By Declan Colley
The company might have made a bit of mess of the new Discovery, what with its ludicrously misshapen derriere and the counterintuitive feeling they — JLR, or rather Jaguar and Land/Range Rover — might be losing the plot.
Successions of automotive brilliance, with only the very occasional turkey thrown in, were always going to be hard to match, let alone surpass.
The Disco controversy rages still, with accusations of it having “an ass like a Belgian blue” echoing countrywide. Those who own one do not, of course, have to look at the rear end when they are driving it and consequently couldn’t give a continental about what everyone else thinks, but they do have to put up with mildly ribald pub/golf club slagging nonetheless.
Brilliant car that it is, the current Discovery will still forever be plagued by the sense that the previously inviolable strengths of the Land Rover/Range Rover design department let an important one slip through their fingers and were possibly a touch too cocky about their own abilities. Success can do that to you.
Having had something of a miss-step, therefore, design-wise at least, what was coming next? And would it be another machine of undoubted engineering class and endless capability, but a failure in the eye-catching department?
Thankfully the answer to both questions is no. The new mid-size Range Rover Velar, sitting as it does between the Evoque and the Sport, is a car with all the engineering and capability packaging it should have — with a large side order of driver-friendly technological innovation — and it truly looks the bizzo as well.
A word of caution, though, because there are one or two sticking points, as we shall find out.
So, let us understand exactly where the Velar stands in the scheme of things. Well, it is a luxury mid-sized SUV and will nominally compete alongside the BMW, X3, the Audi Q5, the Volvo XC60, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Mercedes GLC and close relative, the Jaguar F-Pace.
You could also throw in the Porsche Macan and some of the AMG Mercedes variants, the Audi SQ5, the Lexus RX or even some of those faux coupe SUVs like the BMW X4 or the Merc GLC Coupe.
The playing pitch is not, then, an empty field; rather, it is a bloody crowded one and the level of competition, you’d have to admit, is pretty hot. Sure there are one or two dorks in there, but the majority of the contenders in this market segment will hold their own against pretty much any opposition.
That being so, the Velar could not simply be a regular Range Rover (if there is such a thing). No, it had to be a stand-out car which could hold its head up in any company and by and large it has achieved that bit of the conundrum. It also had to offer great engines, over-the-top luxury, and a huge level of technological innovation.
In achieving two of those aims — the luxury and technological ones — it surpasses much of what its rivals offer, but the engines are a slightly more complicated matter.
Sure there are V6 — in both petrol and diesel — powerplants on offer, but you can be pretty certain neither will be the popular choice with punters.
That leaves the two variants of the two litre Ingenium turbodiesel engine which has been developed in-house at JLR. The bog-standard 180 bhp version might prove a little weedy for such a big car — and it is big by mid-size SUV standards — while the 240 bhp twin turbo version sounds more like the thing a lot of people will be plumping for.
It may be there will be those people who care only about having a Velar and not what propels it, but the honest opinion from this quarter is that the 240 bhp version is the least you’ll need to extract from the car the sort of driving pleasure it was built to provide. That was the engine we tried and it came with a car kitted out in SE trim, but more of that in a moment.
The engine itself is remarkably quiet for an oil-burner and it is fair to say that JLR has obviously taken on board some of the flak it got when the Ingenium series was introduced that it was ill-refined and noisy. No so any more. Whatever measures they have initiated have worked splendidly.
You get a top speed of 225km/h and a 0-100km/h time of 6.8 seconds which is not at all bad, but — churlish and all as it might seem to say — I got the definite feeling that a V6 was what this car really wanted.
But that was not the case with the tester and, I suspect, the majority of cars the company will sell here in Ireland will have one of the two four pot variants under the hood.
That being so, this is not a bad choice at all and, combined with an eight speed auto box and fitted as standard with air suspension (regular springs do come with some of the lesser models), the Velar displayed superior driving characteristics and when you started asking it questions, even on the most dubious of surfaces, it had all the answers.
That it will tackle an Andean foothill with contemptuous ease and probably also haul a twin horsebox while doing so makes it stand out from much of the opposition and is a given for a Range Rover. That it will do so without causing the occupants to spill a drop of pink champagne is also taken for granted. That said, the comfort levels are verging on the extraordinary and the level of sophistication truly remarkable.
I have nowhere near enough space here to do justice to the level of kit this car comes with or even the way the fantastically intuitive technologies work, but suffice to say it will take anyone new to the car quite a while to learn the depths of its capabilities.
All of this excellence is to be expected, but I must say that the pricing structure for this machine is something that may leave potential owners scratching their heads.
With a base-line price of just over €60k, punters will find that adding better engines or specification to the Velar will cost dearly.
That was very much so with our tester in basic SE trim, which added nearly 25 big ones to the bottom line. Even then, when a few other bits and bobs were thrown at it, the eventual list price was just €7,000 shy of €100,000. For a mid-sized SUV?
Hmmmm. I can see a lot of punters dwelling upon that scenario — no matter how damn good a car it is.