Opinion: All SUVs Are Equal
But some are more equal than others, as proven by the new Range Rover Velar at the Geneva Motor Show.
SUVs will, one day, be seen as symbols of the downfall of the automobile. Utterly oblivious to most requirements of today’s motoring environment (apart from the need for better visibility), the SUV acts as epitome for what is wrong about the automobile of our times.
Selfish, wasteful, intimidating, inconsiderate: the SUV stands for a longing of superiority, borne on a deep feeling of insecurity. This sort of vehicle, in a nutshell, is an emotional response to the feelings of our times, rather than a factual response to actual requirements.
It is therefore difficult to look upon such automobiles in a detached, reserved manner and summon up great levels of admiration. An effect greatly exacerbated by the fact that the styling of a great many SUVs stands in stark contrast to the intended image of brutish self-confidence.
Take the newest entries from Italy (a country that, incidentally, has been in love with big faux-by-fours for years, but hasn’t produced any successful examples of the breed itself so far), the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Maserati Levante. These two cars are the product of proud marques, renowned for the style and flair of their sportscars and sporting saloons. The difficulty of combining the clear concepts of what an Alfa or a Maserati should be (dashing and/or elegant) with what an SUV is (large, clumpy) hence becomes all too apparent in the cars’ compromised shapes. (That the stylistic tricks employed to lend these two SUVs some kind of Latin flair are so similar is the result of them being the works of the same design team, however.)
Whenever a carmaker whose core brand values aren’t about versatility or toughness tries to modify its design language in order to make it Utility-compatible, the result is therefore bound to disappoint.
Which is why, reluctantly, I have to admit that I’ll never quite find it in myself to detest a Range Rover as much as most other Sports Utility aberrations. That this applies to the first-generation car shouldn’t come as much of a surprise - unlike a latent liking of the current full fat Range, which I’ll need to fess up.
It’s not just the history and heritage of the car that started it all (for which it actually should be the subject of ire), but that it has maintained so much of its character in the intervening years.
In fact, so strong is the Range Rover ‘DNA’ that it has even withstood the potentially fatal threat of dilution through evolving from a mere model into a full-blown brand of its own. This is also highlighted by the newest addition to this brand, the Velar, in impressive style.
The news that Range Rover would add some sort of BMW X6 competitor to its range was worrying indeed, as this should have meant an attempt to match the utter intellectual hollowness of the world’s most stupid automobile. The dreadfulness of Mercedes’ attempt at this concept, the utterly woeful GLE Coupé, is all the proof one could want for the perilousness of such an undertaking.
The rather agreeable form the resultant Range Rover Velar has taken is therefore all the more surprising.
Despite being a ‘sporty’ Range Rover, the Velar isn’t trying to look like a sports car (unlike the Italian duo). There’s still more than a hint of blockiness to its shape, which is thoroughbred Range Rover, albeit with altered proportions.
Yes, the wheels are too big to be sensible in any way, and the LED detailing at the front could do with giving slightly less piercing an impression, but the clean surfacing, lovely application of flush doorhandles (adapted from the Jaguar F-type) and overall consistency are highly commendable.
Land Rover design boss, Gerry McGovern, doesn’t really really present himself as a traditionalist, yet somehow, any thrust towards outright modernity and sportiness remains within a framework that’s very much ‘on brand’. All Range Rovers - except the Evoque, to some extent - share a sturdy, rather than clumpy stance, as well as an adherence to simple geometric shapes. They still radiate an aura of purposefulness and logic, which may be nothing but elaborate window dressing, but works nonetheless.
Range Rover remains a brand that isn’t stretched too far (yet). This indicates that it may even be here to stay, once the SUV craze has hit a wall.
The lesson learned can hence be subsumed in simple terms: if you want to make an SUV that isn’t supposed to be plain silly, better lend it a shape that at least suggests a modicum of utilitarian spirit. Otherwise, you end up with something that can never be what its appearance tries to suggest. Like, say, spaghetti carbonara flavoured candy.
Photos: Jaguar Land Rover (4), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (1), Maserati (1) all rights reserved
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