2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar Test Drive Review: Meet Me In The Middle

Test Drive

Filling the midsize gap in the Range Rover lineup between the compact Evoque and pricey Sport.

The Land Rover brand is on an incredible roll right now. Since the launch of a new aluminum platform with the 2013 Range Rover and the 2014 Range Rover Sport, sales have been skyrocketing, 2018 likely to be the year they reach double the 43,000 units the brand sold in 2012.

With a market hungry for crossovers and SUVs, Land Rover has spawned its limited platforms into no less than five distinct models divided across two sub-brands in the Discovery and Range Rover models. The latest offering from Land Rover sits right in the middle of the lineup, a proper midsize SUV larger than the Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport but smaller than the Discovery, Range Rover Sport and flagship Range Rover. While there is some overlap with the midsize Range Rover Sport, the Velar tucks in nicely with a lower price and less seating, and not quite reaching the level of power as the V8 Sport models.

What they do share is a style that is distinctly Range Rover, and hugely successful, the more recently launched Velar taking it to the next level under the guiding hand of Land Rover Design Chief Gerry McGovern. The exterior is smoother and sleeker, with a raked, coupe-inspired roofline that is so in vogue right now. However, it’s nothing so silly as the coupe utility vehicles from BMW and Mercedes, and it pays off with surprising practicality. Then again, practicality will be one of the furthest things from your mind when you step inside this vehicle.

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As far as I’m concerned, the Range Rover Velar features the best interior on the market for less than $100,000, bar none. You can form your own opinion on its design, but the materials are the best in the segment, the leather soft and supple and generously wrapped around the dash and door panels, seats, steering wheel, and armrests, with a microsuede headliner, and carbon fiber trim with metallic highlights. The displays are vibrant and clear, with smart menus and responsive touchscreens, and the digital instrument cluster is complemented by a large head-up display. The switchgear operates with precision, but it’s efficient, too, the steering wheel controls change based on the menu, and the HVAC controls also offering secondary functions with a press. When a system is this good, the omission of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is easy to overlook.

While our tester featured leather thrones, anyone interested in the Velar would be wise to check out a model with the premium textile fabric paired with ‘suedecloth’ - the suede cloth is a synthetic suede like Alcantara, and the fabric is like something from a high-end wool blazer or slacks, a delight to the touch, and give the Velar a unique ambience that further stands out from all the flashy or awkward designs and subpar materials and synthetic leathers in this segment.

Then again, the Velar is in a bit of a gray area of this segment, competing with the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC, but climbing in price to face off with even higher trims of the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE. The Velar starts at a midsize $49,900 with a $995 Destination fee, and it’s reasonably equipped for a Land Rover at that price, with 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, partial suedecloth seats, 8-speaker sound system, back-up camera and rear parking aid, dual touchscreen infotainment system and lane departure warning. The Velar S is up to $54,700, adding 19-inch wheels and fancier LED headlights, power tailgate with kick-gesture activation, perforated grained leather seats with 10-way adjustment and two-position memory and 380W, 11-speaker Meridian sound system, and navigation, and this one represents a value leader without being too spartan.

I won’t go through every trim, because there are lots of them, and there are three engine options to consider as well, the basic power plant a 2.0-liter turbo-four gasoline burner making 247 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque from 1,200 to 4,500 rpm. This P250 model reaches 60 mph in a quick 6.4 seconds considering its 4,217 lb, and lands at 21/27/23 mpg in city/highway/combined EPA ratings. For those interested in efficiency above all and willing to sacrifice speed, the D180 is also a 2.0-liter turbo-four, but this one burns diesel at a thrifty 26/30/28 mpg in city/highway/combined cycles, though at 180 hp and 317 lb-ft it takes 8.4 seconds to reach 60 mph, so it’s a bit of a dog.

