Few cars embody the evolution of contemporary car design better than the Range Rover Velar. Unveiled fully formed, not previewed by a concept or teased for 18 months, the Velar is a premium SUV with the cultural cachet and aesthetic sensibility of a high-end smartphone. Although in the strict financial hierarchy of Range Rover models, the Velar sits comfortably in the middle, the car’s extremely chic, svelte and smooth appearance effectively trumps the rather more gauche and brutish charms of its near rival, the Range Rover Sport.

Gerry McGovern, the company’s well-tailored design boss, has made much capital of a design-led model strategy, setting out a compelling case for desirability being the pathway to profit. The Velar is spiritually close to the original Evoque, the fashionably svelte urban SUV that helped transform JLR’s fortunes when it was launched in 2011. Hefty investment, canny model positioning and that ever-important emphasis on design has kept the company buoyant ever since. But with a new Evoque and flagship Range Rover due soon, is the magic of design starting to wear rather thin? There’s also the new two-door model, a mountain-conquering luxury coupe/SUV/crossover that’ll predictably have buyers clamouring from Moscow to Manhattan thanks to its strictly limited production run of 999.

Internal speaker, detail photograph of the Range Rover Velar

Meridian DSP loudspeakers offer refined interior sound

Range Rover recently installed a few new engines into its design flagship, the Velar. One of our familiar laments is that cars are getting larger, and the Velar doesn’t scrimp on size. Yet driving around what passes for rush hour in northern Norway, in between being distracted by helicopter trips to Michelin-starred island restaurants, on the Velar’s launch is a very different prospect to two weeks of urban ownership in the traffic-choked UK. Our recent experience was mostly on road rather than off, although the Velar casually ploughed a meaty furrow as it surmounted a steep, muddy grass verge, conditions that would have stranded most other vehicles. It also meant learning to love (and judge) the sheer physical size of this machine along narrow urban roads.

Although our recent drive was undertaken before the new engines arrived, the model Wallpaper* borrowed, the R-Dynamic HSE D300, still sits at the top of the line. It delivered plenty of power, with huge wheels that made the most of the car’s seamless bodywork (with its pop-out door handles and millimetre-perfect panel gaps) and a lavishly trimmed interior, replete with two touch screens and an agreeably logical interface. A word of warning – you have to be very careful how you kit out this car. Just a few streets away there’s a humble base model with the default option of 18” 15-spoke wheels. Set against the smooth cliffs of the Velar’s flanks, the standard wheels (which are still not exactly small) look lost in the wheel arches, and the car’s carefully conceived system of proportion collapses. With 21” or 22” wheels the car is transformed into a sleekly desirable object.

Interior detail photograph of the Range Rover Velar

Inside and out, the Velar has the aesthetic sensibility of a high-end smartphone

These aren’t the only wrinkles in the Velar’s blemish-free image. Recent market wobbles induced by a combination of Brexit and diesel’s sudden catastrophic reputation have led to the first perceptible dip in JLR production for years – the company is certainly not alone in this respect. But with rival Porsche just announcing they would be abandoning diesel power altogether, the winds of change are rapidly approaching hurricane force. JLR has invested heavily in hybrid tech and pure electric drive, and a hybrid Velar is surely in the works. Range Rover might have been first in bringing the smart lines of consumer tech to the car market, but even bigger technological challenges lie ahead.