The Lake District is simply the most beautiful place in the UK. It offers the stark ruggedness of Yorkshire, the charming tweeness of the Cotswolds, and the epic vistas of Snowdonia. And, of course, it has those lakes – so picturesque they make the Highlands blush. If you haven’t visited before, it’s difficult to beat in Autumn: vivid red acers, rust-brown ferns, and golden beech trees battle it out for your camera’s attention against green fields, blue skies and iridescent waters.
It’s a genuinely special place to visit – it’s a place of William Heaton Cooper watercolours, Beatrix Potter tales, and William Wordsworth poems – and, in a sunny week in November, of a Range Rover Velar.
This is not as incongruous as it sounds. You see, the brand-new Velar is simply the most beautiful car Land Rover has ever designed. Beautiful is not an adjective you’d normally expect to be applied to the brand. Rugged, yes. Epic, certainly. But beautiful?
Imagine a normal Range Rover, but with all the rough edges hewn off. There’s barely a straight line in existence – it’s more fluid, more aerodynamic and more organic than anything the marque has produced before.
It’s also a rather sensible size. It’s larger than the pint-sized Evoque, so can fit in all the family with a boot bigger than an estate car. But it’s not as unapologetically large as the Sport or the full-bore Rangie, so you have half a chance of fitting it in a parking space.
ROADS LESS TRAVELLED
On the route to Lake Coniston, in the middle of what can only be categorised as ‘Arse-End, Nowhere’ is a giant Land Rover dealership. It’s normal to see these in the green belt but not in the middle of miles and miles of actual green. But, then, this is the kind of territory that Range Rovers were made for.
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The Velar comes equipped with Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system, pioneered for its bigger brothers. The result is ‘ain’t no mountain high enough’ all the way.
Of course, no Velar owner will actually use their new SUV to herd sheep. But a trip to the Lakes does at least see the Velar in the countryside, where there’s mud, hills and speeds of more than 10mph to be enjoyed.
Honister Pass, with its barren, almost Lunar landscape, has impossibly steep roads (with gradients of 25% in areas), but the Velar makes what can otherwise feel like a fairly hairy experience a drive in the park.
The area’s other epic pass – Kirkstone – is the Lake District’s highest mountain pass. A drink at the summit’s Kirkstone Pass Inn is a must for a pint with a view.
The drive is one of the most picturesque in the region – with some inclines that made me very happy to be behind the wheel rather than behind handlebars. There’s a reason the road into Ambleside is called The Struggle. Still, in the Velar, it’s anything but.
I test drove the entry-level 2.0-litre twin turbo-charged diesel. For a four-pot, it is prodigious – it just keeps on giving, meanwhile the fuel-tank needle barely moves. Sure, the 380hp V6 is more fun, but won’t get anywhere near the 2.0-litre’s average 52.5MPG. Perhaps JLR’s higher-output six-cylinder diesel might be the wise man’s choice – a happy medium between the two. But either way, the 2.0-litre punches well above its weight.
HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU
Whether you’re outside or inside, this car is undeniably a looker. It’s like they gave the Range Rover designers a blank slate and said, take the RR genes (the floating roof and the continuous waistline) and make everything as sleek as you can. There aren’t even door handles. Or rather, there are, but they disappear when not in use, going flush with the panels of the car when it’s locked. Indeed, flush is the order of the day: the grille, lamps and bumper all follow suit.
This aesthetic is carried on inside with a new stripped-back interior. Critics of the Range Rover, who have previously pointed out that the switch gear was a bit too Tonka – chunky and lacking in design flair – will have no complaints with the Velar. Almost every button has been replaced with touch-sensitive controls, including the new Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, which integrates two ten-inch high-definition touchscreens. There’s optional full-colour head-up display and interactive driver display, too.
It has the heart of a bull, but the poise of a ballerina. Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger in a tutu. But in a good way.
The controls on the steering wheel adapt to the context and are stroke-responsive – something those ofus living in an iWorld will appreciate.
The cabin is a serene place to be; all is calm and sublime. There’s even interior ambient lighting with ten different colour settings so the cabin can be set to suit your mood. The seats are as comfy as you’d expect from a Rangie – in other words, pretty much the best on the market short of a Rolls-Royce. And there are thoughtful details everywhere. For example, the holes for heating and cooling punched into the seat leather are patterned in the shape of the Union Jack.
Optional Electronic Air Suspension swallows up any bumps on the road – and also enables Automatic Access Height, lowering the car by 40mm when parked, allowing for easier access. The tech doesn’t stop there. It also has something Range Rover calls ‘Matrix-laser’ LED lights. Despite the Hollywood name, these can’t actually destroy agents with a single blast, but rather use laser technology to enable a brightness that’s close to daylight. This doesn’t mean you’ll blind forthcoming cars, though. It uses onboard cameras to recognise when another car is coming towards you, and creates artificial shadows around the vehicles ahead, while still illuminating the area in front. It’s enlightening – literally.
And then there’s the car’s remote functionality – you can start the engine to pre-condition the climate, lock and unlock the vehicle, locate your car on a map and track your journeys – all via an app on your phone. Now that’s my kind of smart car.
Above all, the Velar feels strong and composed. It’s filet mignon – classy yet carnivorous. It has the heart of a bull, but the poise of a ballerina. Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger in a tutu. But in a good way.