The biggest event on the UK car awards calendar is always the What Car? Car of the Year, and this year the new Land Rover Defender took the Reader Award for most anticipated car of 2020 while the Range Rover Evoque won Best Family SUV. Other awards for Land Rover include the Land Rover Discovery which won the Best Luxury SUV for under £60,000 and the Range Rover Velar which took Best Coupe SUV.
Best Coupe SUV
Range Rover Velar. It’s an odd name, isn’t it? Believe it or not, it isn’t the result of a few glasses of wine and a Scrabble bag; there is history to it. When Land Rover developed the original Range Rover, back in the 1960s, the firm wanted to conceal its identity derived the name Velar, from the Latin word 'velare', meaning to hide.
That's the history lesson over, so now back to the present, and what exactly is the 21st-century Range Rover Velar all about? Well, put simply, it’s a rakish five-door SUV that fills the huge price gap between the entry-level Evoque and the cheapest Range Rover Sport. It’s also the most road-biased Range Rover yet, but is still incredibly capable over the rough stuff thanks to standard-fit four-wheel drive and a raft of clever mud-plugging tech.
Engines range from a 2.0-litre diesel with 178bhp, all the way up to a 5.0-litre V8 petrol, which supercharged to produce a mighty 542bhp. In between those bookends are petrols and diesels with various amount of oomph
As for rivals, they are many and varied. It’s up against the stylish brigade of coupé SUVs –cars such as the BMW X4, Mercedes GLC Coupé and Porsche Macan – although you could also have a seven-seater, like the Audi Q7 or BMW X5 for similar money. Then there are the really high-end models that fall into the Velar's upper price range, models such as the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé and BMW X6.
Over the next few pages, we’ll take a look at how the Velar drives, what it’s like inside and how costly it will be to own. Or, if you've already been seduced by the Velar's sleek lines, head to our New Car Buying pages for big savings with a minimum of effort.
At the top of the engine range sits the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 (P550) engine that's found only in the SVAutobiography. It'll crack off 0-62mph in just 4.5sec, and you certainly notice its effect when you’re out on the road. Thanks to its decidedly hefty thrust and a responsive automatic gearbox there's mighty pace available across a wide bandwidth. If you want effortless performance with semi-sensible running costs, though, we’d recommend the 296bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel (D300). It isn't as outright fast as the V8, but it pulls hard from low revs and can still officially manage 0-62mph in a hot hatch-rivalling 6.7sec. For everyday use, it’s definitely a good fit for the Velar and no costlier to run than the slightly less powerful D275 3.0-litre version.
Yet the engine with the least performance is the one we'd recommend, so much so we awarded it the 2020 What Car? Coupe SUV of the Year award. It's the D180 2.0-litre diesel with 187bhp, and, while its 0-62mph time of 8.9sec won't get you foaming at the mouth, it's solid enough in the mid-range to get you going easily in town or on the motorway. And, as we'll discuss later on in this review, factor in the purchase price and running costs and it makes a lot of sense if you're not a speed freak. Meanwhile, if you want a bit more pep without ruining the fuel consumption, there's a pokier D240 version with 237bhp.
Unless you're completely anti-diesel, the two 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrols are the least recommendable. The most powerful of these has 296bhp (P300), so it's quick flat out, but there's less shove lower down than the diesels provide, so you need to work it much harder. The lower-powered 247bhp P250 version needs even more of a work out, but still delivers its power smoothly. Depending on which engine you choose, the Velar can tow between 2400kg and 2500kg.
Suspension and ride comfort
The Velar's standard, non-adaptive suspension is softly sprung and it proves more supple than a BMW X4 or Porsche Macan on standard springs. As a result the Velar deals with undulating roads in a gentle manner, but pockmarked surfaces and sharp bumps still cause it to fidget if you’ve picked the bigger, flashier 21in or 22in wheels. If you must have big wheels, think about adding the optional adaptive suspension. This is still a little firm around town but fine elsewhere.
If you want the cushiest ride, you should choose the optional air suspension; the caveat being that it's available only with the more powerful engines, and not our favourite D180. It allows you to adapt the Velar’s ride to suit your mood or the terrain you’re facing. Left in Comfort mode, the ride is more cosseting overall than it is with any of the Velar's other suspension systems. That includes a wafty high-speed ride that deals with crests and compressions in a gentle manner, but there’s enough body control at hand to prevent it feeling bouncy.
Range Rovers have never been known for pin-sharp handling or delicate levels of driver feedback, and the Velar doesn't change that. That’s not to say it handles badly. Around town, its light steering is effortless, yet it has enough precision on faster roads to let you place the car's nose where it was aimed.
Still, you cannot get away from the fact that the Velar feels heavier and less agile than many of its rivals. Whatever suspension set-up you go for, the Velar leans more than the Porsche Macan and BMW X4, although if you opt for the air suspension and switch it to its sportier Dynamic setting, things become a little more controlled.
Mind you, turn off the blacktop and on to craggier surfaces and the Velar impresses far more than its nearest and dearest challengers. It’ll scramble up steep, rocky slopes with surprising ease, before its hill descent control helps you safely down the other side. In this respect it feels like a true Range Rover and is at its best with the air suspension fitted – being height adjustable, this delivers even more ground clearance.
Noise and vibration
The four-cylinder petrol engines are decently smooth and quiet when you’re driving gently. Push them harder, though, and while the noise they make isn’t unpleasant, it's more hot hatch than Range Rover. Still, they’re better than the slightly grumbly four-cylinder diesels. That includes our favourite engine, the D180, although the BMW X4 20d's engine isn't much smoother.
