Style plus substance

by Andy Bryenton

Everybody is in the SUV business these days — from Bentley’s massive, country house proportioned Bentaygo, with its emphasis on luxury, to Lamborghini’s Urus, which promises velocity. The dizzying array of choices has spawned another subspecies, which is definitely worth a look — the stylish, yet still determinedly practical upmarket off-roader.

These are examples by companies, who approach the sports utility concept from its roots. In fact, both of the top examples in this field come from marques, which began in the mud and thunder of warfare — Jeep and Range Rover. Tracing their history back to fighting 4x4s, both the new Jeep Compass and the Range Rover Velar have come a long way, switching their fatigues for a stylishly cut suit in the case of the English offering, and the calculated designer ruggedness of a modern outdoorsman for the Jeep. 

The Jeep takes the lead, in terms of blue-collar pricing and built-in ruggedness, with the Trailhawk variant boasting all the hallmarks of a brand forged on trails like the challenging Rubicon. Its 2.4 litre Tigershark series petrol engine delivers 229 Nm of torque to the ground via the tried and tested Jeep Active Drive Low system — and no less than nine gears in a smooth automatic transmission.

This is no school run faux-wheel-drive — underbody skid plates, red competition style tow hooks, hill descent control and even a rock crawling mode, make this the kind of machine that doesn’t understand the concept of getting stuck.

At the same time, the cabin is a leather-wrapped cocoon of calm, and while the Grand Cherokee heads up the range for luxury, this middle-sized contender provides plenty of space, plenty of comfort and real off-road chops.

Of course, the Range Rover Velar is also the middle child of the family, weighing in below the formidable Sport and above the Evoque. It’s a study in style, looking jaw-dropping from every angle, but there’s been no compromise on power — a V6 under the hood delivers better fuel economy and lower emissions too.

While the cabin is appointed with luxurious leather and suede, unobtrusive infotainment and climate-controlled hush, outside this machine can tackle more than just the gravel driveway of a stately home. With 21cm of ground clearance, a 24 degree breakover and 30 degree departure angle, along with electronically intelligent four-wheel drive controlling the differentials, the Velar can go pretty much anywhere it likes. Very clever electronic air suspension works behind the scenes to keep all four wheels planted, and delivering power where it’s needed.