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Mid-life update for mid-sized Range Rover feels a little like tweaking for its own sake but leaves behind a car still well capable of a luxurious air

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The Range Rover Velar may not be the industry-typical image of a mid-sized, mid-level SUV, but it is precisely that for JLR's luxury SUV arm - which tells you as much about Range Rover as a modern sub-brand as it does about the car itself. Now in middle age as a first-generation model, the car is a high-style alternative to the likes of the Mercedes GLC, BMW X3 and Audi Q5 - and its latest update, though a fairly mild one, turns up the dial on its designer SUV credentials just a little.

Having been introduced to UK showrooms in 2017, the Velar was the model with which Land Rover really focused on style. JLR design supremo Gerry McGovern seized the opportunity of a blank canvas to create a car not simply to plug the hole in the model range between Evoque and Range Rover Sport, but to explore the potential of the Range Rover brand to appeal to customers looking for a really standout design - and who would value that design every bit as much as Range Rover's more traditional values of space, capability and luxury.

It has sold well, and integrated within the Range Rover model range equally well, as its sibling models around it have themselves picked up a little of its reflected design star quality. Now, JLR has taken the opportunity to refresh its exterior a little, to improve its powertrain options slightly, and to reappraise its interior and infotainment technology rather more extensively.

According to JLR's Velar model configurator, there's no way to option up the revised P400e for an 'equivalent all-electric range' of 40 miles, so the car will miss out, very narrowly, on an 8% benefit-in-kind rating.

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Under the skin, the Range Rover Velar remains unequivocally 'car based'. Its predominately aluminium platform is the same architecture used by the Jaguar XE and Jaguar XF, while the Jaguar F-Pace is an even closer blood relative.

Naturally, four-wheel drive and Land Rover’s Terrain Response system are both standard, even at the base of the line-up – but so, too, are four-cylinder engines, coil suspension, and a fairly low ride height (for a Range Rover, at least). At the other extreme of the derivative range, however, six-cylinder turbocharged engines promise plenty of Range Rover typical power, refinement and capability; adaptively damped, ride-height-adjustable air suspension adds plenty of dynamic versatility; and a petrol-electric PHEV version offers tax efficiency for fleet users.

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The Range Rover Velar line-up at a glance

The UK-market Velar model range has been cut down a little, to two petrol and two diesel models, plus a four-cylinder petrol-electric PHEV. The P250 uses Land Rover's turbocharged four-cylinder Ingenium petrol, while the D200 use a similarly split 2.0-litre diesel motor.

The D300 and P400 have latest-generation turbocharged straight-six Ingenium engines, while the P400e mixes an electric motor with a four-pot petrol engine.

Trim levels kick off with the Velar S, progressing upwards through Dynamic SE, Dynamic HSE and Autobiography; and the car's richest items of equipment and more lavish cabin materials are reserved for the last two.

DESIGN & STYLING

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Car makers tend to talk a lot about identities and design languages: but even if JLR had done neither, you'd have known that the Velar was a Range Rover like none before it when it first emerged in 2017. It had that unmistakable, super-sleek, show-car-with-numberplates look - and now, JLR has done little to interfere with a winning recipe.

So in 2023, you could call the car’s exterior design update pretty reductive, ironically enough. There are new headlights and tail-lights, a new radiator grille, reshaped bumpers, and some fresh exterior paint options - but the overall impact is subtle. This is the kind of update you might notice on a car you’re following, or being followed by, after dark - but it’ll take a keen eye otherwise.

Land Rover's talk of the exquisite detailing of this facelifted model is mostly to be ignored - but there's no denying how good this car looks, even now. It shows that SUVs needn't pretend to be coupés to catch the eye.

On the technical side, most of the Velar’s engine range is all but unchanged. A fairly broad choice of mild-hybridised four- and six-cylinder combustion engines - both petrol and diesel - remain part of the car’s armoury. The four-cylinder petrol-electric P400e plug-in hybrid, meanwhile, gets a larger drive battery, and a boost in tax-liability-defining electric range.

Technically, the Velar is an entirely logical extension of the Range Rover line-up: more rugged than an Evoque, but less so than the Range Rover Sport or full-fat Range Rover. The mostly aluminium monocoque it sits on is the same as the Jaguar F-Pace’s. There’s a longitudinal engine in the front, driving through a ZF eight-speed gearbox to all four wheels.

Predominantly, the driveline is the same as in Jaguars, so the Velar is a rear-drive car first and foremost, with a clutch at the gearbox that can push power to the front wheels as and when necessary. Which, in a car like a Range Rover, is a lot more than it ought to be necessary in ‘lesser’ off-roaders.

There’s no low-ratio gearbox, but there is plenty of ground clearance (up to 251mm), and Range-Rover-typical approach and departure angles and wade depth too, on cars with Land Rover's height-adjustable air suspension (which our Dynamic SE test car had fitted as an option).

