First Drive: 2018 Range Rover Velar
We love Range Rovers. No, really, we do. The combination of top-tier luxury and Wrangler-like capability elicits such a deep emotional reaction that we’re able to easily block out any negative insult that might be hurled toward our ears. And that is exactly the type of response that the company desires of potential customers. Top Rover brass aims for the populace to desire a Range Rover not because they need one, but because they want one.
This is exactly the effect that the newest addition to the Range Rover lineup, the Velar, had on us. After spending a glorious three days exploring the incredible landscape of Norway in a First Edition, we came to the stark realization that we didn’t need a Velar in our life to be happy; however, we lusted after one more than is probably healthy.
What’s in a Name?
It may seem a bit odd at first blush, but the name Velar actually has a storied history. A quick jaunt in the way-back machine takes us to 1969. It was at this time that British Leyland engineers were testing a new vehicle: a type of Land Rover meant more for the wealthy elite than farmers. This upscale model was badged as Velar, a word constructed of letters found in Land Rover and with roots in the Latin word velum, meaning to curtain or veil; a fitting name for a secretive prototype. One year later, in 1970, what was previously disguised as Velar arrived in European showrooms as the very first Range Rover. Since then, the family has grown and matured, and for ’18 has added a fourth sibling, now officially named Velar.
Under the Skin
Designed to split the size difference between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport, the Velar is sized to compete in the space currently occupied by the likes of Lexus’s RX, BMW’s X3, and Mercedes-Benz’s GLC- and GLE-Class. Chassis architecture and engine options for Velar are shared with its cousin, the Jaguar F-Pace, and they are both produced on the same assembly line at Land Rover’s Solihull, England, plant.
Powering the Velar is a choice of six engines, all developed in-house by JLR. However, only three are available for the U.S. market, though they are not bad options by any stretch of the imagination. The base engine is a 2.0L I-4 that is direct-injected and turbocharged. This mill churns out 247 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. Those lusting for more power can opt for the supercharged 3.0L V-6, which turns out 380 hp and 332 lb-ft. Rounding out the lineup is yet another 2.0L inline-four-cylinder, but this version is a diesel that produces 180 hp and 317 lb-ft of twist. The two I-4s are mated to ZF 8HP45 eight-speed automatic transmissions, while the V-6 is backed by a more robust 8HP70.
Range Rover claims a curb weight of 4,407 pounds for a top-spec V-6 and says 0-60 times should clock in at a respectable 5.3 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, and maximum towing is just a tick over 5,500 pounds. The 2.0L diesel is clearly the fuel-economy champ, with an EPA-rated 30-mpg highway, but the 2.0L gasoline engine isn’t far off at a rated 27 mpg, and the V-6 doesn’t disappoint with a 24-mpg highway rating.
Technical bits out of the way, we can turn our attention to what Velar is all about: design. Even though it shares a wheelbase with the F-Pace, the two share no exterior body panels. The hood, fenders, and roof are constructed of aluminum, and the rear hatch is composite, all done in the name of weight savings. Doors remain steel to help protect occupants in the event of a side impact. Velar’s exterior can be described as incredibly smooth, which helps it achieve a drag coefficient of 0.37, making it the most aerodynamic vehicle in Land Rover’s history. An upright grille and short front and long rear overhangs give Velar its signature raked look.
Moving inside, Velar’s design cues continue in a minimalist fashion. The dash and doors are adorned with real open-pore wood, while piano-black plastic and glossy touchscreens abound throughout. All touch points are soft, the headliner is synthetic suede, and seating surfaces are leather. Interestingly, the highest upholstery option in the Velar line isn’t leather but a special fabric produced by Kvadrat (pronounced cavadra), a high-end Danish textile manufacturer. In what’s claimed to be an industry first, this fabric is a combination of 30 percent wool and 70 percent polyester. There was only one static display with the Kavadrat wool interior for us to ogle, so our time with it was brief. The wool provided a distinctly different feel than the traditional luxury interior we’re used to, and that isn’t a bad thing.
