If any automaker were positioned to profit the most from the surge in SUV interest that has washed over the global market like an unstoppable tide, it would be Land Rover.
With its well-established brand respected around the world, and currently benefiting from the fruits of an intensive investment in new platforms and drivetrains by its parent corporation Tata Motors, the time to wring profits from every available sport-utility niche is now for the British-based badge.
This explains the 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar P380 R-Dynamic HSE, the longwinded name of the most expensive version of the brand’s latest offering. Although it features a price tag that brushes uncomfortably close to the next-in-line Range Rover Sport, it also happens to offer strikingly beautiful styling in a segment where the status quo so rarely strays from the safe side of conservative.
To be honest, it’s a stretch to position the Range Rover Velar as a “compact” sport-utility, though it’s not really a “midsize” SUV, either. In terms of size, it’s nearly as big as the Range Rover Sport in terms of length, width, and height, which means it’s also larger than ostensible rivals like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, or even its Jaguar F-Pace platform-mate.
Then there’s that window sticker I mentioned above. While the Velar’s price starts at just under $50,000, once you’re deep into the options list and have spec’d the R-Dynamic model with the P380 engine (a supercharged 3.0-liter V6) and HSE trim you’re already brushing up against the $80,000 mark. And that still leaves you 10 grand short of the plush First Edition model.
You won’t be able to drop nearly as much cash on a fully-loaded Audi or BMW in the same category, but then again, there aren’t any other similarly-sized premium people movers that deliver the same mix of style and legitimate off-road-capable substance as the Velar.
It’s hard to overstate the impact that the newest Range Rover had in traffic. Finished in all-black trim, the Velar absorbed the attention of nearly everyone around it like a Floridian sinkhole, inexorably extending its sphere of influence as I rolled on down the road.
It’s an impressive achievement for a vehicle that doesn’t so much break new ground for the Land Rover brand but rather coalesces existing design cues into an extremely effective package, one that combines the muscular bulk of the top-tier Range Rover with the sloping roofline of the pint-size Evoque.
The Velar’s cabin is also noteworthy, primarily for the sheer range and elegance of the materials that can be applied to its various surfaces, in addition to its sophisticated lines and novel capacitive touch controls on the steering wheel. With reasonable legroom front and rear, and a useful amount of cargo space (34 cubic feet), I found only the Range Rover’s driver’s seat position to be a little unusual in terms of its forward-slanted perch.
The Velar’s interior also showcases the vehicle’s real technological showstopper, the first implementation of a new dual-screen infotainment, vehicle, and climate control system called InControl Touch Pro Duo. The setup is unlike anything you’ll find in any of the SUV’s competitors, and that’s both good and bad, depending on how you feel about its haptic screen-based controls mixed with a pair of context sensitive dials and a knob for audio volume.
Some aspects of the system work quite well, while others are cause for confusion and frustration. The lower screen is a Vehicle settings screen that offers nicely rendered images of the Velar tackling the various landscapes that its Terrain Response 2 traction system configures the standard 4-wheel drive to handle, while the Climate setting provides an easy-to-understand diagram of how the air is flowing inside the SUV. All of this occurs while media, navigation, and phone information remain visible on the top-most display.
Still, aside from the system’s ‘wow’ factor, there’s nothing that InControl Touch Pro Duo does that couldn’t be more effectively accomplished via traditional controls. For example, the rotary Terrain Response controller provided in other Land Rover models is less complex. Another example: To adjust the heated and cooled seats, you must first select the Seats button from the top of the lower display screen, turn heat or cooling functions on, and then use the dials to apply more or less temperature, as desired. Buttons would be easier, faster, and less distracting.
Making matters worse, the InControl technology occasionally displays asleep-at-the-wheel response times. I also had problems with some of the lower screen’s backgrounds shining too brightly even with dashboard lighting turned down as low as possible. The pictures are pretty, but occasionally distracting in terms of glare while driving.
The standard engine for the new Velar is a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that is moderately satisfying. With more than two tons of SUV to move, though, it’s not exactly fast. Or efficient.
With the P380 drivetrain under its hood, however, the 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar is a force to be reckoned with on the pavement. As the name might suggest, the blown V6 is good for 380 horsepower, and it also develops a useful 332 lb.-ft. of torque, both of which are channeled by an 8-speed automatic transmission that is either smooth or strict depend on which drive mode is selected.
So equipped, the Velar is quicker than you might expect, but it’s not intended as a high performance track toy in the same vein as the brand’s SVR line of hyper haulers. I much preferred its confident cruising capability and relatively quiet ride, along with a suspension system that, in addition to being off-road ready, was also more than willing to absorb the punishment doled out by Montreal’s impact crater asphalt.
Also, though equipped to tackle tough conditions ranging from blizzards to deep standing water, hardcore trail drivers will note that the Velar’s 4WD system lacks low-range gearing, but no one else will care about that in the slightest.
The best news about the Land Rover Range Rover Velar is that you can slice nearly $30,000 off of the P380 R-Dynamic HSE’s asking price if you’re content to stick with the turbocharged 4-cylinder base model, and if you’re willing to live with less luxe. This means you’ll get almost all of the Velar’s neck-snapping looks and practicality for roughly the same ask as its German competitors.
Still, despite its price tag the top-tier version of the smallish Range Rover shines as something you can’t easily replicate anywhere else.
For style mavens, the vehicle’s looks may be more than enough, but the sizable horsepower bump that the supercharged six provides over all but its kissing cousin F-Pace, combined with a passenger compartment that is head and shoulders above any other compact luxury SUV, makes the Velar a unique opportunity to stand out in a segment where fitting in tends to be the rule rather than the exception.
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