Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar

Palm Springs, CA – Boxy does not necessarily equal good at Range Rover anymore, and the urbane Velar is the artistically shaped mid-size SUV meant to prove the stylishly urban Evoque was not a mere one off for Land Rover’s (even more) upscale SUV brand.

The Velar First Edition is not a British boy band, but is the priciest non-boxy Range Rover one can buy.

The 2018 Range Rover Velar hit the market in September as the stylish big brother to the Evoque, starting at $62,000, little brother to the Range Rover Sport, and topping out at 95k for the top-line Velar First Edition. That Velar First Edition is not a British boy band, but is the priciest non-boxy Range Rover one can buy, at least for the 2018 model year, before the First Edition trim goes away.

So think of the all-new Velar as Range Rover’s four-wheeled line in the sand departure from the more traditionally angular Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. This aligns closer with the haute couture styling and low-slung (for an SUV anyway) ride height of its smaller Range Rover Evoque sibling, but providing a much more spacious yet still city-friendly package.

Yes, there’s likely to be some cross-pollination of Land Rover Discovery buyers at its similar price point (starting at $61,500), while the Jaguar F-Pace also shares some underpinnings with the Velar, including its top engine and wheelbase. The market’s clear move towards SUVs in North America means that JLR’s (and others’) increased offerings will invariably start overlapping in price and content, with the F-Pace offering the same 2,874 mm wheelbase as the Velar, with the five-seat Velar coming in a slight 72 mm longer than the Jag SUV overall.

Some similarities to rapidly growing SUV offerings, but key differences too

Still, there are some notable differences in this JLR trio. The base Jaguar F-Pace actually starts well below the others, at just above the $50k mark, so it’s the value star of this upscale threesome, even though its base model offering is the only one currently offering a four-cylinder gas engine not offered in the Velar or the all-new for 2017 Discovery. Plus the Discovery is the only one of the three to offer a third row of seats, so it’s currently the more carpool-oriented option. 

Outside of the JLR family, the Velar seems well-equipped to take on its BMW X3 and Porsche SUV rivals, especially from a design perspective. It’s one of those vehicles that looks better in person – or at least more modernly minimalist – than it does in photos. Yes, you’re still looking at the usual two box SUV silhouette, but its steeply raked windshield, minimal badging, laser-sharp LED corner accents and flush door handles provide it that high-end sleekness that would accessorize a large driveway and architectural statement nicely.

Functionally, those hidden door handles emerge magically when unlocked, which can happen by way of the key fob, or an available Fitbit-like wristband which the company calls its Activity Key, as seen on the F-Pace as well. It allows drivers to drop the key fob into a hidden spot inside, then go jogging, cycling or any other physical activity where you don’t want to carry a bulky key fob.

But if you do happen to wear a watch and a separate activity tracker already, adding a third wristband can start to feel like you’re auditioning for a role in the next Robocop. 

Interior offers a comfortably high-tech yet artful funhouse of screens

The Velar’s minimalist design theme continues inside, where Range Rover has added a second lower screen that replaces the old climate control knobs and other physical buttons, leaving a real volume button (yes!) and the four-way flashers as the only prominent physical buttons left. There are two dials however integrated into this new lower screen, but its functions change along with whatever setting you’re calling up, be it the temperature controls, stereo functions, Terrain Response Mode or the available heated/cooled and massaging seats.

Those massage seats are worthy of special mention, as not only can their intensity be adjusted, but these dials can be used for the driver and passenger to pinpoint where exactly in the seat and/or seatback they’d like their massage seats to target.

Our well-optioned test vehicles also included a fully configurable digital screen directly in front of the driver, taking up the wide space in front of the driver that used to be taken up by hard speedo and tach gauges, but can now be modified to show navi info exclusively, a combo of navi/single speedo/stereo, or digital versions of the traditional two gauges.