Nestled front and center is the pair of touchscreens that comprise the new Touch Pro Duo, which is Range Rover’s latest infotainment system. Using high-definition touchscreen displays, Touch Pro Duo controls everything from climate control to audio and smartphone apps, along with Terrain Response 2 controls. Images displayed are incredibly crisp and vibrant, and by utilizing a pair of independent screens, the driver has the ability to display different information on each screen, such as navigation on top and audio on the bottom. Simple as it may seem, this small detail relieves the anxiety of having to choose which information to display and allows for more concentration on driving and less on swapping screens. Buttons are nonexistent and knobs are sparse, with only one for volume and two for engaging the lower screen of the Touch Pro Duo. Overall, the system worked much better than previous JLR infotainment systems have for us, which was a pleasant surprise.
Behind the Wheel
The majority of the roads where we experienced Velar were narrow and low-speed, with but a single lane in each direction. Thankfully, there were some fun twisty forest roads to carve, but the joy was often cut short by a blind corner, local traffic, or wildlife. Nonetheless, this most “road-oriented” of the lineup, as claimed by Range Rover, showed that it could truly handle itself in a befitting manner. Thanks in part to its continuously variable adaptive dampers, adjustable air suspension, and A-arm front and multi-link rear suspensions, the Velar was able to easily tackle any obstacle thrown at it and corner as flat as a heavy SUV can, all while providing a quiet and smooth ride.
Tunable power steering, brake-based torque vectoring, and an electronic locking rear differential are but a few of the technological marvels that allow Velar to get along as well as it does. On-road drive modes include Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, and Race, with fun increasing the further to the right you go. Our tester was a V-6 model, and slamming all of its 380 hp to the ground in Race mode was jolly good fun, especially on graded dirt roads. These modes are easily switched via the Touch Pro Duo, and all do exactly as they imply, though Eco is still largely dependent on the heaviness of your right foot.
While we weren’t able to sample either of the 2.0L offerings, we’re confident that, as a highway-cruising family hauler, any of the three mills will suffice. Since the smaller Range Rover’s introduction, the rumor mill has been in full swing, and our favorite gossip implies that a supercharged 5.0L V-8 Velar SVR is in the works. If that’s the case, we’ll take two, please.
Off the Highway
The real shock came when we were instructed to point the Velar up a steep mountain road, with loads of loose gravel, rocks, ruts, and even a river. Normally, this is no big deal, but this particular road was up a dry ski slope, and our First Edition Velar was wearing highway rubber and 22-inch wheels. Thankfully, Range Rover stayed true to its roots and, despite being the most “road-oriented,” the company fitted Velar with the Terrain Response 2 system. In addition to its various off-road driving modes, programs such as Low Traction Launch and All-Terrain Progress Control also enhance the vehicle’s off-road ability. Through the combined use of these systems, one has to do little more than steer and brake as the vehicle effortlessly climbs to places a luxury SUV on 22s has no business going. True off-roaders may scoff at the low-profile tires and scant ground clearance, but they are more likely to drive a Defender, rendering their opinion invalid anyway.
When we first jumped behind the wheel of Velar, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Was it filling a hole in the lineup that even existed? Would it be too much like the F-Pace? Luckily, all doubt was quickly put to rest. Velar is perfect for the Range Rover buyer needing more space than an Evoque, but not quite ready to foot the bill for a Sport. It’s more refined and upscale than the F-Pace. It gracefully combines beauty and brawn while staying true to its Range Rover heritage.
Range Rover Velar
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, two row, luxury SUV
Base price: $49,900
Price as tested: $89,300
Engine: 3.0L supercharged V-6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 380 @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 3,500rpm
Curb weight: 4,407 pounds
Towing capacity: 5,511 pounds
EPA mileage rating: 18city/24hwy/20comb
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