Range Rover Velar goes head-to-head with Porsche’s Macan

Range Rover Velar goes head-to-head with Porsche’s Macan

DOES every gap in the car market need to be plugged? Land Rover apparently thinks so, though it has an ulterior motive with the launch of its all-new Range Rover Velar. The tough-looking “soft roader” is designed to sit between the brand’s popular Sports and Evoque models. And the sales team is gearing up to target buyers who might otherwise be considering Porsche’s number-one selling car, the Macan.

Madam Wheels had a look inside the Velar at its Melbourne launch, an event that highlighted two things about Land Rover - the company likes to take risks and it loves to show off. Unlike other car companies which prefer to keep their new cars under wraps to build tension before making the big reveal, Land Rover parked its Velar front and centre at one of Melbourne’s most public spaces - Federation Square - hanging it out there for all to see, not just the VIPs invited to the cocktail event fully exposed to the notoriously unpredictable Melbourne weather. 

Fortunately for Land Rover, the risk paid off and the rain that started the day went away - even the birds came out to play (evidenced by the picture below). The Velar is certainly attention-grabbing, with its sleek lines, laser-LED headlights, foil-stamped grill and integrated rear spoiler likely to appeal to those going for the sporty-but-elegant look. 

New features like the flush door handles are a nice touch but introduce another step in opening the actual door. Burnished copper accents add a touch of class to the three satin-finished colour options available in this first-edition model. And 22” 9 split-spoke wheels are a sharp finish. 

Inside, the car looks a little plain at first - especially compared to the Bentley Bentayga I’d road tested a week earlier (not that that’s a fair comparison). But when the two 10” high-definition touch screens light up they facilitate quick access to the many features that may need adjustment. It feels like the party might just about be about to get started, though one wonders how police will deal with people fiddling with their in-car screens these days given they’re so hard on mobile-phone use.

The Touch Pro Duo Infotainment system, as it’s called, can be used alone or with the optional Head-Up or Interactive Driver displays. Leather is used lavishly in the doors, armrests and seats, though I’m not too keen on the optional perforated leather panels in the seats. With kids on board, they scream “food trap”.

Nevertheless, the 20-way seats with memory for driver and passenger are a handy inclusion. And I love that the rear, not just the front seats, are heated, too. It’s nice that the Windsor leather extends to the steering wheel and that it can come with heating, too - a surprisingly pleasurable option that’s highly recommended. 

The Velar comes in 2.0-litre/4-cylinder and 3.0-litre/6-cyclinder variants in both petrol and diesel cars. I road tested a 2018 3.0-litre diesel R Dynamic SE variant the week after speeding around in a Tesla Model X, which was unfortunate timing (again) because, after the Tesla’s widely publicised Ludicrous driving mode, the Velar felt super-low performing. Its diesel engine seemed surprisingly loud, even compared to my own diesel Land Rover Discovery. And despite its low profile and dynamic packaging, this SUV was top-heavy in cornering and a little ho-hum to someone who savours performance aspects of a car. It’s pretty smart on the take-off, however, and the kids said it was very comfortable to be a passenger in.

Melbourne City Land Rover’s sales manager, Andrew Efthymiou, says the company expects a lot from the Velar. “The Porsche Macan is doing an incredible job. We’re looking to better it,” Efthymiou says. “We’re seeing a lot of conquest customers coming across from other brands, people of both genders.”

Dealer principal Greg Myles says the Velar launch coincided with a worldwide reduction in sedan sales. “More and more people want an SUV, so we're plugging the gap between the smaller Evoque, which was a little bit too small for some people, and the Range Rover Sport, which was too big for some people,” Myles says. Makes sense.

The Velar starts retailing on October 1, so we’ll see if it’s up to the task of attracting conquest sales from Porsche. Madam Wheels road tested the Macan when it was launched in Australia in May 2014 and wondered at the time why the high-end German company bothered entering that market. The smaller car has proven to be a smashing success, with buyers prepared to wait six months for delivery, depending on the variant, back then. While sales are more manageable these days, a Porsche spokesman says they’ve continued to sell 2000 Macans in Australia every year, in line with the global sales result accounting for more than a third of all Porsche sales. 

The latest Macan, a 4-cylinder turbo, was launched at a lower price than its predecessor at under $A100,000. That should put the Velar to the test. May the best set of wheels win.

Madam Wheels Verdict

Madam Wheels worthy? It looks great but there are better cars in the Land Rover range.

Buy: If you like the badge and are after an entry-level Land Rover.

Avoid: If you can possibly step up to a “Rangey”.

Likes: The streamlined look; line of the lights. 

Dislikes: The optional perforated “food trap” seat leather in the variant we drove.

Bottom line: Priced between $A90,000 and $150,000 (though the specced-up option at the Melbourne reveal was more like $200,000).