2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar Review: First Drive

Land Rover’s Range Rover is an incredible machine, whether you’re wading through hip-high water, clambering along muddy trails, surfing atop sand dunes, or clawing over boulders. Oh yeah, it ain’t half bad just gliding along the Interstate, either.

Thing is, that two-and-half-ton rig is huge and heavy. And with base prices ranging from $86,645 to over $200 grand, it’s extremely pricey and thirsty to boot. The next-rung-down Range Rover Sport is about $20,000 cheaper but is less than five percent less corpulent, so the word “sport” is a bit of a misnomer.

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Sharing a platform and powertrains with the Jaguar F-Pace, the 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar blends style and all-road adeptness in a compellingly priced package.

(Land Rover)

Way down the scale is the Range Rover Evoque, but while it indeed evoques its bigger brothers, between its compact and cramped interior and 4-cylinder engine, it just doesn’t seem to be cut from quite the same cloth.

Enter the 2018 Range Rover Velar, arriving to plug the gap between the teensy Evoque and the statuesque Range Rover and Range Rover Sport.

Like the Evoque, the Velar is packaged more like a mid-sized crossover than a truck, and shares many of its dirty parts with Jaguar’s first SUV, the delightfully dexterous F-Pace. But with the Velar, the dirty parts are actually meant to get dirty. And to see if the Velar possesses the chops to earn its stripes as a Range Rover, I headed to sunny Palm Springs, California, to drive it on road both paved and not.

The best-looking Range Rover yet?

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The new 2018 Velar isn’t the most expensive Range Rover, but it might be the best looking one.

(Land Rover)

Did I mention dirt? Yeah, I suspect that most Velars will remain as far as possible from mud, rocks, or anything that can scratch their shiny (or matte) paint, just as their pampered siblings tend to be. And particularly in the Velar’s case, we can understand one’s inclination to preserve its innate beauty.

Land Rover has never offered a mid-size SUV with these specific dimensions, yet there’s no mistaking the Velar for anything but a Range Rover. The brand’s signature styling cues – straight body sides, a clamshell hood, blackout window trim, a ”floating” roof, etc. – are present and accounted for, yet arranged in an overtly sleek, wedge-like fashion. The short window glass, for example, gives the Velar an aggressive, chopped-roof look, and the body tapers inward aft of the rear wheels. How very British.

Thanks to LED technology, the Velar’s headlamps are thinner and squintier than any Range Rover before it, and each of the wide, dual element taillamps is alluringly three-dimensional under their flush housings. The Velar’s body sides are cleaned up further by the pop-out door handles that motor away from the body when the vehicle is unlocked but snug back down when locked or in motion.

One particularly interesting and stylish option is the subtle burnished copper finish for certain design details on the hood and upper body sides as well as the outboard lower front air intakes. The Velar may not be as imposing as the Range Rover or Range Rover Sport, but it is far sleeker than either while conveying far more presence than the little Evoque.

Not surprisingly, it’s also the most aerodynamic Land Rover ever, and it’s arguably Land Rover’s most charismatic design since the iconic Defender.

Future-chic inside

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With room for four adults and high-tech instrumentation, the Range Rover Velar is both comfortable and complicated.

(Land Rover)

You’d be forgiven if you figured that the Velar’s low roof would translate into a cramped cabin, but I’m happy to report that six-footers fit in front and back with ease. The Velar’s high waistline and curved windows (versus the vertical, nearly flat side glass of the larger Range Rovers) do afford the cabin considerably more intimacy than is present with its bigger brethren, though the fitments feel appropriately upscale.

Seating is exceptionally comfortable, at least in the case of the 20-way power adjustable seats fitted to my test vehicle, upholstered in buttery leather in a stylized Union-Jack-like, “cut diamond” perforations. Also available for the first time in a modern Rover is a new “Suedecloth” textile made from recycled plastic bottles (!). Believe it or not, it looks no less snappy than the expected leather with its contrast stitching and patterned perforations.

Drivers face a slick, 12.3-inch instrument cluster screen, supplemented in some trims by a full-color, 10-inch head-up display reflected in the windshield. One of the Velar’s most notable and most consequential new bits, at least from a livability standpoint, is the user-interface, which essentially banishes traditional buttons and switches in favor of two 10-inch-wide, high-resolution color touchscreen displays for the infotainment and climate systems. The upper display tilts into a more vertical position at startup to improve visibility and reach, while the fixed lower display contains two ring-shaped dials which themselves contain small screens that change in accordance with the system, as does the functionality of the rings themselves.