Between this screen, the one in the centre stack, the new one just above the circular gear selector, and the large full colour Head Up Display (HUD) that is also available, the driver’s potentially surrounded by four separate ‘screens,’ surrounding the driver in a digital and semi-virtual funhouse of infotainment. Even the steering wheel controls are touch sensitive, allowing a soft brush only to adjust, although they are also real buttons that can be pushed and finely controlled more reliably as such.

The potential is there for some drivers to become overwhelmed with all this information, but the clean displays and logical ergonomics of it all brings the entire system’s sci fi-worthy capabilities together brilliantly. 

Behind the wheel, comfort is key, with off-road ability still intact

Once rolling in the Velar, quiet comfort is clearly the foremost engineering goal, with a fair modicum of sportiness as well as off-road ability designed in as well – and likely in that order of priorities. Base models come with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, producing 180 hp and a more noteworthy 317 lb-ft of torque. It’s smooth for a diesel, with decent urge from down low, but it’s still noticeably a diesel, with engine noise especially prominent with the window open.

More impressive is the uplevel supercharged 3.0-litre V6 making 380 hp, a mill shared with multiple Jaguar models, and more powerful than the similarly sized engine in the Discovery. Its instant urge is clearly not a turbocharged engine, though obviously slightly more muted here than in the Jaguar F-Type two-seater. Still a 0-100 km/h time of 5.7 seconds is nothing to sneeze at, with a refined growl that’s quieter than in the Jag.

Those aren’t acceleration numbers that will worry Porsche Macan or Cayenne Turbo owners, but it is competitive enough to place the Velar in the top tier of sporting luxury SUVs, outside of full-on M or AMG models.

Fuel consumption-wise, the diesel Velar obviously trumps the supercharged V6, at an overall average of 8.4 L/100 km versus 11.8 for the quicker mill. In the US, a gasoline four-cylinder will be available, but it won’t be available in Canada, at least for the first year. But it was impressively responsive in a quick sampling on the road, and its overall average of 10.2 L/100 km and the increased smoothness compared to the diesel makes it a pity it’s not a worthy entry-level option on the Canadian Velar, at least for 2018.

Handling-wise, the Velar proved itself a worthy attacker of curves in the mountains just outside Palm Springs. All but the quickest transitions were handled with little to no body roll, while the 8-speed automatic combined with shift paddles in all models encouraged playful downshifts. There is a Dynamic mode available, but that said, the lack of a hard Sport button or equivalent easily accessible seemed to underline that it’s more about comfort in the Velar than sportiness, which is more Jag’s game, although an Adaptive Dynamics system standard on all models monitors the damping forces hundreds of time per second automatically. Luckily, our air suspended models also didn’t suffer the rib-rocking ride of the F-Pace, especially on its largest and lowest profile tires.

Land Rover as a company has always prided itself on off-road prowess, even in its pricier Range Rover models, and even the pavement-oriented Velar can handle its own in the rough stuff compared to the road-oriented market rivals, if not quite to the level of some other LR or RR products. Tackling some trails in the land of Jeep (Wranglers, mostly), the Velar proved itself capable of serious articulation with one and two-wheel lift-offs where it just kept going with the two or three contact patches remaining.

Sure, it was a trail that likely could have been completed by an X3 or Porsche SUV, as Land Rover officials freely admitted, but not nearly so confidently or capably – on showroom floor, luxury-oriented tires no less. 

The Velar offers one of the most sophisticated all-wheel drive systems in the segment, and the world, with full-time all-wheel drive with a single-speed transfer case on all models that includes torque vectoring, which the company says can move the power from full rear to fully locked in 165 milliseconds.

The standard cold spring suspension offers 8.4 inches (213 mm) of ground clearance, which increases to 9.9 inches (251 mm) with the air suspension standard on all V6 versions.

Comfortable, sporty and sporting off-road

In the end, the Velar shows its comfort, sporty and off-road sporting capability as its core values – and in that order. True, these priorities are closer to its road-oriented German luxury rivals, but it adds an artfully modern personality inside and out to its traditional off-road prowess, while branching out the brand to a fourth branch that makes the Evoque just a little less of a black sheep in the Range Rover family.