Before Land Rover built its first Range Rover, there was the Velar. Back in 1969, Land Rover disguised the first Range Rover prototypes by giving them the name Velar, a Latin-derived name that means "to veil." "Velar" also could've been a euphonious acronym for "Vee-Eight LAnd Rover," as the original prototypes all had eight-cylinder engines. Or perhaps it was simply a clever anagram made from spare Land Rover badges.
Whatever the intent, the name returns affixed to the new 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar, the fourth vehicle to enter the Range Rover family. Our first experience with this five-seat luxury SUV occurred in the preposterously picturesque northwestern Norway, on (and off) remarkably smooth roads in a highly optioned model that makes it a highly desirable machine.
Sizing It Up
The Velar slots into the price and size gap between the midsize Range Rover Sport and the subcompact Range Rover Evoque. Logic dictates the Velar is a compact SUV, but it isn't. It's larger than the lockstep compact SUV crowd but smaller than a midsize.
The same is true with the Jaguar F-Pace, and indeed the Velar is based on that SUV, sharing the underlying structure, wheelbase and suspension design. Drivetrain options are the same as well, consisting of two turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-fours — one gas, one diesel — and a supercharged 3.0-liter V6. An eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are standard.
Despite the similarities, the Velar bears little resemblance to the Jaguar. Instead it represents the Range Rover ethos of refinement and design, emphasizing the latter most prominently. The Velar also comes with more standard features than the Jaguar and costs more as a result, starting at $50,895. The V6-powered First Edition models we drove edged north of $90,000.
In person, the Velar looks smaller than the photos suggest. It nevertheless manages the tricky requirement of modernizing classical Range Rover design cues, a feat accomplished in part by shrinking the head- and taillights and blacking out the pillars surrounding the front and rear windshield and side windows. An available air suspension lowers the car when parked, giving it an exaggerated stance on the 22-inch wheels. Combined with the elongated and upright nose, the Velar's relaxed profile is reminiscent of the famous Maxell "Blown Away Guy" ad.
Flush door handles pop out after hitting a button on the key fob or the handles themselves. While they look somewhat ungainly when deployed, their size means you can still open the doors if you're wearing gloves. (Alas, we can't say the same about the capacitive controls inside.)
Attractive interior materials have the same level of elegance as the exterior, including a repeating diamond-cut pattern that resembles the British flag. Trim options include aluminum, multiple woods and carbon fiber. Our test car wore comfy leather and microfiber suede. But for the bovine-empathetic, Land Rover offers an alternate fabric interior that employs wool and material made from reclaimed plastic, though you'd never guess it.
There's ample head-, leg- and shoulder room in both the front and power-reclining rear seats, and the optional panoramic sunroof gives an impression of even more space. With a cargo volume of 34.4 cubic feet in the back and 70.1 cubic feet with the 40/20/40-split second row folded, the Velar's storage space rivals that of larger midsize SUVs.
The dash appears mostly black and buttonless with the engine off. Power it up and you find three LCD displays: one for the gauge cluster, and two for the entertainment system and controls. The initial impression is positive, as each high-resolution screen boasts attractive and easy-to-read graphics with multiple configurations.
The entertainment display is split in two. There's a traditional screen in the center of the dash that shows the usual navigation and music information. It tilts for easier viewing and retracts after powering off. Beneath it sits a larger, tablet-looking screen that hosts climate settings, seat controls and drive modes. The dials typically reserved for controlling temperature change function depending on the selected screen. On the seat control page, for example, the dials adjust heating and ventilation or the intensity of the available massage feature.
On top of looking pretty, the system reacts quickly to inputs. Phone integration looks promising, too, with forthcoming Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Alas, the screens lack haptic feedback, like the small vibrations new iPhones make when you press the capacitive home button. You're never quite sure if you've hit a button correctly, which often requires taking your eyes off the road to double check. The steering wheel controls are also touch-sensitive, and it's a little too easy to accidently change the volume while turning the wheel. Lastly, the gloss-black surfaces are fingerprint and smudge magnets. You'll want to have a microfiber towel handy.
Wheels of Fortune
With 380 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, the V6 delivers the same evenly spread oomph we've come to enjoy from the Jaguar F-Pace, though with a difference in character. The Velar is far more muted when you're on the fun pedal.
The EPA rates the V6 at 20 mpg combined (18 city/24 highway). While fuel economy for the four-cylinder engines was not available at the time of this writing, it is unlikely to differ significantly from the F-Pace's. In that vehicle, the gas engine is rated at 24 mpg combined (22 city/27 highway), while the turbodiesel gets 29 mpg combined (26 city/33 highway). The smaller engines also get a slightly lower 5,291-pound tow rating, while the V6 is good for 5,512 pounds.
Linear steering and generally pleasing road manners help make the Velar feel smaller than its size. It rides smoothly and quietly, providing the refinement you expect of a Range Rover. Admittedly, the immaculate and smooth Norwegian roads did little to provoke the 22-inch wheels on our test car (wheel styles range from 18s to 22s). Land Rover guides led us down some light off-road sections that aimed to demonstrate the Velar's capability. Though we didn't expect much, we found the SUV more capable than its massive wheels and 40 series tires led us to believe.
The Velar relies heavily on electronics and brake intervention for off-road control. Height-adjusting air springs improve ground clearance and fording depth at the expense of suspension travel, while the center and rear differential lock under the discretion of the computer. Various off-road drive settings adjust when and how the transmission shifts, the sensitivity of the gas pedal, ride height and so on. Front-facing cameras help you navigate through narrow openings and stay facing the trail on steep inclines where the hood would block your view. On top of descent control, there's low-speed cruise and launch control for extremely slippery surfaces. While these electronic solutions are clever, most are optional.
Considering the absence of a low-range gearbox and the somewhat tight approach, departure and breakover angles, serious off-road enthusiasts should look elsewhere. The Velar is suited more for boulevards than boulders, but it has enough off-road capability to make you feel like you can, even if you never will. Combined with the alluring design, on-road refinement and brand cachet, it's more than enough to make the Velar appealing for a much closer look when it goes on sale in September.