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2020 Land Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic first drive: As worthy as its name is long

Roadshow logo Roadshow 12/2/2019 Chris Paukert

a red car driving on a road: This is -- deep breath -- the 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition.Yes, that's it's real name. No, there's no tailgate badge.

This is -- deep breath -- the 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition.Yes, that's it's real name. No, there's no tailgate badge.
© Provided by Roadshow

British aristocrats love formal, long-winded titles. Prince Philip's actual, full, royal designation is no fewer than 133 words. So at nine words, 24 syllables and 65 characters, the 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition's name is a terse snippet by comparison. And like the Duke of Edinburgh, this luxury SUV was born into Anglian nobility -- among carmakers, Land Rover is decidedly blue of blood. Fortunately, as I discovered firsthand during my Southern California test drive, the word jumble that makes up this particular Velar's model's name -- "SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition" -- has been earned in the best possible way, through the accumulation of riches and power, not just because of some birthright.

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For those who don't speak Land Rover, "SVAutobiography" means significant extra care and fairy dust has been lavished upon this vehicle by the company's Special Vehicle Operations' (SVO) department. In particular, this Velar has been developed with an eye towards even more upscale finishes, especially in the cabin, which layers premium atop premium. Here, that means diamond-quilted, perforated Windsor leather seats with standard heat, cooling and massage functions, along with reclining, heated rear chairs. It also means the fitment of a sport steering wheel with aluminum shift paddles and knurled switchgear finishes on key controls, including the rotary gearshift and infotainment jog dials.

a car parked on the side of a mountain: Most high-performance luxury SUVs can't go far off-road, but this one can. Land Rover© Provided by Roadshow Most high-performance luxury SUVs can't go far off-road, but this one can. Land Rover

Supercharged thump

As you might assume, the "Dynamic Edition" of this Velar's name points to enhanced performance credentials, and boy, howdy, have they been enhanced. The standard Velar is available with either a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline I4 dispensing 247 horsepower, or a supercharged gas V6 with a healthier 340 hp. As you might expect, the former isn't really worth considering, but the latter doesn't particularly lack for grunt, delivering 60 mph from a standstill in a factory-estimated 6.1 seconds before pushing the nearly 4,500-pound SUV to 155 mph. That's pretty quick. For this new Dynamic Edition model, however, the engineers at SVO have shoehorned Jaguar Land Rover's time-honored 5.0-liter supercharged V8 under the Velar's aluminum clamshell hood. Tuned to realize 550 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque, this steroidal SUV dispatches 0-to-60 in just 4.3 seconds -- about the same time as a BMW i8 coupe. It'll push on to 170 mph before an electronic limiter staunches the fuel flow, too.

The aforementioned German plug-in hybrid sports car and this Velar don't have much else in common, other than that they're two of the most stunningly beautiful, slipstream vehicles on the market. Both look more like concept cars than something that you should be able to stroll into a dealership and drive home. The Velar's two-box crossover-SUV shape is decidedly less exotic than the BMW's, but it's no less well considered. The Velar debuted back in 2017 as the fourth model in the Range Rover line, and if anything, its pared-back, reductivist visuals have consistently outshone its more established and costlier brethren. It's only been a couple of years since the Velar went on sale, but as a piece of design, it's aging stunningly well.

a car driving on a road© Land Rover2020 Land Rover Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition is long on name, beauty

As part of the transformation to this top-shelf trim, the LRRRVSVADE has received exterior changes, as well. Up front, there's a redesigned bumper with bigger air intakes, along with a different grille and surround. Unlike nearly all other vehicles on sale today, every inch of the Velar's grille is functional. That is, there are no fake, blocked-off openings rendered for aesthetic purposes: the honking 5.0-liter needs every molecule of air the scenery can ram into it. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the vent-like garnishes along the bodysides and on the hood at the base of the windshield -- those are surface jewelry. 

You can also spot the SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition on the street by its standard Narvik Black roof or its 21-inch wheels (22s are optional, and best left that way). In addition, there are unique lower-body side sills, subtle knurling on badge lettering and a redesigned rear bumper featuring large quad exhaust finishers. The latter's oversized nature are perhaps this SUV's only truly showy note. Where some high-performance luxury crossovers resort to visual peacockery to sell their performance, the SVAutobiography DE's changes don't sully the Velar's underlying elegance.

'S' is for 'snarly'

Not that you wouldn't hear the 5.0-liter's V8 bellow from afar without those shiny exhaust trims. This is a seriously snarly engine. It's got an authoritative tone just trundling around town in regular mode, but if you open the taps on the standard variable-valve active exhaust system, you'll risk making enemies of your neighbors in the best possible way. With 45% more power than the next-most-powerful Velar, this rig is a ripsnorter, and its soundtrack makes no apologies for being so. Naturally, this V8's efficiency also isn't likely to earn points with anyone but your gas card provider: Fuel economy estimates call for a borderline contemptible 15 miles per gallon city, 20 highway and 17 combined. 

*Vintage Ferris wheel not included with purchase. Land Rover© Provided by Roadshow *Vintage Ferris wheel not included with purchase. Land Rover

To handle all that V8 power, the LRRRVSVADE has been substantially reworked beneath the skin, including fitment of an active locking rear differential, as well as model-specific calibrations for the standard eight-speed ZF automatic, air suspension, steering and electronic safety minders. In addition, those big forged alloy wheels help clear a set of uprated brakes (15.5-inch rotors up front, 15.6-inch units out back) wearing standard red calipers (less-showy gloss black is optional). 

