First drive: 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar [Review]

Land Rover is expanding its Range Rover line with the stylish new Velar.

At first glance, the Land Rover Velar appears to be a lower and more modern version of the Range Rover Sport. It sits lower to the ground, the windshield is more aggressively raked and it sports a clean, minimalist design all around. Notable differences are the motorized door handles that retract flush with the body when locked, the futuristic holographic style tail lamps, the slim fender/door ornamentation on the exterior, and a simple but elegant beltline that is set lower to the ground and flows from the front and gently swoops up towards the rear.

The minimalist theme carries over to the interior with the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, which consists of two ten-inch high definition touchscreen displays. The lower display sports two larger multi-function knobs that change what they control depending on which option is selected on the screen. There's also a smaller dedicated volume control knob that sits in between. Gone however, is the traditional gear selector; in it's place is a rotary knob that Jaguar Land Rover has been using for the last few years. It makes for a very clean and uncluttered center console which looks futuristic while retaining the signature Range Rover look and layout. The center console is also wide enough to generously fit three cupholders.

The Velar fills in the gap, or the "white space" as Land Rover calls it, between the Evoque and the Sport. The dimensions for height and width are just a few inches more than the Evoque, but the length is closer to that of the Sport. It's a solid mid-size SUV and bumps the total to four distinct models in the Range Rover lineup. The powertrain options range from a supercharged V6, to two turbocharged four-cylinders in either gas or diesel configuration. All variations are mated to an 8-speed ZF transmission and all-wheel drive.

We took a trip out to Palm Springs where Land Rover had a full day planned for their latest and greatest addition to the Ranger Rover family. Land Rover provided us with all three powertrain variations for us to rotate between. We drove over a variety of terrains, from smooth windy roads to rocky and uneven terrain to get a good feel of the Velar's capability.

On road dynamics We started our day off in a Byron Blue HSE R-Dynamic which comes equipped with a 380hp supercharged 3.0L V6 engine and air suspension. We eased our way through the city and got onto the highway where we were finally able to test out the acceleration. It was very smooth and linear all the way up to the redline. The cabin was quiet and comfortable. There were no detectable squeaks or rattles and it felt solid over bumps and expansion joints. We kept it in standard mode for all the highway driving as there were only a few mild curves and not much elevation change.

After a little over an hour of driving on the highway, we switched course onto a more entertaining and twisty two lane road that snaked through the San Bernadino National Forest. In standard mode, it had a bit of body roll, but once we switched to the R-Dynamic sport mode, everything tightened up and the steering became more responsive. Although it made the drive more entertaining, it wasn't a dramatic change, which made it easy to adjust to. The ride still remained compliant but cornered slightly flatter, the steering was quicker and once the gear selector was moved to S for sport mode, throttle response became more immediate and held the lower gears through the curves to power out of the turn more quickly. It definitely made things more fun and gave us the confidence to push a little harder through the curves and switchbacks. The only drawback that we felt was that the transmission held the gear a bit too long, keeping the engine revving unnecessarily high regardless of throttle position.

After traversing the off-road course which I'll delve into later, we switched to a Firenze Red SE R-Dynamic with the 247 horsepower turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder. Although it wasn't as smooth or as quick as the V6, we never felt it lacking in power or refinement. It's also roughly 240 pounds lighter than the V6 model and we felt this immediately navigating around the tighter canyon roads. It felt more nimble and tossable, which is a nice tradeoff for giving up the power of the larger V6.

On the last leg of the trip back to our starting point, we hopped into a HSE R-Dynamic with the 180hp turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder diesel engine. It drove almost exactly like the gasoline version with slightly more punch off the line but with no noticeable difference in noise or vibration levels. It did run out of steam at the top end due to the lower horsepower output but it never felt inadequate. Cruising along the highway and a few curvier sections of the road, it felt just as smooth and composed as the variations we drove. We would not have known it was a diesel motor under the hood if no one had told us.

Not all was perfect, however. We noticed while navigating around the city, the unusually thick A-pillars hindered our view of the corners. It created a bit of a blind-spot whenever we were making a left turn and approaching a center island. The curb would be completely hidden from view and difficult to navigate around with the large mirror and the thick pillar blocking what was just to the front left fender and below us. It's relatively minor, but few other vehicles we've driven have had this problem.

