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2018 Range Rover Velar V-6 First Drive: What is Hiding in Range Rover's New Luxury SUV?

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2017-08-10 Motor Trend Staff
2018 Range Rover Velar First Edition front side motion view © Motor Trend Staff 2018 Range Rover Velar First Edition front side motion view

We've just finished lunching on locally caught fried white fish, reindeer stew with mashed potatoes, and freshly picked strawberries with cream at a little cafe with a stunning 270-degree view of the fjords below. The whole setup is, as the kids say these days, "Norwegian af." In the winter, this joint serves as a warming hut for a local ski resort, and getting here involved crisscrossing up a mile and half of steep, rock-strewn switchbacks. On a brisk day in January, it would be exhilarating to blast down on a set of skis. Today, we're glad to be swaddled in the all-new Range Rover Velar, equipped with height-adjustable air suspension and hill-descent control.

2018-Range-Rover-Velar-badge.jpg 2018 Range Rover Velar V-6 First Drive: What is Hiding in Range Rover's New Luxury SUV?

"Hullo, do you mind if I join you for the ride down?" asks the chipper PR rep with a smile and posh London accent sparkly enough for three Orbitz gum commercials. Of course the answer is yes, so in she hops in and introduces herself with a laugh. "It's quite confusing, really. My name is Mercedes, but do you know how awkward that is in this business? Especially when you have to ring people up and say, 'Hi, this is Mercedes, of JaguarLand Rover.' " It's giggles and the crunch of rock under rubber the whole way down.

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Velar also seems to be a puzzling name for this all-new fourth model in the Range Rover line, but there is precedent. When developing the original Range Rover, Land Rover engineers dubbed the prototype Velar, from the Latin word for "to cover, hide." That makes sense for a secret prototype, and it does roll off the tongue quite luxuriously (with emphasis on the first syllable), but is Range Rover hiding something?

Not if you ask the engineers. Chief body engineer Rob Scott is up front about the platform and engine sharing between Velar and the Jaguar F-Pace. Both are built on the same line at the Solihull, England, factory that gave birth to the Land Rover brand, now owned by the Jaguar Land Rover group. The Velar launches with six aluminum-intensive, direct-injection inline-four and V-6 engines developed in-house at JLR. For North America, there are two turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinders on offer: a 180-horsepower diesel or a 247-horsepower gas engine. The current top of the range is the 380-horsepower supercharged V-6 gas engine that powers our fjord explorer.

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"This is the most road-oriented Range Rover ever developed," Scott says. It's a claim we partially validated along the always stunning, occasionally harrowing byways that tickle the west coast of Norway. The majority of roads we drive are single-lane in each direction and often narrow for sharing in curvy, forested parts between towns. With some form of water on the ground most of the year, giant Scania trucks lumbering around blind corners, and strict enforcement of traffic laws, Norwegian speed limits are low and not for flouting. A limit-handling evaluation will have to wait, but at first blush, the Velar feels good, familiar. We loved F-Pace's mix of sport and civility enough to nearly name it 2017 SUV of the Year, and the Velar comports itself in similar fashion but with more attention focused on smoothing out bumps, rounding off hard edges, and creating a "calm sanctuary." This a tough assignment for our First Edition Velar, which comes shod in 22-inch wheels and low-profile tires, but credit goes to the aluminum-intensive double-A-arm front and multilink rear suspension, continuously variable adaptive dampers, and optional air suspension. The Velar's neatest trick is how thoroughly it cloaks all its technology; although there are multiple drive modes on offer—tunable electric power steering response, a brake-based torque vectoring system, and an electronic locking rear differential—they are mostly invisible until fiddled with.

Range Rover claims a 4,471-pound curb weight for the V-6 Velar and that it will hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, which is all very believable. Our V-6 Velar is always a willing partner; no matter the on-road mode selected (Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, or Race), all 332 lb-ft of torque felt readily available via distant thumps of the ZF eight-speed transmission. Popping back the left downshift paddle gets things going fractionally quicker, but the right foot covers most situations. That said, the V-6 Velar is not a head-snapping wolf in a fitted wool suit. There is plenty left to hone a sharper-edged, more track-focused SVR Velar.

