TRANSPORT

Did Land Rover Design the Sexiest SUV Out There?

The stylish new Range Rover Velar is exactly the design-minded sport utility vehicle you were looking for.

The stylish new Range Rover Velar is exactly the design-minded sport utility vehicle you were looking for.

Can a sport-utility vehicle seduce? Land Rover, the British manufacturer that arguably invented the form, set out recently to design an answer. Beginning deliveries this fall, the Range Rover Velar is a striking riposte to the lazy, incoherent luxury sport utes that are colonizing valet lots. It’s how a luxury SUV could look, were luxury SUVs generally worth looking at.

“We wanted to create something that played a bit with the traditional SUV proportions,” says James Watkins, creative specialist at Land Rover. His boss, Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern, puts a finer point on it. “If we didn’t think about proportion, that would’ve been fine—if we didn’t mind the Velar looking like the dog’s dinner,” he says.

As high-end SUVs have gained popularity, some luxury carmakers have adopted bad habits: clumsily grafting the family grille on the front end, carving out bulbous fenders that speak of unearned off-roading reputations, and allowing a general lack of cohesion to permeate silhouettes. While these brands practice a crass maximalism, the Velar takes a reductive approach to luxury. The Velar upends the traditional SUV silhouette—low box in front, high box in back—with rigorously considered visual tricks that give the vehicle a trim, disciplined, yet seductive shape.

Foremost of these tricks is a beltline that wraps around the vehicle like a hoop. Body seams behind the rear fender stab upward before trailing off at the tailgate, an allusion to the sterns of midcentury personal yachts (think Rivas and Chris-Crafts). The effect is not accidental. “There’s a lot of yachting imagery we riff on,” Watkins says. Next is the roofline, which slopes gradually toward the tailgate in inverse proportion to the gently rising beltline, providing some coupe-like drama at the rear three-quarter section. Sight lines are surprisingly generous in the Velar, a minor miracle considering how much metal, and how little window glass, it wears.

But McGovern doesn’t seem perturbed by these extremes. “So?’” he asks. “We’ve got to be expressive.”

“The last thing we wanted to do was shrink a Range Rover or scale up an Evoque,” Watkins says, referencing sister vehicles in the Land Rover family. Read between the lines, and that’s a clear dig at luxury SUV manufacturers who—for lack of guts, resources, or imagination—parametrically scale one design up or down to suit compact, midsize, and full-size appetites, treating their SUVs like so many cuts of sirloin.

Automotive luxury has traditionally been conveyed through swaths of leather; big, shiny wheels; and the wanton application of wood veneer. But as upstart brands like Tesla push a stripped-down, near-elemental vision of luxury, the Velar might represent a Goldilocks proposition: a vehicle whose mix of ornamentation and utility is just right. Imagine Pierre Koenig’s glassy Stahl House clinging precariously to a Hollywood hillside: It’s glamorous, it’s daring, but above all it’s proportionally sound.

With that in mind, Watkins seems to land on a new credo for the next generation of Land Rover design: “Minimalism can’t work over a bad set of proportions.”

(Images: Richard Prescott)

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