Another issue was related to the engine start/stop function. Although it wasn't really noticeable on the V6, it was readily apparent on the four-cylinder when we were stopped on a slight incline at an intersection. There was a significant delay from the time we let off the brake pedal and hit the gas before the engine responded. Thankfully, there were no cars approaching as it might have been a hair-raising situation. It went from having enough time to merge into the lane to a situation that could've caused a collision with oncoming traffic. We literally mashed the gas pedal and for a second, it did nothing but roll back slightly while the engine started up. Perhaps it's just a behavioral adjustment that drivers transitioning from vehicles that don't have that technology will have to make since it is becoming more common on all newer vehicles.

Off the beaten path This is where things started to get fun. We arrived at the off-road trail after a few hours on the highway and canyon roads to pair up with our instructors and begin our trek through the winding off-road trails.

All trim levels come standard with all-wheel drive with a slew of driver assistance aids such as Torque Vectoring, All Terrain Progress Control, Adaptive Dynamics, All-Wheel Drive with Intelligent Driveline Dynamics, Terrain Response 2 and an available locking rear differential. All you need to know is that these things make you feel like an off-road warrior. The one we used the most, especially during downhill descents over rocky terrain, was the All Terrain Progress Control, or APTC. Think of it as cruise control for off-roading. Through the use of the brakes and the throttle control, it makes traversing over rough terrain much more controlled and easy to pilot without having to do much of anything other than steer.

For anyone who has gone off-roading, it gets extremely rough and bumpy crawling over rocks and uneven terrain, and modulation of the gas and brakes becomes much more difficult to execute with any sort of composure. With each bump and jolt, it might cause an amateur driver to stab at the brakes and gas which upsets the balance of the vehicle causing it to become more unstable and difficult to control. With the APTC turned on and set for whichever terrain you're on, it becomes a walk in the park. It adjusts everything from throttle, braking, and the locking rear differential depending on which mode you choose on the dash. Hit the APTC button in the center display, tap the + button on the steering wheel to set the speed and it will do the rest for you. If it feels like it's going too fast, tap the - button a couple times and it gradually slows the vehicle down while maintaining balance and composure. It's a nice tool to use for any driver to have regardless of experience.

There were portions of the trail that required the instructor to exit the vehicle and guide us up over the rocks since it was also very narrow and one wrong move could cause the vehicle to be stuck and/or damaged. For those situations we selected the rock/gravel mode on the center display, and with light but constant pressure on the gas, we were able to climb over all those larger rocks with aplomb. There were a few spots where that had us on just three wheels -- you could hear and feel the system do its work as it transferred power from the wheels with no grip to the other wheels that had the most grip. It was interesting to experience firsthand.

Safety As with many of the current vehicles, it comes standard with safety features such as the Lane Departure Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking Assist. As you move up to the higher trim levels, items such as the blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic detection, heads-up display, and 360 degree aerial view camera are added on as standard equipment. On the top of the line trims, Adaptive Cruise Control with Emergency Braking are added to the roster.

Interior Accoutrements All the trim levels that we were provided came with all the usual options that are outfitted on most high-end luxury vehicles. Things such as seat heaters and coolers, keyless entry, panoramic roof, soft perforated leather, high definition touchscreen displays, premium audio, etc. But the one feature we liked the most were the seat massagers. To those who haven't experienced them, it would seem like a frivolous luxury option that probably won't see much use, but on a long drives such as the ones we had on this launch, the benefits of it really shined. We drove for a good two to three hours on and off highways and more intense canyon roads with the massagers switched on. We noticed much less fatigue once we arrived at our destinations. The only drawback is that the massagers would automatically time out, but otherwise, they did a good job of keeping all the back muscles relaxed. To summarize, the massaging "hands" rotate in a kneading motion, much like a shiatsu massager. There are three different modes, upper back/shoulder, lower back, and full back massage. They worked well, not too strong but enough to keep your commute comfortable.

Cost of entry The Velar starts at a seemingly reasonable $49,900, but add in a few options and that price quickly increases. All of our tester vehicles were either SE or HSE models with the R-Dynamic option, which start at $60,100 and $67,600, respectively. Should you opt for the First Edition trim, it starts at $89,300. As optioned, all the vehicles were closer to the $90,000 mark to showcase all the options available.

Leftlane's bottom line It's hard to find much to fault in the Velar as it handled everything we threw at it with ease and grace. From curvy two-lane canyon roads to rocky mountain terrains, to just cruising the wide-open highways, it never felt out of its element. In the company of the BMW X5, Porsche Macan, and the Audi Q5, it holds its own. It's may not be quite as quick or as nimble as some of the above, but it is more refined and offers a generous amount of space, excellent ergonomics, and quality that most just can't match. If you have the means and are in the market, the Velar would be well worth looking at.

Photos by Doug Kikuta.

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