Style over substance: Range Rover Velar v Audi Q7 v Volvo XC90

Style over substance: Range Rover Velar v Audi Q7 v Volvo XC90

“Shouldn’t we have got the Macan?,” asks Aninda as the sun comes up and we head to our favourite driving road to get some perspective on the Range Rover Velar. You see, in isolation, the new Range Rover is excellent, but there’s nothing like a back-to-back drive with the segment benchmarks to keep things honest. And as far as sporting SUVs go, the Macan is da bomb. Except JLR already has a Macan rival and it is called the F-Pace. The Velar is more easy-going, plusher, more SUV-like than its stablemate with whom it shares the aluminium underpinnings and so we leave Jaguar to take on Porsche while we head to the hills in the Range Rover, accompanied by two more appropriate rivals from Audi and Volvo.

Straight to the point

If you want to seat seven the Velar is not for you, no beating around the bush here. Not only is there no option of three seats on the Range Rover Velar, the cabin is a fair bit cosier than its rivals with a higher window line and a more coupe-like roofline. No your head doesn’t brush up against the roofliner in the  Velar and unless you’re over six feet tall you won’t sit behind me with your knees splayed. The seats are also rather comfortable with electric recline but the Q7 and XC90 are wider, airier and deliver a greater sense of spaciousness. That’s important if you’re chauffeur-driven. In fact on outright space, the XC90 is the winner as the Q7 sacrifices one of the third row perches to accommodate its space-saver spare wheel – without which you cannot contemplate doing any intra-city drives in our country.

“What I want to highlight is even the steering wheel controls are glass touchscreens.”

Behind the ’wheel though the Range Rover Velar is as comfortable and roomy as its rivals while utterly blowing you away with its tech-trickery. This cabin, it’s as concept-car-like as the exterior. On the previous pages you will have read all about the twin edgeless screens on the centre console, how the top one whirrs up into position, how it falls deathly black when the Velar is switched off revealing just how bereft of traditional buttons and dials the cabin really is, and how all of this is a finger print magnet. What I want to highlight is even the steering wheel controls are glass touchscreens and what’s so cool is that the controls, for the phone for instance, only light up when a call is coming in, the green and red buttons disappearing into a blacked-out abyss when not required. Bloody hell it is sexy! If you have even a remote interest in gadgets, in technology, the Velar will have you floored.

Truth be told the Q7 and XC90 just cannot match up to the va-va-voom of the Rangie. When the XC90 was launched we praised its large touchscreen, the responsiveness, the clever menu system, the novelty and Scandinavian-ness of the cabin but a year later the Volvo looks, erm, dated. Such is the pace of progress! In contrast the Q7 actually manages to hold its own thanks to being a traditional cabin you find in traditional automobiles. In terms of quality and build integrity, the Q7 feels the most solid. In terms of ease of operation and intuitiveness the Q7 is king. In terms of being able to access menus and functions while driving without having to take your eyes off the road the Q7 is the class leader. There is a lot to be said for familiarity. But the Velar, it looks and feels like an SUV from the future and that gets my vote.

Those wheels

Borrowing the F-Pace’s aluminium platform is a great starting point but, crucially, the Range Rover Velar feels like a Ranger Rover, not a Jaguar. It doesn’t have the immediacy and urgency that we’ve admired so much in the F-Pace, the softer setup giving it a bit more roll through turns and gentle gait over undulating roads. Which works to its advantage when pitted against the Audi and Volvo. Both its rivals prioritise ride over handling, particularly the Volvo, but quite to my surprise I found the Velar was just that wee bit more comfortable over regular roads, delivering outstanding comfort over longer drives. And a major contributing factor are those wheels.

“Everything about the Velar is astonishingly sexy – smooth surfaces, flush door handles, a fanatical elimination of unnecessary ornamentation.”

Yes, those wheels look terrible. Everything about the Velar is astonishingly sexy – smooth surfaces, flush door handles, a fanatical elimination of unnecessary ornamentation, the addition of a new word to our vocabulary: reductionism – except those wheels. These are 19 inchers, which are large enough by any yardstick, but the Velar was designed to sit on 22-inch wheels and in this spec looks terribly undertyred. At least the high-profile rubber gives the Velar a great ride, ever so slightly raising the bar over the Q7 despite running on steel springs.

The XC90 too is within the general ballpark as regards ride quality, it only falls behind when excitement is thrown into the mix. The Volvo is deliberately laid back. The interiors emanate a sense of calm relaxation that also extends to the way it goes round corners. It can go round corners but it doesn’t enjoy being hustled through them. The Q7 too can go round corners, surprisingly and eye-openingly well when you consider her tremendous girth, but it is the Velar that puts a genuine smile on one’s face. First off you sit within the Velar; you’re cocooned in the cabin, which gives it that sense of sportiness. The steering is more engaging. The front end is more energetic. And it feels smaller and lighter than the Q7. This is all relative of course and compared to, say, the Porsche Macan and even F-Pace, there is a fair bit of roll and understeer, but the Velar is still fun to drive, especially with the petrol 2-litre unit.

Petrol or diesel?

That’s the big question with the Velar because the P250 petrol and D180 diesel carry identical sticker prices. But are you willing to sacrifice 70 horsepower for the savings at the pump? I’d think not particularly since 177.5bhp (180PS) just doesn’t cut it for an SUV that looks like the Velar. The P250 is more like it, hitting 100kmph in 6.7 seconds (compared to the leisurely 8.9 for the D180) and maxing out at 217kmph. This is two tenths quicker than the 2-litre turbo-petrol in the Q7, though the Q7 evens things out with a quicker shifting 8-speed  ‘box compared to the Velar’s. As for the XC90 the only petrol on offer is the (rather excellent!) T8 plug-in electric hybrid, pricing of which isn’t in the ball park of this test and so we stick with the four-cylinder diesel that hits 100kmph in just under 8 seconds.

Head over heart?

Put the calculator on the table and the Audi is a no-brainer. Forget the turbo-petrol that is over 7 lakh rupees cheaper than the similarly-specced Range Rover Velar, you can even get the lovely V6 diesel in the Q7 for less than you’d pay for a four-cylinder (petrol or diesel) Velar. And I’d not be doing my job if I didn’t mention the Velar, being a CBU, attracts a higher road tax rate than the Audi, further skewing the pricing equation. As for the XC90, well, the Audi again has the Volvo covered on this aspect.

Whether the Q7 is the obvious recommendation isn’t even a question – it’s more affordable, more practical, more spacious and more sensible. Not without reason is it ubiquitous. It is a head over heart purchase. The Range Rover Velar on other hand… it tugs at your heartstrings. You look at it and you smile. It seduces you. It is massively desirable. No, it hasn’t won this group test. But it has won our hearts.

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