ROVER AND OUT

VELAR SCORES A DECENT PASS MARK ON THE END-OF-TERM REPORT

ANDY ENRIGHT

RANGE ROVER VELAR P300

Price as tested: $120,020

This month: 2167km @ 8.3L/100km

I DIDNíT really get a firm date to return the Velar to Land Rover, but the guilt of just keeping hold of it hoping the press office wouldnít notice got to me surprisingly quickly. After sending a breezy email asking if I could keep it over Christmas, my plans were shot down in flames by the somewhat brutal response that it was due at a car auction in four days. That didnít leave a whole lot of negotiating room. Still, my loss is set to be some bidderís gain, because its first 10,000km have run it in rather nicely.

As much as I admired the Velar, the relationship never really blossomed any further. Perhaps it was the constant niggling screen freezes or the minor annoyances like having to wait for the screens to wake up before being able to select my custom drive mode, kill the idle stop and then navigate to the climate display every time I started the car. As the weatherís warmed up here in Melbourne, the gauzy sun blind feels a little superficial and the air conditioning can be a bit slow on the uptake. Couple that with a chrome bezel that runs around the rim of the steering wheel that has you wishing youíd packed oven gloves at times.

Much of these grumbles get burnished away to background chatter when you pause to look at the Velar. Itís undeniably got presence and enough character to allow you to forgive it its quirks. It was the perfect companion to indulge my wildlife photography hobby, taking me on plenty of dirt roads into the wilder parts of Victoria. Although the ride quality of the Velar is never quite as syrupy as youíd expect from a big SUV on air springs, it earns a lot of credit on account of its off-road ability.

The Velar has negotiated soft sand in the Little Desert, deep snow up on Mt Matlock and axle-deep flood water. The most satisfying part of these trips was when the inevitable bearded sprout in a high-lift, balloon-tyred LandCruiser gesticulated wildly to indicate that your vehicle was inadequate for what was ahead. It wasnít. Ever.

The positive side of the ledger nevertheless outranked the niggles. I loved the sat-navís uncanny ability to know your destination (no matter how obscure), the concise and clear headup display, and the indestructible feel of the cabin materials. The Ingenium four-cylinder engine delivered a surprising turn of pace when prodded, the powerplant loosening up and returning better economy with every tankful. Over four months, I averaged 9.5L/100km in the 221kW Velar, which is exactly the same as we managed in a 121kW Peugeot 3008 weighing half a tonne less. True, I did more freeway miles, but thatís still a credible showing.

Having run it for four months, Iím a little torn as to whether Iíd recommend the Velar to a friend. Itís undoubtedly striking and delivers a sense of occasion that, in some ways, justifies that price tag. Until sales in China recently nosedived, the Velarís global popularity spoke volumes. But what separates a great car from a merely good one is the last couple of percent of polish, and thatís where the Velar sometimes came up a little short. As enjoyable as the past four months have been, I wonít be wielding a bidding paddle when DXM51B rolls onto the auction block.

ANDY ENRIGHT