We had arrived in the Champagne province from Paris driving the new Range Rover Evoque Autobiography P300e and were due to swap it for the bigger Range Rover Velar Dynamic HSE P400e for the drive back.
That’s right the actual place where those bottles of bubbly are made that you look at on the shop shelves and wonder whether it’s worth spending all your hard earned money on.
Having been given a tour of the Veuve Clicquot cellars with its 24 kilometres of underground tunnels and storage rooms and heard the history and effort that goes into making it, I reckon there’s no harm in occasionally splurging on it for a special occasion.
There was also the small matter of a Rugby World Cup quarter-final match against hosts France.
Sitting at the dinner table receiving updates on “X” and the folks back home it was clear that the game was a cracker and while the food was a gastronomic delight, my Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) hosts magnanimously excused me from the table for the last 20 minutes or so to allow me to watch us squeak in by a single point.
That made our first drive with the Velar through the famous Champagne vineyards the following morning a little bit special.
As with all Land Rover products, their offroad heritage remains paramount with some models like the Defender more suited to serious off road shenanigans and in the case of the Velar an Intelligent All-wheel Drive system that’s good enough to take you to places where front or rear wheel drive cars would get stuck or hung up on a ledge.
There were a few tricky bits that highlighted the different modes and how it dispenses with the obstacles and I reckon that would be about the extent that the average Velar owner would venture off the black stuff, if at all.
The Velar fills the gap between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport and in the Dynamic HSE P400e it’s powered by a 2.0-litre twin-turbo four cylinder petrol engine paired with an electric motor providing a total system output of 297kW and 640Nm paired to an eight speed automatic transmission.
JLR says it will get to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 209km/h.
Like I said about the Evoque and JLR’s SUV designs in general, the Velar is just as impressive a head turner with curves, lines and proportions perfectly placed in all the right places.
The interior matches the sleek exterior with premium fixtures and fittings and soft touch surfaces with an extremely comfortable driving position thanks to 20-way electrically adjustable seats and there's lots of room for rear passengers.
Most of the interior settings are found in the 11.4-inch Pivi Pro touchscreen infotainment system which when driving through narrow village streets is somewhat distracting although If you’re the owner I suppose you would have set up the car to your personal liking.
We left Epernay fully charged using the EV mode, which should give you a real-world range of about 50 kilometres, and set course to our centuries old Villa destination via delightful villages and some highway driving to give us the full range of driving conditions.
Before we left though we were given a talk by health and wellness content creator Adrienne Adhami about JLR’s mission to, I suppose, make cars that become an extension of your daily life by decluttering it with breathing and stretching techniques, their air purification system, noise cancelling, head up display and using voice commands to adjust the settings.
It’s a (very) far cry from my TD5 Defender 90 where the only digital gadget I have is an aftermarket tyre pressure monitor and you’re cooled by opening the flaps under the windscreen.
Driving through tight corners and twists the steering is light and direct but don’t expect SVR-type feedback, the Velar is definitely more comfortable cruiser than hot hatch.
Because of the hybrid system there’s no space for adaptive air suspension but the front double wishbone with passive anti-roll bar and integral multi-link passive anti-roll bar rear suspension do a decent job of taking care of road imperfections and will no doubt handle our crumbling road infrastructure.
It looked as though there was a lot of harvesting taking place in the fields outside the towns and as a result there were many tractors and trucks on the road which gave us an opportunity to test its passing prowess by giving it a bit of stick.
The switchover between battery and engine is seamless and the turbo-charged 2.0-litre isn’t shy to move it along swiftly, not in a head-jerking way, but just enough to know that it can do the business and doesn’t mind working hard using slick gear changes.
The noise cancelling feature and decent insulation keeps things very civilised inside so there’s no need to raise your voice during conversations or turn up the volume.
The Range Rover Velar Dynamic HSE P400e is a quality package that isn’t cheap at R2,195,400 but it’s certainly worth a closer look if you’re in that market and you’ll definitely make a statement when you stop outside the Mount Nelson Hotel or a five star Sandton Restaurant.