I took in the Velar was a 150km shakedown on some of Victoria’s most horrific dirt roads, out through the snow to Woods Point, a community that seems to largely consist of people who never want to come under public scrutiny.
With the drive mode set to Grass/Gravel/Snow, the Velar softens the throttle response, speeds up gearshifts and sharpens the traction control to prevent tyre slip. This car also has the $940 Configurable Dynamics option which is a boon on road – this allows you to mix and match the steering, suspension, gearshift and engine characteristics between sporty and soft, something we’ll touch on next month.
It’s part of a fairly hefty sweep at the Land Rover options list that tacks just over $15,000 onto the asking price of $104,750. The fixed glass panoramic roof is the big ticket item at $3550, but it also seems a little rich to have to option adaptive cruise and AEB ($2850) onto a $100K+ car. Likewise paying an extra $850 will net you heated seats, albeit with 10-way adjustment and driver memory function. The excellent head-up display adds $2420, the black contrast roof sets you back $1260, the waterproof Activity Key that you can wear on your wrist is another $960, while a DAB+ radio costs $940. All Terrain Progress Control – almost like a low-speed off-road cruise control – is $850, the solar attenuating windscreen $560, and a pair of levers to flip down the rear seats from the luggage bay is $300.
The Velar’s in the garage for four months, during which time I’ll be able to get a handle on what’s worthwhile and what’s just window dressing. First impressions are good. I just need to figure out how to get those bright central screens to dim when – to use a Dyerism – “it’s as dark out there as the Black Hole of Dakota”. Any tips most welcomed.
KNOW THIS. Because they control virtually everything on the vehicle, should the Touch Pro Duo screens on your Range Rover Velar go down, things go south pretty quickly.
Drive modes, navigation, air conditioning settings and the ability to escape Mick Molloy on the radio are no longer within your aegis. Such a fate has befallen our Velar a couple of times this month, leaving us feeling about as hamstrung as the Newcastle Jets when the realised their marquee signing for 2014 was Emile Heskey.
On the first occasion the main screens both went blank and, upon a hard reboot, the supervision screen between the main clocks locked itself into Dynamic mode and refused to budge, no matter which drive mode the vehicle was actually set to. It’s an unfortunate blip on what has thus far been an enjoyable tenure, the Velar impressing with its dynamic sang froid. Put simply, the Velar can do almost anything you ask of it, short of only the most extreme dynamic assignments. It’s easy to see why it’s proving such a sales hit for the marque worldwide, taking up the slack against declining Evoque and Discovery Sport figures.
This month has seen another couple of thousand kays tick onto the clock, supporting Wheels photoshoots, repeatedly returning Ozito tat to Bunnings and serenely negotiating the giant gongshow that is rush hour on Melbourne’s Monash freeway. It’s easy to forget quite what a looker the Velar is, other gridlocked motorists giving it the once over as you let the adaptive cruise do its thing while you ponder the next nasal excavation exercise.
After some experimentation, I think I’ve hit upon the sweet spot for the various dynamic modes. Basically, you need to jump into the custom mode, marked by a Stig-like white helmet icon, and amp everything up to its sportiest setting aside from the dampers, which are best left in Comfort. The racier damper setting doesn’t actually afford you that much additional composure through corners but comes with a hefty penalty in terms of ride quality. The difference in steering between the disconcertingly oleaginous Comfort mode and sharp-witted Dynamic is night and day.
We’ve had some pretty tasty metal through the office in the past few weeks, filming for the forthcoming WhichCar TV show on Ten, yet the Velar hits the mark of a good long termer insofar as no matter what you’ve been flinging round a track or up a mountain road, getting back in after a long day still feels good. Screen burps aside, it’s settling in well.
“THAT thing is bloody lovely,” reckoned Peter Elliott, WhichCar TV’s lead presenter. I’d lent him the Velar while I was judging Wheels Car of the Year and it’s fair to say he was fairly taken with it. Fairly taken with the loud pedal too, recording the Velar’s worst average consumption of 11.5L/100km during his tenure. That’s still not too bad for a 1900kg petrol SUV packing 221kW, but the overall figure’s since come back down to Sean Connery’s preferred racquet sport: tennish.
