The 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar is more about style than speed. And while it can go off-road, it doesn’t really love to. But make no mistake—this is a brave car that manages to stand out in today’s bland, busy and boring flock of medium-sized crossovers.
(Full Disclosure: Land Rover put me up in the very cool and fancy L’Horizon hotel in Palm Springs and provided food and beverages for the 24 hours I spent with company representative and the Velar.)
The Velar is yet another mid-sized luxury crossover. But really, it’s the answer to a paradoxical problem Land Rover has been wrestling with since the 1980s.
The company wants to build luxury vehicles for profit margins and prestige, but its brand is built on off-road capability, and most of its vehicles are remarkably good at this—even though virtually none ever see rougher terrain than a gravel driveway when new.
Making a vehicle that’s both luxurious and off-roady is getting harder, and so is adhering to emissions and efficiency regulations.
For a long time, automakers could get away with slapping some wood trim and overstuffed leather into a utilitarian SUVs and create lux trucks like the OG Range Rovers, early Escalades and Grand Wagoneers.
Dress-up accessories can only take a vehicle so far, though. And luxury cars are getting quieter, smoother, and more efficient with every facelift. While tough and boxy SUVs are starting to max out on how refined that architecture can become, high-end sedans are zipping around in near-silence and practically driving themselves.
So Land Rover’s engineers set out to cook up a legitimate luxury vehicle that’s distinctive enough to be taken seriously without crushing the brand’s credibility, that also appeals to more people than anything the company’s ever made.
The Range Rover Velar is what they came up with.
The Velar’s most capable air suspension-equipped variant has a manufacturer-claimed 9.9 inches of ground clearance, a 25.6-inch max wading depth, 15 inches of wheel travel, max approach, departure and breakover angles of 24.3, 26.3 and 20.1 degrees respectively, locking rear and center differentials and Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system that optimizes the vehicle’s behavior to different surfaces.
It doesn’t matter that our shakedown ride was probably the last time a Velar will ever see sand. Capability is essential to the brand’s coolness for the same reason a Ferrari is sweet and a Fiero is shit even if the both spent their lives stuck in the same bumper-to-bumper traffic doing 15 mph.
After people reading the Velar brochure realize they don’t actually know what number constitutes a good approach angle (42.2 degrees is the current Wrangler’s number, for your reference) the next logical thing to skim to is the engine situation.
The Velar will be available in the U.S. with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four rated at 180 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, a 2.0-liter turbo gasoline four with 247 HP and 269 lb-ft, and a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that comes with 380 HP and 332 lb-ft. All are mated to ZF eight-speed automatic transmissions and run all-wheel drive all the time. If you’re familiar with the current Jaguar Land Rover family of motors, you’ve seen this movie before.
All those engine options are quiet, including the diesel, though the four-cylinder makes the closest thing to a satisfying sound of the three. It also felt the quickest, which is odd, since Land Rover claims the V6 is more than a full second faster from a stop to 60 mph.
Real-world driving doesn’t involve a lot of sprinting to highway speed from a stoplight, though. And rolling into the throttle from a gentle cruise to passing speed, my ass indicated that the gas turbo seemed to have a stronger surge to it.
That said, a sensation of speed is largely imperceptible no matter which Velar you’re driving. I mean, the diesel is downright slow, but the gas cars are ironed so flat it’s tough to tell if you’re accelerating or cruising or soaring over the local limit.
There’s that luxury car refinement you might have been looking for. Even though the Velar V6’s claimed 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds is impressive by small sports car standards, the vehicle is unequivocally tuned for serenity over speed.
We’d posted up in a dusty patch of San Bernardino scrubland halfway through the Velar shakedown cruise to eat lunch. I looked down at a fresh stain on my shirt, considered cleaning it with the table water, and when my eyes came back up they landed on an immaculate man I would have sworn had just stepped off the cover of a magazine.
Pulling off a dainty hat and scarf in the deep desert isn’t easy, people. But there was Land Rover Design Director Gerry McGovern and his palpable aura of imperialistic swagger, looking out of place and like he owned the place at the same time. That, of course, is exactly how a Range Rover is supposed to look on an off-road adventure.
I was actually impressed to see how completely McGovern practices what he pens. And while I’ll concede that styling is largely subjective, the Velar successfully marries sleekness, toughness and the pompous essence that makes Range Rovers distinct so seamlessly that it may actually be one of the most impressive design feats on the road right now.
The vehicle looks intensely futuristic without being overdramatic. You can’t really tell if it’s a car or a truck or space-aged locomotive, but there is no doubt that it’s a Range Rover.
The vehicle’s interior is just as well-drawn, with a beautiful balance of shapes and materials integrated with huge swaths of screens. The ambiance is modern and tidy and while there’s a whole lot happening between the vehicle’s three large full-color high-rez information centers, things are well organized and the cabin feels calm above everything else.
The Velar looks a whole lot faster than it is. Its pace and performance, on-road or off, is acceptable for casual driving. But you’re never going find yourself fiddling with the keys, itching for the next opportunity to rip down a backroad or head off piste in this thing.
Cycling between drive modes barely triggers an appreciable change to the vehicle’s steering weight, throttle response and shift schedule. There’s an “automatic” mode you might as well leave it in, I hypothesize that the car’s advanced suite of traction control computers will do whatever they think is best at any given time anyway.
But I don’t suspect too many Velar owners will care that the car’s a little numb to drive. Frankly, I could get over it myself. The Velar is a comfortable town-and-country cruiser that’s breathtakingly pretty which makes it a solid candidate for daily driver duty for those who can afford one.
The only problem that will plague every Velar owner, even and especially the ones who don’t care about driving, is the intimidating complexity and slightly inconsistent response time of the three-screen infotainment situation that cornerstone’s the interior.
While the large center screens seem to react to inputs quickly, the gauge cluster controllers on the steering wheel take a beat to process your button-press,
Since the Velar’s V6 is pretty much a V8 sans two cylinders, I think a full-fat eight-cylinder option could well be in the Velar’s future. Especially if it sells in the immense quantities I think Land Rover is predicting. So we’ll be waiting on that announcement for sure.
Otherwise, I think the biggest question on every potential third-owner’s mind is the longevity of the vehicle’s many screens. But even if you buy a Velar fresh off the lot and only keep it for a few thousand miles, what happens if some coffee spills on this thing? Or even a film of sand that comes with running down a desert road with the windows down?
The Range Rover Velar only likes to be driven calmly, but it’s always comfortable. You could say that about pretty much every luxury SUV in this price range, though. What really sets this vehicle apart is its design.
Even though, somewhat ironically, that design is just a derivative of the regular Range Rover. But it’s such a perfect porting of an iconic shape into mid-sized crossover proportions.
“Looks like a Range Rover space ship in that first second it’s going to warp speed,” fellow test driver Jeff Glucker said to me. And looking at this car sitting static gets me just as excited as the opening sequence of Star Trek.
Don’t waste your time with the Velar if you really want to roughhouse off-road or hit hyperspace through the canyons. But if you like the idea of a Range Rover and wish it were just a little smoother or a whole lot more efficient for your daily driving duties, the Velar is damn near ideal. And all of that makes it different and unique enough to be compelling in a crowded market of crossovers.