In March, Land Rover revealed its latest product. The Range Rover Velar was kept top-secret throughout its five-year development phase before it premiered as a complete production car. There were no conceptual design study teasers leading up to the reveal. It alluded to the importance of this mid-size luxe SUV for the British marque.
This month I drove the Velar. The last encounter I’d had with the car was viewing it on stage at the Design Museum in London. It felt at home sharing a platform with some of the most classic examples of design, past and present. Not all cars can get away with this. Certainly, not a new car like the Velar. So, I was excited to get behind the wheels of a product I’ve been admiring for four months and see how it lives amongst chaos and traffic in the real world.
The Velar carves a new space within the Land Rover family. It sits below the flagship luxury Range Rover and above the ever-so-popular small Evoque. Gerry McGovern is somewhat of a disrupter, responsible for introducing inventive products to join what used to be a pretty narrow product range. As director of design, he also sits on the Jaguar Land Rover board helping make major decisions that have been instrumental to the brand’s recent success.
The Velar is an exceptional example of vehicle design. There is striking clarity to its form, a formal simplicity – restrained sensibility. I admire that it effortlessly dissolves the boundaries between vehicle, industrial and product design. As cars evolve to be such complex products that serve in all these categories, it makes absolute sense to view design in much the same way you would an intelligent product, or even architecture.
Head of exterior design Massimo Frascella offers this explanation: “Reductionism plays a critical role in the exterior design. It is about eliminating what doesn’t need to be there.” At the static launch, McGovern told me: “Velar is the most urban, on-road vehicle we’ve designed this far. It will be a great vehicle to drive,” he promised. And it is.
My car is a V6 3.0-liter petrol boasting 380hp and a top speed of 155mph. It is one of the First Edition models, available to buy now but created strictly for one model year to retain the spirit of exclusivity. It comes with satin finish paint and “cut diamond” upholstery, a new signature premium material for Range Rover.
At 4.8-meters long, this isn’t a big car for an SUV, nor is it heavy since 81% of its body is made of lightweight aluminum. The clean surfaces and impressive panoramic “floating” roof; the delicate flush deployable door handles and brushed copper air vents, striking slender full Matrix-Laser LED headlights, all help make this one of the company’s most aerodynamic cars. Sitting on vast 22-inch wheels I certainly feel in command both on tarmac and off where the car’s off-road technologies allows me to drive up and down steep hills and uneven surfaces with relative ease.
Inside continues this feeling of calmness. I feel secure sitting high up with all the technology I need close to hand. There is an interesting dialogue happening here between the physical and digital – clean flat screens interject with switch gears made to the traditional car format. Velar debuts the new duel touchscreens infotainment system featuring two 10-inch high-definition screens integrated seamlessly behind “secret-until-lit” surfaces so the driver gets to choose what they see at any given time. Head of color and trim Amy Frascella says, “it is the meeting of the digital and physical – a sleek piece of architecture that allows the technology to come to you when you need it.”
McGovern feels the car “brings a new dimension of modernity” to the brand. He has labeled the design “reductionism”, as in reduced design that articulates technology. “We worked closely with engineering to make this happen,” he says. “For us engineers need to deliver the desire which design instigates. After all desirability is the key to what works. It has to be visceral, desirable, lasting.”
The Velar is filling what McGovern likes calling “white spaces”. It wouldn’t have been a car the company would dream of doing say ten years ago, but the automotive landscape has changed dramatically since then. Customers are ready – hungry even – for more product options especially in the more premium sector. They are willing to buy cars that are not in the mainstream. Novelty is the new luxury. The Velar represents a lively episode in vehicle design.