Simon de Burton
If you’re below the age of 30 the name ‘Rover’ probably won’t mean much in motoring terms. But Rover’s roots date back to 1878 when it was founded as a bicycle company, which created the original waist-high, triangulated-frame bicycle alternative to the unsafe penny-farthing.
The firm made motorcycles and then cars, which were soon favoured by the upper-middle-class gent, who garnered respect by sitting behind a bonnet that sported the marque’s Viking’s head symbol. Models such as the P4, P5 and P6 produced from the 1950s until the 1970s were recognised as the ultimate in mid-sized luxury, with the P5 remaining the British government’s favoured ministerial vehicle for more than a decade after the end of production.
Rover also led the way in experimentation. It built the 150mph gas-turbine car ‘Jet 1’ in 1950, partnered with the BRM Formula 1 team to build a Le Mans racer, developed Frank Whittle’s original jet engine and made a prototype supercar under the Alvis name, which they bought in 1965.
But even those who didn’t see a Rover on the road in its heyday will recognise the name of Land Rover, which has been around since 1948. After spinning off as an individual company, when the original Rover marque became defunct a dozen years ago, Land Rover has survived and thrived – and it still owns the Rover name.
Even more recognised today is sub-brand Range Rover, which first appeared in 1970. However, it’s little known that nearly 20 years before, Rover had been toying with the idea of a go-anywhere vehicle that was more luxurious than the Land Rover, producing 23 prototypes of its Road Rover concept in the 1950s. But the first Range Rover didn’t come into being until 1959 – and Rover was so concerned about the idea being stolen that it gave its 26 prototypes a different name. They were called the Velar, from the Latin word velare meaning to cover or hide.
Clearly Rover’s engineers knew they were on to something, and they were right: following its official launch as the Range Rover in June 1970, the original remained in production for 26 years before three further models saw it develop into the class-leading luxury SUV it is today.
Yet while ‘Range Rover’ used to refer to one model, its evolution into an individual marque has seen the family grow, first with the Sport versions, then the Evoque and its convertible offspring, and now the latest addition, which name-wise takes things full circle, the Velar.
The Velar might have seemed absurdly futuristic even five years ago, its rakish roofline, tapered body and about-to-pounce stance being apparently incongruous in a vehicle offering serious off-road capability
Many might be surprised that there’s call for a further Range Rover model when small, medium and large already exist, but the response to the Velar’s launch at the Geneva motor show
in March demonstrated that there are plenty of people who would rather have one of these than a comparable Porsche, Audi or BMW. Indeed, the Velar’s underpinnings are shared with the F-Pace, built by sister brand, Jaguar, but it’s otherwise an entirely different car, having the unmistakable Range Rover character and level of luxury.
The looks too are all the Velar’s own. Penned by Land Rover design chief Gerry McGovern, the new car might have seemed absurdly futuristic even five years ago, its rakish roofline, tapered body and about-to-pounce stance being apparently incongruous in a vehicle offering serious off-road capability.
But during the Velar’s launch in Norway, we were presented with some far tougher terrain and trickier driving challenges than most owners will be. It breezed right through all of them thanks to a combination of Land Rover’s brilliant Terrain Response 2 system, a remarkable degree of suspension articulation and ample power (in the case of the V6 petrol-engine I tried).
On the open road the Velar is predictably swift and silent, although its sloping roof might mean rear-seat passengers will need to stop to stretch their legs more often than if they were
in a full-sized Range Rover.
There’s plenty of room up front however, and McGovern’s current obsession with reductionism and doing away with switches and buttons means that, aside from two rotary knobs, all of the car’s ancillary functions are controlled by a brace of 10-inch touch screens, which form the heart of a nifty new infotainment system called Touch Pro Duo.
The resulting minimalism gives the interior an airy, harmonious and relaxing feel and reflects the general sleekness of some of the Velar’s other design features, such as flush-fit glass and exterior door handles, super-slim LED headlights and some innovative copper brightwork.
It’s a practical SUV too, with an ample boot that grows into a suitably huge load space when the rear seats are folded. The Velar can also tow up to 2,500kgs, with a special trailer setting on the rotary control system eliminating the usual need to counter-steer when reversing.
I bet the Road Rover couldn’t do that.