The top gun in the Velar engine bay is the P380, a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 making 380 hp and 332 lb-ft from 3,500 to 5,000 rpm. While 4,471 pounds for this model isn’t exactly a featherweight, bear in mind that the only slightly larger Range Rover Sport V8 Supercharged weighs in at a hefty 5,121 lb, so it needs an extra 140 horsepower and 130 lb-ft to shave just a few tenths off its acceleration to 60 mph, the Sport’s 5.0 seconds to the Velar’s 5.3. The 3.0-liter V6 was strong across the rev range, leaping off the line when called upon and never running out of steam, even if it isn’t thrilling thrust that pins you to your seat. If you do tap that power, be prepared to pay at the pumps as its 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway or 20 mpg combined ratings are pricey when combined with premium gas, and I finished a shortened week with it at 18.7 mpg.

Speaking of pricey, the Velar we drove was the $89,900 First Edition trim, so not only did it feature the supercharged 3.0-liter V6, but it featured air suspension combined with the front double-wishbone and rear integral link suspension attached to the light, stiff, aluminum-intensive body. The air suspension allows a significant adjustment in ride height and travel, allowing for Land Rover’s impressive off-road prowess, but maintaining sporty handling and supple ride on paved roads. I previously drove the Velar on a rugged trail that would have ripped the undercarriage off your average crossover, then popped out onto some canyon roads and flipped the dynamic setting to, um, Dynamic, and carved a mean slalom.

The Velar doesn’t quite escape its mass and height, with more body roll than sporty crossovers like the Audi SQ5 and AMG GLC 43, but it holds its own and feels right at home driven fast but within reason around town or on your favorite twisty sections. The transmission has its part to play too, the eight-speed ZF unit working well with this powertrain in my time with it, and a Sport mode to hold gears longer and downshift more eagerly.

If you are serious about hitting trails, the Velar has a 24.5-degree approach angle, 20.3-degree breakover angle, 27.0-degree departure angle, ground clearance of 9.9 inches with the air suspension, which is standard on V6 models, or 8.4 inches with the standard coil-spring suspension, and a maximum wading depth of 25.6 inches. The standard all-wheel drive system is automated but you can select from a variety of off-road profiles like Mud-Ruts or Sand, which take the ride height to the appropriate level and adjust throttle, transmission, differential and any other relevant system.

Not to be too cynical, but the air suspension’s automatic entry height is likely to get much more use, lowering the vehicle 1.6 inches for easier entry. The Velar also has a light steering weight and tight turning circle, but it is wide so it requires care not to mar that gorgeous matte paint job or 22-inch rims, and 360-degree cameras and parking sensors make it a whole lot easier to park perfectly every time. And in a nod to northern climes, the rear camera has it’s own sprayer nozzle so it gets cleaned when your windshield gets sprayed, always ensuring a clear view when backing up.

As mentioned earlier, the Velar is plenty practical as well, both rows of seating spacious and comfortable in every dimension, and the front seats in our top-spec model heated and cooled, with massage that can be set to turn on automatically at a certain point in your drive. The trunk offers 34.4 cu-ft of cargo space, and the rear seats split 40/20/40 so you can use the middle section as a pass-through for skis or other long items or fold the setbacks in a variety of configurations, opening up to a maximum of 70.1 cu-ft, closer to the larger class like the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE than compacts like the X3 and GLC.

There is no question that the Land Rover Range Rover Velar can get very expensive as you dress it up to its full potential in terms of style and features, but so too do its competitors. While it’s hard to line it up directly against some of its luxury rivals from Germany because it has such a wide price spectrum, it is a perfect fit for the large gap that previously existed between the Range Rover Evoque and Range Rover Sport, and does an excellent job of differentiating itself from competitors in this segment. While others may have an edge in driving dynamics on the road (and really, if you’re buying an SUV, how high a priority is that?), the Velar is a Land Rover with all the off-road capability that promises, and all the style and luxury that the Range Rover badge has come to represent, and has instantly become one of our favorites in the crowded and competitive luxury SUV landscape.