If you’re after something sweeter, go for the D300 V6 diesel. It’s extremely hushed at low engine speeds, transmits next to no vibration through the controls, and, as the revs rise, growls pleasantly. Unsurprisingly, the P550 5.0-litre V8 of the SVAutobiography sounds satisfyingly throaty, even at idle.
An eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard on all models, but can be laggy when you want a sudden burst of pace. Thankfully it’s nowhere near as dimwitted as those of certain key rivals, such as the more expensive Audi Q8. Fortunately, switching the gearbox into Sports mode sharpens up its responses and makes it slightly snappier to react, or if you really get frustrated, you can take control of gear changes yourself using the steering-wheel mounted paddle
Family Car 2020
The original Range Rover Evoque, launched back in 2011, changed Land Rover forever. Before that watershed moment, the British brand's SUVs were handsome enough, but in quite a functional, boxy sort of way. Then along came the Evoque and suddenly it was as much about fashion and glamour as it was old money and off-roading.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that Land Rover chose to be pretty
sympathetic to the original design with this second-generation model; it would have been daft not to, given the first Evoque’s success in the sales charts. That said, it isn't too hard to see the influence of the pricier Range Rover Velar, particularly in the squintier lights at the front and back and the flush-fitting door handles, which pop out of the doors gracefully when you unlock the car.
The Range Rover Evoque’s key rivals include the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and our 2018 Car of the Year, the Volvo XC40. None of these purports to be as capable as the Evoque off the beaten track, but how do they square up when it comes to on-road driving dynamics, interior quality, safety, practicality and running costs? Read on over the next few pages and we’ll tell you all you need to know.
Every engine is either a 2.0-litre petrol or a 2.0-litre diesel, but there are numerous power outputs to choose from. For reference, the petrols are prefixed with a 'P' and the diesels with a 'D'.
Don't ignore the entry-level 148bhp D150 diesel, because it has enough punch to manage motorway journeys without fuss. But the 178bhp D180 is our favourite; it isn't as quick as the Volvo XC40 D4, but it has enough poke for reasonably crisp overtaking. The 237bhp D240 is pretty rapid if you need more oomph.
As for petrols, the P200 is quicker than any of the diesels (bar the D240), but only if you rev it hard. That shortage of low-rev pull is worth bearing in mind if you plan to tow a caravan or trailer. The hesitance of the Evoque's automatic gearbox is more frustrating with the P200 petrol engine than it is with any of the diesels.
Suspension and ride comfort
Ride comfort is pretty impressive if you stick with the smaller 17in or 18in alloys. Even with these, it's fair to say that the XC40 is a little smoother over potholes, although the Evoque is better controlled and sways around less along uneven roads. It also rides speed bumps with more grace and stays very nicely settled on motorways.
Even if you go for the 20in alloys, ride comfort is far from a deal-breaker, but doing so does cause more fidget and the car becomes more prone to thudding over sharp-edged ridges.
We've also tried the optional adaptive suspension, but only in combination with enormous 21in wheels, with which it proved no better than the standard setup. Again, smaller wheels might tell a different story.
It’s no Porsche Macan through the corners but, like the Volvo XC40, the Evoque handles quite assuredly; there's a fair bit of body lean but no shortage of grip. The steering is also accurate and appropriately geared – not too slow but not too quick.
You’d expect a Range Rover to be jolly good off road, too, and sure enough, the Evoque can tackle terrain that would leave an XC40 or a BMW X1 flummoxed. Its Terrain Response 2 system can automatically tailor the car’s four-wheel drive system to suit the surface you’re driving on, plus the Evoque has more ground clearance than most rivals and can wade through an impressive 600mm of water (150mm more than the XC40).
If you plan to tow, the Evoque can pull up to 2000kg, which isn't a best-in-class figure, but towing stability is good.
Noise and vibration
The engine stop-start system of the D150 isn't as smooth as those of the D180 and D240 (these have mild hybrid technology that fires the engine into life unobtrusively). The D180 and D240 are also quieter than the D150; in fact, they're quieter than rival diesel engines in the XC40 and BMW X1. The petrol Evoques are even smoother and quieter at low speeds, but ask a lot of them and they can get a bit gruff at higher revs.
The Evoque is a relatively peaceful cruiser in other respects, too, generating a lot less road noise than the XC40 or BMW X1 on the motorway. There isn’t much wind noise, either, although you can hear the suspension working away along pockmarked roads.
There is one flaw in the Evoque’s otherwise calming road manner: its gearbox. The stop-start system has a predilection for killing the engine when the speed drops to around 10mph – its assumption being that you’re about to come to a halt. Yet if the road ahead clears and you hit the accelerator, while the engine starts slickly, the gearbox drops into drive with an annoying jolt.
READER AWARD OF 2020
Automotive icons don't come much bigger than the Land Rover Defender, so it follows that thousands were watching when the covers came off the all-new model at the Frankfurt motor show in September.
And rightly so, because everything from how it looks to what powers it, from how it’s positioned to who it’s aimed at, has changed.
Most notably, the Defender should be far more civilised on the road, thanks to it now having modern underpinnings, rather than its body bolted to a ladder frame. And don’t think that means it isn’t still capable in the rough stuff, because there’s even more suspension travel and ground clearance than before, plus a multitude of driver assistance systems and settings designed to make sure that you needn’t stop when the asphalt does.
Inside, you’ll find seating for five, six or seven people, a digital instrument display and a 10.0in infotainment touchscreen. And in addition to powerful petrol and diesel engines, buyers will be able to choose a plug-in hybrid Defender by the end of this year.
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