Range Rover is about to release its all new Range Rover Velar, a not-quite-full size SUV that will fill a gap in the Range Rover lineup that you may not have known existed—right there between the Range Rover Sport and the wee Evoque. Built on a stretched version of the Jaguar platform that serves the F-Pace, XE, and XF, the Velar is a visual stunner, and will no doubt ably fly the RR brand flag of elegance, sophistication, on-road performance, and exquisite ride quality.
The Velar in not a game changer for Jaguar Land Rover or its parent company, Tata Motors. It's more like a quadrupling down on what RR has already mastered: the art of the modern SUV. That's not to say there isn't some truth to the old Range Rover saw, If there's no fluid under 'em, there's no fluid left in 'em. If you know only one thing about the Range Rover, it's that they've battled reliability issues for years. If you know two things, it's that they're expensive and perhaps unreliable. But the most important thing—the truest thing—that you should know is this: Right now, the planet around, Range Rover builds the best SUVs in the world. Period.
Recently, I drove the 2018 Land Rover Discovery solo on a multi-hour holiday weekend drive with two young children, a recipe for disaster. Go ahead and feel for me. I left at night, as the kids were theoretically falling asleep. The LR was the diesel V6 variant, with a 22.5-gallon tank topped off, and Moana loaded onto a thumb drive plugged into the InControl infotainment system.
All arguments about the future or morality (or even criminality) of diesel aside, I love a diesel engine: That Discovery gave me a range of 500-plus miles. No stopping. Just me and my sleeping girls gliding through all that traffic atop our crappy, patchwork American interstate system. When I finally pulled into the driveway in Maine six hours later, they were still asleep, and the Disco's tank was half full. I could have driven to Canada.
But what makes the Land Rover Discovery good is also what makes the Range Rover great. From the little Range Rover Evoque, with its surprisingly charming droptop option, to the mid-size Range Rover Sport, to the magnificent full-size Range Rover, which represents the ideal to which all SUVs must certainly aspire, there are qualities that are consistent. They are powerful, precise, luxurious, thoughtful, and unmistakably sui generis. Like the Basque language and basketball, the Range Rover has no antecedent. If you sit in the driver's seat of a Range Rover, it is impossible to mistake it for any other SUV ever made.
And the brand has endured multiple owners across multiple continents (from North America to Europe to Asia), where it was smothered by varying degrees of absenteeism, sabotage, or crisis. Despite engineering disasters and some uninspired redesigns, the Range Rover retains all the things that made it so special and original to begin with.
First, a little history about the Range Rover brand.
The first Range Rover rolled off the factory floor in Solihull, England, in 1970. Rover, which became British Leyland in the late 1960s, had been looking for a new larger vehicle for a decade or so. So they developed a secret test vehicle and gave it the internal name "Velar" (a play on the Italian word, velare, which means disguise). Until the mid-'80s, the Range Rover had a single, two-door configuration with a boxy design that remains essentially intact today. JLR execs would argue all night long about the radically improved drag co-efficiency of the 2018 model. Fine. But it's still a box. And that's not a bad thing. No one has ever bought a Range Rover for the fuel efficiency.
The Range Rover wasn't supposed to be a luxury vehicle, just a larger version of the Land Rover Series trucks. The seats were vinyl, the dash a spartan plastic affair. It was powered by a detuned, 153-horsepower version of Rover's 3.5-liter, aluminum block V8, which was originally developed by GM for Buick.
After years as a grey market staple, the Range Rover officially arrived in the United States in 1987, and sold just enough to capture the imagination of well-heeled America.
The 2018 Range Rover ($103,895)
It all starts with the Range Rover. Very little appears to have changed in this SUV since it first arrived in the US 30 years ago. It is still a big, boxy, gas guzzler with a greenhouse vast enough to grow row upon row of rose bushes inside. But the truth is, Range Rover has gone to great lengths to rebuild itself—and shed its reputation as unreliable—without tampering with the alchemy of the user experience. For starters, the new version saves weight after switching to an aluminum monocoque from steel, it is still a heavy ride.
The engine is a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 that makes 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is an 8-speed automatic. There are other variants in the full size Range Rover, including an economical V6, but get real. You want the big guy. The fuel efficiency is characteristically poor (I never got better than 15 mpg driving around Brooklyn), but I didn't really care. Everything else about this SUV had me in its thrall.
The two most important components of the Range Rover's success are its imperiously luxurious design and its precision performance off-road and on. You know you're in a big SUV because you sit above everything else on the road, and you feel wrapped in glass, with a better field of vision than any other car on the road. But once you fire up that V8 and start weaving through traffic, the steering shrinks the SUV: It is sharper, more precise, better balanced than any other SUV, crossover, or even most sports cars on the road. No matter the road conditions, no matter the maneuver, there's never a moment where the steering doesn't place the big 5,000-pounder precisely where you want it. It's like watching Jackie Gleason dance a tango.
Range Rover has a design language that seems to have evolved over centuries rather than decades. Even the power window switches, stubbornly placed atop the door sill rather than down by the handle like every other car on the road, emphasize the very Roverness of this SUV. It is a luxury vehicle first, and an SUV second. No one else has drawn the equation like that before.
The Range Rover Sport ($81,650)
Some people can't handle the dimensions of the full size Range Rover. For them, the Range Rover Sport was introduced to compete directly with the top-selling Porsche Cayenne. It has all the leather-clad comforts of the Range Rover, and all of the distinctive design elements.
But it is, arguably, more manageably proportioned. It has two engine variants—a 340-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V6, or a notably quiet 254-hp 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6—and an aluminum monocoque. Beneath the unfussy and elegant cladding, an air suspension system with aluminum chassis arms, active shocks and anti-roll bars all conspire with new "low-hysteresis" air springs on the front axle. The aim was to arrive at a more serene ride. This has been achieved, in ways that every other carmaker is chasing.
The Range Rover Evoque ($43,000)
They said it shouldn't be done: A baby Range Rover that comes with a ragtop variant. This is the most controversial of all Rovers, and in some ways the most courageous. A convertible crossover? Nissan tried that once with the hideous Murano CrossCabriolet. But in the end it sacrifices all too many practicalities (starting with, but not limited to, cargo space) in favor of making a fashion statement. If you have a house on Nantucket, you would consider buying an Evoque and leaving it there. Otherwise, it's a decent all-season city car.
Range Rover Velar (starting at $50,000)
Will the fourth Range Rover, due in showrooms in a month or so, hue to the same high standards set by the full size Range Rover? We'll see. It is expected to be the most high-tech of the four, available in three engines—a 247-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4, a 380-hp supercharged 3.0-liter V6, and a 180-hp 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four. From the outside, its design is impeccable, with a floating roof, unbroken waistline, and the distinctive rounded corners of the modern Range Rover.
The expectations are high. After all, Range Rover makes the best SUV in the world.