With so many places to view information or adjust various systems, operating the Velar takes some getting used to. Also, and especially out in the desert, the vast black interior surfaces are virtual dust magnets. But with its decidedly modern styling and high level of functionality, we’d say the Velar’s interior represents a new high water mark for mid-size luxury SUVs.

Excellent driving characteristics, on-road or off

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Though most Range Rover Velars won’t encounter terrain more technical than a gravel driveway or dusty shoulder, it can indeed go places many vehicles can’t.

(Land Rover)

About half of our drive time was spent on dusty, occasionally steep, boulder-strewn trails in Pioneertown Mountains Preserve just west of Joshua Tree – not exactly amateur-grade stuff, to Land Rover’s credit. At times, the trail even required spotters in order for the Velar to safely traverse the terrain.

I had the most powerful of the Velar’s powertrain portfolio at my command, a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 shared with the Jaguar F-Pace. It makes 380 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque, and is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, just like other Velar engine offerings (two turbocharged 4-cylinder engines – one gas and one diesel).

The “P380” model’s V6 made easy work of the trail’s obstacles, including those encountered on steep, dusty slopes. Velar P380 models may also be fitted with an optional rear locking differential, as was my test vehicle, further assisting the quick-reacting, on-demand 4-wheel-drive system with Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response programming. Terrain Response tailors the powertrain, steering, and, when equipped, air suspension characteristics for maximum performance on a given surface.

Interestingly, the Velar does not offer a mechanical low-range gear set but does offer a brilliant All-Terrain Progress Control system that works like a super-slow-speed cruise control, steadying the vehicle’s pace at speeds between 2.2 and 18 mph, up or down hills, autonomously handling both acceleration and braking. This in turn frees drivers to concentrate primarily on steering the vehicle when negotiating particularly hairy spots. In these conditions, it is fascinating to witness how, in many respects, electronics have effectively replaced conventional mechanical traction devices, reducing weight and allowing even our fleet of sexy blue Velar P380s, riding as they all were on 22-inch wheels, to make it through tough conditions with nary a popped tire or mechanical failure.

Most Velars will never see this sort of rigor, of course, and Land Rover clearly spent just as much time refining the Velar’s on-road manners. The supercharged V6 is capable if not as stimulating as it is in the lighter Jaguar F-Pace, and I have no reason not to believe Land Rover’s claim that it can accelerate the Velar to 60 mph in a brief 5.3 seconds. Regardless of speed, the air suspension deftly isolates bumps for a creamy ride while keeping the body nice and flat in turns. Steering is obedient and direct, feeling more connected than that of its larger brethren.

I did put a few miles on a 4-cylinder, gas-powered “P250” model, which produces 247 hp and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. With roughly 200 pounds less to move around than the P380 model, though, it felt surprisingly sprightly. It even sounded pleasant at full throttle, which is rare for a four-banger. Land Rover expects Velars thus equipped to take about a second longer to get to highway speeds, but 6.4 seconds to 60 mph is hardly slow, especially for an SUV.

I did not have a chance to sample the “D180” diesel engine, which produces just 180 hp but a huge 318 lb.-ft. of torque, but Land Rover says that it’s another two seconds slower to 60 mph. The EPA says it can travel about five miles further on each gallon of fuel, but even so, it would take a lot of miles to recoup the diesel’s $6,300 higher price.

Huge price range

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Prices start at just more than $50,000, but adding equipment rapidly inflates the price of the new Range Rover Velar.

(Land Rover)

Speaking of price, the Range Rover Velar P250 is priced at a seemingly reasonable $50,895, including its $995 destination charge. The diesel-powered D180 models start at $57,195, while the P380 starts at $65,195.

Naturally, piling on the options causes rapid price inflation, and a P380 R-Dynamic model like my test vehicle would set buyers back an eye-watering $87,110. That’s more than the base price of the big Range Rover and well above the opening sticker of the Porsche Macan Turbo. You can save a few grand by skipping some of the advanced off-road options and/or towing bits, but this is still big money to be sure.

But then…it sure is pretty.

First Pictures: 2018 Range Rover Velar

Tags:
auto reviews
2018
land rover
range rover velar
land rover range rover velar
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