The Range Rover family welcomes its fourth member for 2018, the brand-new Land Rover Range Rover Velar. At first glance, it seems to check all the boxes a buyer would have for a luxury SUV. Style? Check. Luxury? Check. Off-road capability? Double check. But does it hold up under deeper scrutiny, especially of its brand-new multimedia system? Yes and no.
The Velar is positioned as the "Goldilocks" Range Rover for urbanites. Both the original Range Rover and Range Rover Sport aren't quite suitable for city use because they're too big. The Evoque, with its tiny backseat and shortage of cargo room, is too small to fulfill the utility portion of the equation. So along comes the Velar, which fits most folks (including those with small families) just right.
To find the Range Rover Velar's closest competitor, you don't have to look further than across the Jaguar Land Rover garage to the Jaguar F-Pace. The two share the same powertrains and platform, which gives them many similarities. The Velar, however, is about 2.5 inches longer, and its looks and interior put it in a different luxury echelon.
Also competing with the Velar are other compact/mid-size luxury SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne and Volvo XC60.
Here's what I drove:
2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic HSE
Powertrain: 380-horsepower, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 332 pounds-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
Fuel economy: 18/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined
Key features: Air suspension, Touch Pro Duo with two 10-inch touchscreens, quad-zone automatic climate control, active rear locking differential, heated/ventilated/massaging front seats, all-terrain progress control, adaptive cruise control, and power liftgate with gesture opening
Price: $87,110 (as-tested, including destination charge)
In addition to a supercharged V-6, the Range Rover Velar offers two four-cylinder powertrains I drove, as well: A 247-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 269 pounds-feet of torque rated at 21/27/23 mpg; and a 180-hp, turbocharged diesel 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 317 pounds-feet of torque rated at 26/30/28 mpg.
Each engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Impressively, all three engines are available across all the Velar's trim levels (S, SE, R-Dynamic SE and R-Dynamic HSE) except the base trim, which comes only with the gasoline four-cylinder.
I spent most of my testing time with the supercharged V-6, but we also had a diesel Velar at our Chicago headquarters.
After driving a Velar with each engine, I didn't find myself enamored with any of the powertrains. As mentioned before, the Velar shares its powertrain options with the F-Pace, but is around 400 pounds heavier in each configuration.
That added weight shows, especially with the four-cylinder engines. Arguably the least luxurious part of the Velar, the engines don't provide easy power, and you have to really get into the accelerator pedal to make the Velar move with any urgency. Our team's consensus on the diesel was that it was firmly in the realm of "just OK."
After driving a Velar with each engine, I didn’t find myself enamored with any of the powertrains.
And the big supercharged V-6? Definitely faster, but it didn't make the Velar feel especially aggressive as the same engine does in the F-Pace. Given my choice of the three, I'd opt for the V-6 as it seems to fit the Velar best, where the other two powertrains might cause some frustration.
How It Drives
Though the engines felt decidedly average, other aspects of the Velar's driving experience were impressive. Both the standard steel springs and optional air suspension (standard on V-6 models) offered a comfortable ride at low and high speeds. When the road bent a bit more, I preferred the simpler steel-spring setup; it was slightly firmer and allowed the Velar to hold corners with more composure. The air suspension, however, offers more flexibility, especially off-road.
Most Range Rover Velars likely won't so much as sniff a trail (and Land Rover admits as much), but they still have the Land Rover name, so they must be able to perform off pavement, as well. The Velar does that pretty spectacularly. I only had a chance to test the V-6 model off-road; it comes with a standard air suspension. While the Velar sits a bit lower in everyday driving with this suspension (8.1 inches at its lowest point, versus a fixed 8.4 inches with the regular springs), it can raise up to 9.9 inches of ground clearance when the surroundings necessitate extra lift. I wouldn't recommend driving in this setting unless it's required, however, because the fully stretched height makes the ride extremely stiff at anything but a crawling pace. If you can leave it in standard height, even on a dirt road, you and your passengers will be appreciative.
My test vehicle was also equipped with an off-road package that included Terrain Response 2, which adds functionality to the standard Terrain Response system, which comes with six drive modes (three on-road, three off-road). The upgraded Terrain Response 2 adds more configurable settings and a feature called All Terrain Progress Control. ATPC functions like off-road cruise control: The driver can set a speed going up or downhill and the Velar will travel at that rate, managing the throttle and braking and leaving only the steering up to the driver. It's an impressive use of the Velar's myriad sensors and electronic wizardry, and the feeling of crawling over sizable rocks while surrounded by an opulent interior (and getting a massage from the driver's seat) is a strange dichotomy that will never fail to amuse me.