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After thoroughly trouncing a series of man-made obstacles, including wheel articulation ramps, a curved side slope, and a hill climb and then charging triumphantly up a groomed off-road course, we ask the opinion of Land Rover expert Steve Hoare. For someone who spends his weekdays editing Alloy and Grit, a Land Rover enthusiast publication, and his weekends tending to five Land Rovers ranging from a 1949 Series 1 to a 2003 Discovery 2 (all preindependent suspension and electronic aids, mind you), he is remarkably charitable. We both agree that traction and forward progress are never an issue; the off-road modes in Range Rover's Terrain Response 2 system, programs such as Low Traction Launch and All Terrain Progress Control (a low-speed off-road cruise-control setting), and that height-adjustable air suspension take nearly all of the drama out of climbing hill and dale. All one really has to do is steer and thumb speeds up or down. But Hoare does dismiss the Velar's handling of a fundamental off-road principle: outward visibility. "All Land Rovers used to be known for their 'Command' seating position," Hoare says. The Velar's more road-focused "Sports-Command" driving position and high beltline style mean the driver sits low, with a broad expanse of hood to peer over. Scott respectfully disagrees, arguing that the power-adjustable seats and voluminous headroom allow most drivers to sit as high up as necessary. To further address visibility concerns, Range Rover does make the views from the Velar's four parking-aid cameras available while four-wheeling.

But Velar's launch story isn't really about on- or off-road prowess—it's about design. Even though their wheelbases are the same at 113.1 inches, the Velar shares no exterior body panels with the F-Pace. Its hood, fenders, and roof are made from aluminum, and the rear hatch is composite—all in the name of weight savings. Doors are steels to help with side impacts and the architectural look chief designer Gerry McGovern was after. Unlike the curvy and muscular F-Pace, the Velar is smooth and slabby—less sculpted in the gym, more hewn from solid billet. Perhaps surprisingly, the Velar is the more aerodynamic of the two; its 0.32 drag coefficient (in turbodiesel configuration) makes it the most aerodynamically efficient vehicle in Land Rover history (and a good deal slicker than the 0.37 of F-Pace.) An upright grille and short front overhang combine with the longer rear overhang to give the Velar its rakish, wind-cheating profile. Cleverly executed details such as the optional blacked-out roof and pillars, flush-fit deployable door handles, and a reversed cut line that rises from front bumper to rear further buff the Velar's visual appeal. Silver satin finish paint, copper-colored accents, and those aforementioned 22s set apart the limited run of 500 First Editions even further.

The Velar is positioned above the Evoque and below the Sport in the Range Rover lineup, but it challenges all, including the flagship, when it comes to interior execution. Reductionism is the overall theme, incorporating that overused trope "less is more," but it's doubtful Ludwig Mies van der Rohe would eye roll what the interior design team has done—especially if he could sit in the driver's seat with every system off (quite hard to do in the smart key era). When the Velar is completely asleep, the driver is surrounded by a sensory-indulgent chamber composed of swathes of texture in blocks of muted colors ranging from fuzzy dark gray synthetic suede on the headliner, open-pore charcoal-colored wood inserts on the dash and doors, and glossy black touchscreen displays. First Editions also get special "cut diamond" pattern in the perforated leather seats and synthetic door inserts, but the star of the show is the yards of gray wool fabric on offer. Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat (pronounced more like Cavadra) is Europe's largest supplier of premium fabrics and supplies such luxury furniture makers as B&B Italia, Knoll, and Vitra. Kvadrat worked with Range Rover to develop a 30 percent wool, 70 percent polyester blend that not only meets stringent automotive standards (including safety, durability, stain, fade, and color transfer resistance) but also can stand on its own as a premium offering. In what it claims is an industry first, Range Rover is offering the Kvadrat wool blend as an option on par with its best Windsor leather. Does it work?

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Sumptuously so. Not all automotive leathers are created equal, but they do all tend to cover the seats of luxury vehicles. Velar's wool-ensconced interior feels strikingly different yet familiar; it's like you're home but in a car. Which is precisely the point: One goal of the Velar's interior design team was to make the cabin more like a living space— from the leather, cozy wool textiles, and wood paneling to the twin gloss-black screens mounted flush in the center console. This is the Touch Pro Duo system, Range Rover's new infotainment system. It uses high-definition touchscreen displays that control everything from HVAC and audio to smartphone apps and Terrain Response 2. In keeping with the reductionist theme, Touch Pro Duo employs precious few buttons, a volume knob, and two knurled rings prominently embedded in the lower touchscreen to change function depending on what system is engaged. If you don't mind fingerprints or having to look when you touch (capacitive buttons provide no haptic feedback, so visual confirmation is required), the system works well and is substantially more responsive than previous JLR touchscreens.

When the drape lifted on the Velar last year, it uncovered a production midsize crossover so slick and dramatically proportioned as to be mistaken for yet another gorgeous yet implausible concept. Our brief Scandinavian stint reveals that the Velar is the real luxurious deal against the backdrop of Norway's jaw-dropping roads and vistas. How it handles the reality of big-city traffic, broken tarmac, and Vbox test gear remains to be seen.

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