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From the land of fashion and films to the heartland of American technology

S.Muralidhar | Updated on May 21, 2020 Published on May 21, 2020

Palm-lined boulevards give off a very Californian vibe. It also looks like spring time throughout the year

The Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography was my steed of choice for the trip from LA to San Francisco

Weeks before the lockdown put an end to all our travel plans, one of the road trips of late last year I had looked forward to, was a drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. From one big, crowded urban agglomeration along the west coast of the US to another, the two great Californian cities are connected by some of the most scenic, rural countryside and offer picture-postcard coastal vistas.

Folks at Jaguar Land Rover US had agreed to loan one of their latest for a test drive, and with the US being such a truck and sports utility vehicle market, I thought it’d only be appropriate to be driving the 2020 Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic. There was more significance to that choice of wheels that honestly struck me only later. This could well be the last innings of the Ford built AJ-V8 engine in a Jaguar Land Rover vehicle. There have been rumours lately that the new Land Rover Defender could get a top-end V8 variant later this year and that it could still be from the stock of Ford’s engines. But, in all probability the future V8 power units may come from BMW with whom JLR has already signed a powertrain deal.

Exit Planet Hollywood

I had two route options to choose between before punching one into the Velar’s navigation system. One was to take Highway 101 north before merging into Highway 1, the route is longer, but will take me via the Big Sur National Reserve and the spectacularly scenic Pfeiffer beach. But I had done that route before and I knew getting past the morning traffic filled with office-goers was going to mean that I’d take more than a couple hours just to get out of LA, and the best parts of that route would be lost to the night. My best bet was to loop around Beverly Hills, cut through Hollywood and Central LA before joining Interstate-5 North (I-5N) heading out of LA towards San Francisco. Parking is a nightmare in LA like in New York and it is a hefty $55 for overnight parking at the hotel I'm staying in. I exit the lot and head straight into morning traffic. With a supercharged, 5-litre V8 under the hood crawling in traffic is not good for fuel efficiency and I was reminded of this every time I had to fuel up during the next three days.

 

The wide loop around Hollywood let me see some of the touristy sights of Hollywood, the celeb mansions surrounding the palm lined boulevards and, surprisingly, quite a few pavement-dwelling homeless people too. I guess even the land of make-believe has to deal with its share of reality. Enroute I have to contend with more traffic and this time I’m surrounded by a more eclectic mix of luxury vehicles and American trucks and small sedans. The Velar is a looker and those smooth panels with its retractable door handles and clean body lines make it the most stunning Range Rover in the line-up. But with the added allure of its quad exhausts letting out a deep growl every time I tap the throttle, I observe that even the denizens of Hollywood can’t seem to peel their eyes off the Velar.

The sheer volume of traffic that hits major American highways has to be seen to be believed. Often there are 4-5 lanes on either side, including the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane, that are packed with bumper to bumper traffic during peak hours. After what seems like forever, I merge into I-5N and finally point the Velar’s long bonnet in the direction of Fremont, my destination for the night.

Take me home…

Santa Clarita is nearly 80 kilometres from my hotel near LA Airport and that is where the traffic starts easing up. Most American highways can be notoriously boring to drive on because of their extremely long straight sections. Many of them are arrow straight heading to the horizon and beyond.

So, I eagerly punch the throttle to make the most of the winding section that lays ahead and finally get to stretch the Velar’s legs. The SVAutobiography Dynamic top-trim I was driving features the 5-litre, supercharged and intercooled petrol engine that JLR’s SVO unit (special vehicles operations) uses in its other vehicles too. This V8 engine delivers 550hp of peak power and a sumptuous peak torque of 680Nm from a low 2,500rpm. That’s more than enough to propel this near 2.2-tonne beast to a claimed top speed of 270kmph. Of course, I had to stick to legal speed limits, but it was still a lot of fun throttling past fellow drivers leaving them behind to contend with the sonic remnants of the loud reverberating growl of the Velar’s active quad exhausts.

The most appealing feature in 2020 Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic is the dual twin (quad) exhaust finishers sticking out of the diffuser

 

The SVAutobiography Dynamic edition‘s exterior design is almost identical to the regular trim Velar, except for the larger intakes at the front and the spoiler in the fender. At the rear, visually, the most appealing feature is the dual twin (quad) exhaust finishers sticking out of the diffuser. The 21-inch alloys and red brake calipers identify its special status (22-inch rims are optional).

The cabin is fresh and modern with dual screens on the centre console doubling up to offer multiple controls including for the infotainment and mode selection. To make the cabin more special, trim differences include carbon fibre panels, metal frames for the pedals, special leather upholstery and machined metal knobs and controls. Overall, it is a pretty special and comfy cabin to be in.

The highway, in the meanwhile, throws up a few surprises. For one, I encounter roadkill almost as often as one would on an Indian highway. I’d left the aircon vents open, what with the Californian air outside touted to be clean and crisp. And the worst stench that I was caught unawares with being dead skunks on the highway. The one I had read about and had planned to avoid, and still missed was the ‘famous’ stench of the Harris Ranch and the emissions of its quarter of a million heads of cattle. The other misleading event along the route was what looked like blood on the road midway to Fremont turned out to be crushed pomegranates that must’ve fallen off the transport trucks heading into town from the farms on either side. In fact, on either side of I-5 are some of the most farmed sections of California, growing cotton, almonds, other stone fruits and citrus.

Silicon Valley

The I-5 is mostly only two lanes and often I found myself stuck behind two trucks, with one desperately trying to overtake the other; it reminded me of the typical conditions while driving back in India. However, the quality of roads is a topic that is very different in the two countries. Clean black-top tarmac was what I encountered on the highways in the US; which meant that even in dynamic mode, the Velar’s suspension didn’t feel uncomfortable to sit in. The 265/45 R21 tyres could be a problem on Indian roads, even in comfort mode, though the Velar’s suspension is one of the more comfortable of the bunch of Hot-Rod performance SUVs available currently.

After contending with LA traffic, the trip took a lot longer than the six hours that’s shown on the map

 

After merging into a couple of other highways and taking the exit towards Fremont, I catch a glimpse of Mission Peak, which at about 800 metres is one of the tallest hills in the region. Along with that I also get a view of the urban sprawl of Silicon Valley. The Velar SVAutobiography had been a good companion for the drive, even though I probably didn’t get to experience the full potential of features like adaptive dynamics and its off-roading abilities, including its intelligent all-wheel drive system Terrain Response 2.

The avant-garde Range Rover, as the Velar is called, is available in India in the R Dynamic S trim. This one sports the 2-litre, 4-cylinder Ingenium engine and 8-speed automatic transmission.

Published on May 21, 2020

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