Man, That's Nice
Speaking of opulence, the Range Rover Velar's biggest strength is its overall sense of luxuriousness. This starts before you step into it, from the retractable door handles to a low roof that makes the exterior lines appear stretched and taut. That feeling extends to the interior, with fantastic materials all around, clean styling and two large screens (part of the new Touch Pro Duo system) staring back at you from the center console. Lower trim levels are not as consistent with their materials, but I'd put the top trim level up against pretty much anything out there. It's not often I get out of a nearly $90,000 vehicle and think it was worth it, so kudos to Land Rover here. It looks and feels the part.
As mentioned above, the Range Rover Velar's interior is a very luxurious space. I'm not usually a fan of lighter-colored leather, but the Velar sold me on this color palette, even though I question its resistance to stains and other wear (as our experience with the lighter seats in our long term Volvo XC90 showed).
Other hits: The cargo area is expansive (34.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats), with four hooks to hold grocery bags in place and easy pulls that drop the 40/20/40-split rear seats without forcing you to walk around the side. The kick-to-open rear liftgate works easily once you realize the sensors are on the sides of the Velar, and a foot motion will close the liftgate, as well.
Touch Pro Duo continues to be a mixed bag for me, but there are aspects of it that are a definite plus. Both screens are gorgeous, with high resolution, bright colors and well-designed menus. It's also very quick; there's no lag when jumping through functions, and there's minimal delay upon startup — a shortcoming we've noticed in systems from other manufacturers. There's a dedicated volume dial, as well, which was appreciated.
The top screen controls most of the multimedia and navigation functions, while the bottom screen houses vehicle, climate and some seat settings. Using the system from the passenger seat was a joy, but as a driver ...
The premise of the system remains flawed to me. Placing all the Velar's functions into screens admittedly makes the interior design better, and the screens themselves are great. But for daily use I had some trouble with it, finding it difficult to use safely while driving. The fight over distracted driving has mostly centered on cellphones, but as these built-in systems become increasingly digitized, they're contributing, as well.
Our staff was split on this. Some liked the setup, praising its responsiveness, but others (like me) thought it was pretty and flashy but unnecessary. What we all agree on is that you'll need to try it yourself to see if it's too distracting; if you're on the road and can't figure something out, it's better to stop or wait than to dig through the screens. Land Rover says the two-screen setup for in-car controls will proliferate throughout its lineup, so we'll have to reckon with this new normal for the foreseeable future.
Another miss was the interactive driver display, which employs a 12.3-inch display in lieu of traditional gauges. While I liked the available settings in the display, the controls on the left side of the steering wheel are problematic. The function of those steering-wheel controls changes depending on what menu you're in — they default to audio controls but change to four arrows and an "OK" button once you hit the Menu button in the center. You slide your thumb around the rim of the button to scroll through the menus, then hit the center to make a selection. However, the system is not as responsive or well-sorted as the center screens. It felt over-engineered.
One other note: Those buttons on the lower part of the steering wheel are not fully capacitive (touch-sensitive). They don't activate when your finger merely glides over them; the module has to be physically depressed with a click to activate, which I appreciated, as it minimizes accidental button presses.
For a long car, the backseat is a bit small. There's not a lot of legroom or headroom (thanks to that low roof), and our child-safety seat experts said there wasn't much space for installation; an infant car seat barely fit. Taking a few extra inches from the cargo area for more passenger flexibility would have been appreciated.
Safety and Convenience
The Range Rover Velar offers some standard safety and convenience technology, but more advanced safety features are reserved for option packages. Standard safety technology includes autonomous forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors, and cruise control with speed limiter. More advanced features like adaptive cruise control, a blind spot monitor, traffic sign recognition and lane keep assist are optional in packages. An around view monitor is available as a standalone feature.
There are also two available parking packages to help maneuver the Velar. The Park Package adds 360-degree parking sensors and reverse traffic detection, which detects vehicles crossing behind the Velar from either direction. The Park Pro takes it a step further, with a park assist system that can steer into parallel or perpendicular parking spaces.
Available convenience technology is, however, missing two big features: Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are nowhere to be found.
I came away very impressed by Land Rover's execution with the Velar. It plugs a hole in Land Rover's lineup and looks fantastic; cabin materials were flawless, and Touch Pro Duo is a snappy system that works quickly.
Most of my issues with the Velar are philosophical: I'm not a fan of so much digital control in the center console, but the system itself is well-thought-out, and using it (while in the passenger seat or stationary) is a pleasant experience.
There's also no doubt the Range Rover Velar is an expensive proposition. My test vehicle started at $78,095, then piled on 18 extra-cost options and packages to get to its final price of $87,110. Yet that cost doesn't feel gratuitous given the Velar's quality.
The biggest letdowns to me were the powertrains; the Velar could do with a bit more grunt, and the four-cylinders seem to be a poor match for their price (both four-cylinders I drove were around $75,000). Still, the pull of the Range Rover Velar's aesthetics and overall luxuriousness were overwhelming — enough so that I willfully forgave its other foibles.