All of those numbers are worse than a full-sized Range Rover's but also superior to any other car in this sector. What you won’t find on a big Range Rover, mind, but you will here, is a four-cylinder, mild-hybrid diesel engine from the JLR Ingenium line-up. It makes a pretty modest 201bhp, which isn't bad for a 2.0-litre diesel, but it motivates a car that's almost two tonnes at its lightest.

INTERIOR

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It’s the Velar’s interior that’s had the most attention as part of its mid-life update. Having originally come along before JLR started to roll out its latest Pivi Pro touchscreen infotainment system on cars like the Defender, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, the Velar now becomes the first JLR product with a new-generation Pivi Pro console that takes in even more functionality than previously.

Within its various menu screens, the system integrates the car’s climate control console, audio system controls and its terrain response controls – and that, in turn, has allowed another major paring down and tidying up of the Velar’s transmission tunnel design. 

However, the end result, while sleek, looks sparse to the point of bareness. The old car’s physical volume knob and ventilation temperature controls have been junked and the secondary touchscreen panel, of which they used to be part, disposed of entirely, replaced by a storage area and wireless phone charger.

Some of the hard moulded plastics of the Velar's upper dashboard and door cards were some way short of my expectations of a Range Rover for tactile quality. Even a mid-spec Velar, at a little under £60,000, ought to set a higher standard.

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The upshot, rather predictably, is some unwelcome complication of the Velar’s human-machine interface - although a sensible home screen design for the infotainment system, with useful permanent shortcuts along its lateral extremes, mitigates the fallout. You can hop between climate control, navigation, audio system and other menus easily, with one prod of your finger; and 80% of the inputs you’ll need, claims Land Rover, are the work of only two prods.

They are finger prods that require your full attention, however – not a quick flick of your gaze. They plainly distract you from the road more than reaching for a temperature knob that is always where you left it, and turning it, would. They’re also prods on a curved touchscreen display that - however well placed, responsive, and attractively rendered - gets grubby and smudgy much quicker than some, because (without a separate physical cursor controller) you’ve got little option but to poke away at it - and often. 

It may be considered folly, after all, for luxury cars to shed too many physical secondary cabin controls, because every one is an opportunity to make your car feel heftier, more expensive and better engineered than the next. The updated Velar’s gear selector is one of very few such opportunities retained - and, haptically speaking, it’s a little bit light and insubstantial.

Elsewhere around the cabin, in our lower-mid-level-trim D200 Dynamic SE test car at least, material cabin quality was a bit up and down. Wherever the pudgy padded fascia materials drove up the perceived standard, you could find harder, cheaper fixtures and finishes not far away.

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In a broader sense, the Velar's front seats grant a relaxed, semi-recumbent driving position that feels tall if less commanding than in a big Range Rover, or a Range Rover Sport. Visibility is typically good to most, if not all, angles - with bulky B-pillars intruding a little.

There’s plentiful oddments storage, too, and although rear leg room is not much more than adequate in this class (in truth, adults can sit comfortably behind adults, and how much air do you need in front of your knees?), the payback is that the boot is notably bigger than in some mid-sized SUVs.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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Diesel engines of all sizes are dying a drawn-out death throughout most of the car market, while they hang on in certain corners of it - the Velar's being among them. And the Velar's entry-level, 201bhp four-cylinder diesel is no embarrasment to it. The D200 may only have modest performance, but responsiveness and drivability are both good, and so the car feels assured in day-to-day driving, and picks up useful pace in fairly low-effort fashion on a light throttle load.

Previous versions of JLR's Ingenium 2.0-litre diesel had some slow-shifting characteristcs, and tended towards a rather treacly, protracted step-off when getting going, but those quirks are now long behind the latest mild-hybridised versions, which are slick, feel torquey and generally respond very well to roll-on performance demands.

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This isn't an engine to rev for the sake of it; it's noisy at anything about 3500rpm. But the way the torque converter locks up and the mild-hybrid system boosts below that level help to make trips beyond that point fairly rare.

All-round mechanical isolation is good but not brilliant. Work the D200 hard - as sometimes you’d need to with any two-tonne, 201bhp car - and it does get a little noisy and breathless, but not problematically so. Drive more moderately, though, and a rather un-Range-Rover-like real-world 50mpg is deliverable.

Outright performance on paper is stronger than in the D200, meanwhile, in both of Land Rover's petrol Velars, in the six-cylinder D300 diesel, and in the P400e (which dips as low as 5.1sec to 62mph, according to manufacturer claims), so there are plenty of options for those who want something pacier.

RIDE & HANDLING

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Out on the road, the Velar gives a more consistent impression than in other departments. As before, six-cylinder models, PHEVs, and Dynamic HSE trim cars all get adaptively damped, ride-height-adjustable air suspension as standard – and you can have it on a lower-tier four-cylinder car as part of JLR’s £2225 ‘Dynamic Handling Pack’ (as our test car did).

