In a world crammed with all-new electric SUVs and small cars, produced by an industry which increasingly talks about tackling climate change, sustainability and the move towards vehicles that consume less of the earth’s valuable resources, this feels out of step. But the Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography isn’t aimed at those who want to change this world – this is a hedonistic sporting SUV that bellows its way through life without excuses. What Greta Thunberg must think of it is anyone’s guess…
So, what exactly is a Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography? It’s the latest and meanest performance variation of the Land Rover range, and slides to the top of the Velar line-up to fight such super-SUVs as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and Porsche Macan Turbo S. It packs an impressive armoury too – it’s powered by Jaguar Land Rover’s workhorse 5.0-litre supercharged V8 which, in this installation, knocks out a fruity 542bhp. Torque is equally earth shifting at 502lb ft, and it’s all fed through an eight-speed auto and four-wheel-drive system.
Claimed performance figures are astonishing for a 1995kg SUV that will happily haul itself up the side of Ben Nevis without breaking a sweat. The 0-62mph time is a claimed 4.3 seconds, while its maximum speed is quoted at 176mph. Remember when the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton set Fleet Street alight with the same maximum speed 30 years ago? Now you can buy an off-roader that will do the same. That this news barely raises a ripple anywhere shows you how things have moved on in the past three decades.
However, despite all the muscle, Land Rover has very sensibly decided to leave the visuals largely alone – the front bumper is purposeful without being overly aggressive, while the quad pipes at the rear signal the car’s performance, but only after it has passed you and it’s on its way. Impressive, but then the Velar is quite the looker already and it wouldn’t do to unbalance that too much.
What’s it like to drive?
Despite its muted hotrod soundtrack, chop-top visual drama, and wheels bigger than dustbin lids, the Velar SVA is pleasantly civilised when you first jump in and go. It barks into life, but that famous Jaguar Land Rover V8 rumble has been muted by a significant degree. That initial feeling of refinement and sophistication is maintained as your speed rises – unless you’re unleashing its full performance potential, you’ll rarely hear the V8, while the air suspension does a great job of cossetting you from the melee outside.
But denying yourself a hefty stab of the throttle would be criminal. When you decide to deploy all of those horses, the accompanying thunder is worth its weight in gold – it’s melodious, thunderous and more than a little addictive. There’s a separate sports exhaust key on the lower control screen so you can choose the loudest mode whatever drive setting you happen to be in. The supercharger certainly does its stuff, delivering instant acceleration from pretty much idle speed, leaving the driver to enjoy on-tap acceleration whenever they want – it’s just a shame you can’t hear it more. The eight-speed auto does a great job of masking the changes, doing everything it can to assist in seamless forward thrust. We love it.
Handling is where you’d expect it to be. It’s not as planted as an Alfa Romeo Stelvio or Jaguar F-Pace, majoring – as we said – on a luxurious ride, and progression, not dartiness, in corners. Even in Dynamic drive mode, it’s blessed with a great ride, which is all the more impressive considering the 22in wheels it’s riding on. There’s some body roll to contend with, but it’s all controlled and perfectly acceptable for a Range Rover. And thanks to a lower driving position than its larger sister cars, it feels well set-up for as much long-distance running as your company fuel card will allow.
What’s it like inside?
Inside, the Velar is a masterclass in good design, carefully selected trims and colours, and resolved ergonomics (once mastered). The black mirror control panels are elegant, as are the multi-function rotary controls built into the bottom infotainment screen. The seats are perfectly shaped, there’s decent room in the rear, and you’d even say the boot is large enough to be totally usable. As we say, all Velars are great places in which to spend time.
SVA upgrades aren’t that numerous, but they weren’t really needed. So, there’s a thicker steering wheel rim, and tastefully quilted and twin-stitched 20-way adjustable leather seats. The control knobs now featured knurled edges for additional tactile delight, and it’s all topped off with new aluminium gearshift paddles. Other than that, the Velar is just as it was – hallelujah to that!
First thing’s first, this is an expensive car. Weighing in with a starting price of £86,685, it’s certainly only going to be for the few – more so when one considers its claimed 22mpg economy (it was less than that in our hands), and XXL servicing costs. But this is no ordinary car, and won’t be bought on rational grounds at all. How can any car like this be justified at all on rational grounds in the traffic-choked UK? In the real world, a D180 entry-level Velar will make you feel 90% as good for 90% of the time. That last 10% falls under the laws of diminishing returns.
As we say, this is a car for the few. And unlike its rivals (including the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Jaguar F-Pace), the Velar is a low-slung thing of beauty. In SVA form and on those wheels it has presence and style, but isn’t saddled with the anti-social looks that many large SUVs have. It’s a great place to spend time in, as the interior makes you feel special, while the twin-screen infotainment set-up is fantastic once you get used to operating it.
But for us – and with the caveat that you don’t mind spending so much money on an SUV – the Velar is a magnificent car. It can play the long-distance GT perfectly, while getting on with the job of a family car if so desired. The problem here though is that you could say that about any Velar, not just the SVA. And for that reason alone – the other Velar models’ brilliance – this is a tough one to recommend. We love the performance, power and looks, and hate the fuel consumption, but would struggle to feel the benefit of the SVA’s 542bhp here in the UK.