COTY aside, where the Velar was on camera car duties, it’s been an eventful few weeks. The Rangie was even pushed into service as an ambulance, rushing a fledgling peregrine falcon to surgery after its first flight resulted in a broken leg. It’s also taken a run up to this year’s Targa High Country event, the route from south east Melbourne up through Healesville, the Black Spur, the Cathedral Range, Bonnie Doon and Mansfield being about as pleasant a touring route as Victoria offers.
I encountered an exceptionally well-driven ND MX-5 on the return over the Black Spur, both of us safely enjoying our cars, although I hope I wasn’t curtailing the Mazda driver’s fun by holding him up. Having an energetic pedal through the twisties in the forest was almost as enjoyable as driving an Alpine A110 at Targa and while the Velar packs on a few more kegs than the French coupe, there’s something to be said for being able to adapt your driving techniques to the limits of your car.
The howling Pirelli Scorpion Verdes made the hairpins sound a good deal more dramatic than the modest speedo reading suggested, but the Velar’s body control – even with the suspension set to Comfort – was predictable and progressive. When was the last time you had a good-natured dice finished with a cheery wave? Good stuff.
Last month we reported on a couple of electronic issues that have since cleared up, replaced by other random quirks. The Velar cleared down all the memory settings for the seats and mirrors and then the touch panel that included the screen demister temporarily failed to function. Like its previous glitches, they’ve been transient, but could knock confidence with owners. We’ll continue to monitor them.
I DIDN’T really get a firm date to return the Velar to Land Rover, but the guilt of just keeping hold of it hoping the press office wouldn’t notice got to me surprisingly quickly.
After sending a breezy email asking if I could keep it over Christmas, my plans were shot down in flames by the somewhat brutal response that it was due at a car auction in four days. That didn’t leave a whole lot of negotiating room. Still, my loss is set to be some bidder’s gain, because its first 10,000km have run it in rather nicely.
As much as I admired the Velar, the relationship never really blossomed any further. Perhaps it was the constant niggling screen freezes or the minor annoyances like having to wait for the screens to wake up before being able to select my custom drive mode, kill the idle stop and then navigate to the climate display every time I started the car. As the weather’s warmed up here in Melbourne, the gauzy sun blind feels a little superficial and the air conditioning can be a bit slow on the uptake. Couple that with a chrome bezel that runs around the rim of the steering wheel that has you wishing you’d packed oven gloves at times.
Much of these grumbles get burnished away to background chatter when you pause to look at the Velar. It’s undeniably got presence and enough character to allow you to forgive it its quirks. It was the perfect companion to indulge my wildlife photography hobby, taking me on plenty of dirt roads into the wilder parts of Victoria. Although the ride quality of the Velar is never quite as syrupy as you’d expect from a big SUV on air springs, it earns a lot of credit on account of its off-road ability.
The Velar has negotiated soft sand in the Little Desert, deep snow up on Mt Matlock and axle-deep flood water. The most satisfying part of these trips was when the inevitable bearded sprout in a high-lift, balloon-tyred LandCruiser gesticulated wildly to indicate that your vehicle was inadequate for what was ahead. It wasn’t. Ever.
The positive side of the ledger nevertheless outranked the niggles. I loved the sat-nav’s uncanny ability to know your destination (no matter how obscure), the concise and clear head-up display, and the indestructible feel of the cabin materials. The Ingenium four-cylinder engine delivered a surprising turn of pace when prodded, the powerplant loosening up and returning better economy with every tankful.
Over four months, I averaged 9.5L/100km in the 221kW Velar, which is exactly the same as we managed in a 121kW Peugeot 3008 weighing half a tonne less. True, I did more freeway miles, but that’s still a credible showing.
Having run it for four months, I’m a little torn as to whether I’d recommend the Velar to a friend. It’s undoubtedly striking and delivers a sense of occasion that, in some ways, justifies that price tag. Until sales in China recently nose-dived, the Velar’s global popularity spoke volumes. But what separates a great car from a merely good one is the last couple of percent of polish, and that’s where the Velar sometimes came up a little short. As enjoyable as the past four months have been, I won’t be wielding a bidding paddle when DXM-51B rolls onto the auction block.
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