According to company officials, SVO spent some 63,000 hours developing this model. While it's probably fair to guess that a lot of it was simulator time, that total still feels like a significant investment of resources for a small-volume model -- especially one that's only going to live for a single year. Land Rover only expects to sell around 500 of these in total, as this is inexplicably a limited-time beast.

Off-road ready, street savvy

At least those 63,000 hours -- the equivalent of 7.2 years -- seem well spent. I started out my drive in the hills of Malibu, California, tackling a steep and rocky off-road ascent. By Land Rover standards, it wasn't a massively challenging course, but it would've undone competitors such as the BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLC63 and indeed, Jaguar Land Rover's own F-Pace SVR

As with seemingly all new Land Rovers, the course was dispatched through a deft (if uninvolving) mixture of axle articulation, silicon wizardry and surprising grip from street-minded low-profile rubber. I say "uninvolving" because there's surprisingly little suspense and driver effort expended in most circumstances off-road. Because there's so much capability baked-in, much of it electronic, everything seems a bit anticlimactic. You just point the nose where you want it to go, and progress happens in a slow, methodical fashion while you peer out through the windshield or study the forward-facing camera's view on the upper infotainment screen. (Land Rover's trick Clearsight Ground View virtual reality tech is not available, you'll have to step down to the smaller, newer Evoque if you want that.)

a car parked on the side of a dirt field: SVAutobiography's air suspension sits lower by default, but still raises to full height for off-roading. Land Rover© Provided by Roadshow SVAutobiography's air suspension sits lower by default, but still raises to full height for off-roading. Land Rover

On the tarmac, where 99% of Land Rovers spend 99% of their time, the Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition shines, with snappy throttle response and a stirring eight-cylinder vocal track that far outshines the occasionally gritty-sounding V6 (let alone the four-cylinder, which is best avoided). The LRRRVSVADE rides slightly lower in its default setting and its suspension hunkers down at speed, and even though it features retuned air springs, dampers, bushings, thicker sway bars and smoother underbody aero, you still feel a not-insignificant amount of pitch and roll in corners at speed (as you do from nearly all air-sprung SUVs). In this Velar, the sensation is far from unnerving, and in fact, it's kind of fun. If nothing else, this listing tendency serves as a prudent warning that you really shouldn't be hurtling a 4,600-pound SUV down canyon roads without a healthy regard for physics.

Despite having the same ratios, the automatic gearbox is tuned to shift more aggressively, especially when in sport mode, and the paddle shifters respond more quickly to manual inputs. The steering is keener, too, with quicker turn-in and a light feel.

Having said all of that, if you ultimately want sharper handling and you don't want a Jag F-Pace SVR, you're probably going to need to go to one of the performance-haus-branded Germans, or perhaps the Alfa-Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, a thrilling yet harsh-riding model that seems like an even greater gamble than the Rover from a predicted-reliability standpoint.

a close up of a car: Probably not a great color for playing in the dirt, but man, is this gorgeous. Land Rover© Provided by Roadshow Probably not a great color for playing in the dirt, but man, is this gorgeous. Land Rover

Stunningly sybaritic surroundings

One area where you won't lose any ground to Deutschland is in terms of cabin furnishings. The Velar's SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition's interior is flat-out gorgeous, every bit as sleek as this vehicle's exterior. There's double-stitched leather everywhere, weighty knurled-finish controls, unique gauge cluster graphics and four different colorways (regrettably, non SVAutobiography Velars are offered in a larger range of upholstery, hues and trims, but that sort of complexity is hard to justify in such a small-volume offshoot). 

My test vehicles were all fitted with comfortable standard 20-way power-articulated seats, but when hurtling the Velar along Angeles Crest Highway over the San Gabriel Mountains, I would've welcomed the additional support of the available sport seats. That said, I'd probably take the regular chairs for 99% of normal driving, so tick this option box carefully. 

InControl Touch Pro Duo infotainment remains simultaneously the most impressive and frustrating aspect of the Velar's cabin. With crisp graphics and reasonably intuitive menu structure, ICTPD is actually pretty easy to get used to, especially since the 2019 model year, when Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration was added. That said, this system still has a reputation for being buggy and occasionally slow -- two factors that probably won't reveal themselves in a normal dealership test drive.

a red car parked on a dirt road: More power, more lux, more money, more... desirable. Land Rover© Provided by Roadshow More power, more lux, more money, more... desirable. Land Rover

The price of fame

The Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic starts at $90,790, plus $1,025 for freight. With a handful of options like 22-inch wheels ($1,300) and Advanced Driver Assist Pack (360-degree surround camera, adaptive cruise with steering assist, high-speed emergency braking, etc. for $1,300), my tester rang up at $96,570 delivered. Considering a base Velar starts at $56,300, that's one heck of a price walk within the same model range. It's also about $10k more than a F-Pace SVR. Having said that, because the LRRRVSVADE's design is so special, because its interior is so premium and above all, because this particular model is so capable in so many ways, it genuinely doesn't feel overpriced -- it absolutely feels worth the money. 

Research the Land Rover Range Rover Velar on MSN Autos | Find a Land Rover Range Rover Velar near you

The 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition may have a ridiculously long name, but thanks to stouter on-road performance and enhanced luxury, there's no doubt about it: This is SUV royalty. 

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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