Land Rover’s Range Rover is an incredible machine. It can wade through hip-high water, clamber through muddy trails, surf atop sand dunes, and claw over boulders. It glides along the interstate like a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. And as sexy as it looks on the road, it looks even sexier off road. On the other hand, the big Brit is heavy and thirsty. And with a price tag that ranges from $86,645 to well over $200,000, it’s a pricey hunk of metal. There are, of course, options. The half-size-smaller Range Rover Sport is $20,000 cheaper but only 5 percent less corpulent. Way down the size and price scale is the sleek, nimble, and fuel-efficient Range Rover Evoque.
Here to fill the gap between the midget Evoque and the statuesque Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models is the all-new 2018 Range Rover Velar. The Velar is a proper, midsize crossover that shares its dirty parts with Jaguar’s delightful F-Pace SUV crossover — only with the Velar, the dirty parts are actually meant to get dirty. The Velar is more than right-sized and is sweet to drive, as capable off road as one would expect and absolutely stunning in design. If the geography and architecture in these photos looks familiar, it’s because Land Rover chose to host the Velar’s U.S. automotive media introduction in Palm Springs, where the vehicle’s modern design couldn’t have been more perfectly matched to the architecture.
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The Best-Looking Range Rover Yet?
It’s rare that the second-smallest vehicle in an automaker’s lineup is the most beautiful, and we’re sure that many folks who already have a full-size Range Rover will consider theirs prettier, but the Velar is nonetheless a very beautiful object — arguably Land Rover’s most expressive and charismatic design since the Defender.
Though the Velar’s roof looks like it might cut 6-foot drivers off at the neck, there’s still plenty of head room.
All of the signature Range Rover styling cues — the slab-sided body, clamshell hood, blackout windows, “floating” roof, etc. — are present and accounted for. The Velar’s roughly two-thirds/one-third sheet-metal-to-glass ratio gives it an aggressive, chopped-roof look, yet it elegantly tapers at the rear, à la Rolls-Royce’s Phantom.
The Velar wouldn’t be a Range Rover if it didn’t brandish vents on the hood and just aft of the front wheel arch, but otherwise, the body is free of superfluous ornamentation — even the door handles virtually disappear when the vehicle is locked or in motion. Lighting the way for the Velar are Range Rover’s thinnest, squintiest, sexiest headlamps, while in back are three-dimensional dual-element tail lamps, arranged horizontally — another Range Rover first. To really turn heads in the Velar, we’d suggest the available matte silver paint with a contrasting roof and the burnished-copper accents.
The Velar’s Terrain Response program coordinates all systems to achieve maximum traction.
The interior is an entirely different reality ... an extremely civilized, well-tailored reality.
The low roof looks like it might create a cramped cabin, but 6-footers easily fit both in front and back. It’s certainly more intimate than its larger brethren, but the design still feels appropriately upscale. The 20-way power- adjustable seats in our loaded R-Dynamic test vehicle were exceptionally comfortable, and upholstered in buttery leather in stylized Union Jack–like “cut diamond” perforations. The Velar also offers a sexy “Suedecloth” textile made from recycled plastic bottles (!) that looks as dressy and tailored as a custom Harris Tweed coat. Like the exterior, the interior trim can be decorated with copper accents in the doors and dash, only here, the copper takes the form of gleaming weave, not a muted matte finish.
Even better, the Velar’s dashboard essentially banishes traditional buttons and switches in favor of multiple large, high-resolution screens, including a 12.3-inch instrument screen, two 10-inch-wide touchscreens in the center of the dashboard, and two physical ring-dials surrounding tiny round screens of their own. The upper center unit motors forward at startup for better visibility and reach, and to minimize driver distraction, an optional full-color, 10-inch head-up display is reflected in the windshield. With so many ways to view information and adjust various systems, operation takes some getting used to. All told, though, between its elegant modernity and high level of functionality, the Velar’s interior represents a new high-water mark for midsize luxury SUVs.
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The door handles retract into the car’s body.
Everything is a thumb maneuver away.
Excellent Driving, On Road or Off
Our preview drive took us on paved roads between Palm Springs and Big Bear and dusty trails east of Joshua Tree. We spent most of the day dipping into the deep reserves of power served up by the P380’s supercharged, 380-horsepower V6, the same engine found in lower-end versions of the full-size Range Rovers. The 332 foot-pounds of torque scoot the Velar away from traffic lights effortlessly, surging past campers on two-lane roads with a throaty growl under full throttle. Regardless of speed, the air suspension deftly isolates bumps for a creamy ride while keeping the body mostly flat in turns. Steering is obedient, direct, and vastly more connected than the bigger Range Rovers. At the same time, it’s not quite as buttoned-down as its Jaguar cousin.
The P380 made easy work of the trail’s obstacles. The on-demand four-wheel-drive system features Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response program that tailors the engine, steering, and, when equipped, the air springs for maximum traction on selected surfaces. The lack of a mechanical low range may surprise off-road enthusiasts, but they should appreciate its brilliant All Terrain Progress Control system that can best be described as a super-slow-speed cruise control, steadying the Velar’s pace at speeds between 2.2 and 18 mph — uphill or downhill, handling both acceleration and braking. P380 models are also available with a rear-locking differential.
The Range Rover Velar is priced reasonably at $50,895 for the P250, $57,195 for the diesel-powered D180, and $65,195 for the P380. Options can bloat prices substantially, with a P380 R-Dynamic model equipped like my tester costing an eye-watering $87,110. Skipping some of the advanced off-road options will save a few grand, but then, for a vehicle that’s so right in so many ways, it may be right-priced as well.
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2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar
4-door, 5-passenger SUV
180-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder (P180)
247-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder (P250)
380-hp supercharged 3.0-liter V6 (P380)
Fuel Economy (city/highway)