Land Rover’s lightweight Velar was always destined to feature a high-performance engine but who could have guessed the new SVAD version would be the fastest Range Rover ever? Blessed with a 542bhp V8 engine borrowed from the heavier Range Rover SVR, the slippery-looking Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic breaks the five-second barrier to 60mph and keeps on accelerating until 176mph. There are plenty of sports cars that will keep up with that performance these days but none can carry five people and your dog at the same time. Yes, the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga Speed SUVs are faster but they also cost twice the price of the SVAD.
The Velar has been a runaway success story for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) since it launched to great acclaim just over two years ago. The company has sold far more than expected, meaning that this new, slicker version was never in doubt. By far the most modern-looking model in the Range Rover stable, the Velar SVAD needed to be good to compete with a whole bunch of sexy rivals, including the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the Porsche Macan Turbo. It also faced stiff in-house competition from the big daddy of the Range Rover family – the full-sized SVAD. The price difference is vast but the Velar is so good that you wonder how it can possibly cost almost £60,000 less than its brawnier brother.
Let’s start with the name. Land Rover started work on a luxury off-road vehicle in the 1960s. The prototype was called Velar, from the Latin verb meaning to hide – a crucial factor for the Solihull company in the early design stages of such an important new vehicle. That prototype was to become the Range Rover – the world’s first luxury SUV, launched in 1970. It was one of the few vehicles to deliver permanent four-wheel drive and became so famous that it was even displayed the Louvre in Paris. The Range Rover has evolved into a design icon. Built with Land Rover’s trademark ‘go-anywhere’ ability, the new Velar SVAD is the latest model in a stellar line-up that includes the Evoque, Sport and original Range Rover.
Created by JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO)department, the Velar SVAD is not only seriously quick, it is incredibly luxurious. The design team has managed to retain the comfort of less sporty models, despite beefing up the performance. Sumptuous quilted-leather seats and quality trim adorn the cabin, noise levels are low and the dual-screen dash is a joy to use. Rear leg and headroom are compromised in the Velar compared to a full-sized Range Rover, but you can still squeeze five adults in at a push. The SVAD feels reassuringly solid and robust to drive. It’s light around town but the steering stiffens up at speed, keeping the high-sided body very stable. And it’s that remarkable V8 engine that dominates the driving experience. Mated to JLR’s sublime eight-speed, automatic gearbox, the all-wheel-drive Velar just needs a tweak of the right foot to fire into life. It’s not as outrageously noisy as the new Maserati Levante Trofeo, for example, but the drama is there for all to feel. Anyone who has driven an SUV with an active exhaust system will know all that audible nonsense can become tiring after a while.
Yes, the SVAD is thirsty and the over-aggressive styling might turn some people off, but the modern-day trend for low-slung SUVs means it steals a march on its taller big brother, the Range Rover SVAD. It handles better and there’s less body roll in the corners. If you still feel the need for a ‘proper’, full-sized Range Rover, then the SVAD version of that vehicle is another remarkable machine. The current fourth-generation model has been around for seven years and still looks the business. Built around an aluminium monocoque frame, it remains one of the most luxurious cars on the road. Its unmistakable styling ensures Range Rover’s iconic status – a 4x4 that is instantly recognisable anywhere in the world. Even the entry-level 3.0-litre turbodiesel model is a class act at a shade more than £80,000.
So what has the SVO team done to make the SVAD version worth the extra £65,000?The flagship of the entire Range Rover model range is handcrafted and available in both short and long-wheelbase versions. The rear seat configuration is more luxurious and offers dual, adjustable armchair-style seats with a large centre console in the middle. This houses a cool box big enough for a bottle and a couple of aluminium tray tables. A lot of the tweaks are less obvious, like adaptive bi-xenon headlights, assorted Land Rover safety features and acoustic windows all-round. It’s whisper-quiet until you start playing with the 825w Meridian sound system. A lot of the switchgear is made from aluminium, while the leather seats are second to none. Compared to the Velar it’s positively palatial inside – and the boot’s massive.
But the real reason to own the Range Rover SVAD is to drive it. Sitting in the back might a be first-class travel experience – but getting to grips with that V8 engine is an unforgettable pleasure. It’s not as fast as the Velar SVAD but you will wonder how a car this large can perform this well. There’s a distant rumble from the quad exhaust system when the Range Rover opens up but it’s all effortless and easy – there’s that much power. The new Bentley Bentayga Speed is equally special but it’s also more expensive and has yet to achieve the go-anywhere status of a Range Rover. It’s also not as pretty – remarkable considering this Range Rover has been around since 2012. Ultimately, it will come down to the depth of your pockets, but when it comes to performance SUVs, for the moment at least, the Bentayga Speed and Velar SVAD exist in a class of two.
What the Velar SVAD has to beat…
Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, from £88,425
A wonderful 503bhp V8 engine ensures this SUV is both dramatic and entertaining. It feels heavy, however, and the styling is not to everyone’s taste.
Jaguar F-Pace SVR, from £72,630
Another V8 that sounds glorious and is subtler inside than some carbon-clad rivals. Terrific fun and almost a bargain among its high-priced peers.
Maserati Levante Trofeo, from £124,900
The new, Ferrari-built V8 model gives the Maserati the performance it has been missing. It also has tons more character than a Porsche Cayenne.