Thus equipped, the Velar driving experience has plenty of plushness and impressive versatility. Choose Comfort mode and the car floats along gently and with a cocooning waft. Go for Dynamic mode instead and there’s more weight about the controls, leaner and crisper responses to inputs and an understated sort of driver appeal in evidence that’s easy to like.

At all times, however, the Velar feels luxurious and supple. It doesn’t have quite the mechanical or ride isolation of the latest-generation Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, but it’s still cosseting - and it can clearly be an SUV you’ll enjoy driving, as well as simply travelling in.

It’s easy enough for a keener driver to buy into this car’s raison d’être after all, because in dumping the heavy off-roading hardware that most owners don’t need in any case, Land Rover made way for a Range Rover that’s better to drive on the road. And, while it clearly isn't a lightweight, the Velar does follow through. It’s buoyant, cushioned and fairly quiet over the ground, but somehow in touch with the road and under constant and discreet control of its body movements at all times.

Even on standard-fit M+S-type hybrid off-road tyres, it also has precise, incisive, medium-weighted steering and a strong and well-balanced grip level. In respect of both ride and handling, the Velar is very good, in short.

In Comfort mode, it copes well with bigger intrusions at town speeds and feels genuinely luxurious. At A-road pace and on more uneven B-roads, it combines comfort and body control best when left in Auto driving mode, introducing the occasional shimmy of head toss and shudder of complaint from the body structure over really broken Tarmac in Dynamic mode.

There’s certainly an improvement in handling response and body control when you do select the suspension’s Dynamic setting, though, because it allows the Velar to rein in its mass cleverly and to feel pleasingly crisp and rewarding when you hurry it along. And at no point does the suspension suffer from the noisy, hollow ride that you can find in air-sprung cars. It's not quite on the level of the bigger Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models for ride isolation, but still sets a competitive mark versus its rivals.

The relatively languid directional responses and gathering body roll that have become hallmarks of the Range Rover driving experience over decades are present in the Velar’s, too, when you drive it hard. Had JLR created a car without either, it probably wouldn’t have felt like a Range Rover at all.

But the Velar keeps a closer check on its body movement than its bigger siblings do and preserves a surprisingly well-balanced chassis for longer as you lean on it through corners. Both feats make it feel more like a driver’s car and less like a tall, heavy, go-anywhere SUV. In Dynamic mode, there’s certainly more than enough precision and poise here to prepare the Velar well for fast road use.

Get to the limit of grip and you’ll find the torque-vectoring system keeps it on line very faithfully as you power out of corners and its M+S tyres hang on to dry Tarmac surprisingly well.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Range Rover Velar D200 Dynamic SE 2023

That the Velar is comparatively expensive ought to surprise no one. It opens for business as a four-cylinder P250 petrol well above £50,000, and you'll be paying north of £70k for a fairly well-equipped P400e PHEV - in a market segment where BMW X3s and Audi Q5s can still be snapped up for prices that start with a four.

Strong residual values ought to make monthly finance deals on the car at least a little more palatable than those showroom sticker prices might suggest, though. This car remains clearly a product positioned at a premium even among 'premium SUVs', and for the style-led desirability on which it trades, as well as the on-board luxury, JLR will argue that it's value, and perhaps not entirely unreasonably. 

VERDICT

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Range Rover Velar D200 Dynamic SE 2023

The Range Rover Velar is undoubtedly a car with more of the luxury star quality of its larger Range Rover siblings in some respects than it has in others.

The impact and effectiveness of JLR’s latest changes to it are a little debatable. In a context in which interior functionality is moving ever more wholesale onto touchscreens industry-wide, the Velar's changes in this respect are fairly well handled and don't create significant usability problems. But they do make for some secondary controls that are more distracting than they used to be.

I'd probably find a way to stretch to a six-cylinder D300 Dynamic SE, and get air suspension as part of the deal, if it were my money. In doing that, I'd be confident of getting a very suave and stylish SUV.

In terms of outright material quality, and in lower-level trim as tested, the car leaves a little to be desired for the richness you'd expect of a full-sized Range Rover. But dynamically first and foremost, and also in how it looks, it remains an SUV that stands out from its rivals in readily apparent ways.

Its critics may claim it is an entirely superficial car, symbolic of everything that a Land Rover traditionalist might dislike about the new JLR. But, in more ways than one, they'd be wrong to do so.

The Velar plainly has the luxurious air, the air-sprung comfort and the highly accomplished ride and handling to be considered superior to the premium-branded medium-sized SUVs whose proportions it roughly matches. In all three respects, it goes some way to justifying its very high price. And if you like the way the Velar looks, ‘some way’ may well be far enough.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Land Rover Range Rover Velar First drives