With cars being swiftly replaced by SUVs, everyone from designers to consumers is projecting their ideas of cars onto this new form. That means not just luxury SUVs, but now, ultra-luxury ones, from the British trinity of Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and Aston Martin. Ferrari likely has one in the pipeline. Likewise, Lamborghini will infuse its new Urus with as much supercar DNA as a lifted four-door will allow.
That’s two more doors than the model often considered the first luxury SUV, the 1970 Range Rover, which threw spies off its trail with the “Velar” name—which means “veiled” in Latin—on prototypes. Admittedly, some Americans argue for the Jeep Wagoneer, a staple of my own outdoorsy family, as the first lux-truck. The Super Wagoneer of 1966, especially, adopted such unexpected “luxuries” as an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power steering and push-button radio. Hey, if you were from Michigan, those features seemed almost too precious for a truck that was just going to end up with dead animals strapped to the roof.
Something tells me that Bambi is safe wherever the Range Rover Velar will roam, its owners preferring kayaks to corpses and its hunter-gatherers satisfied with trips to Whole Foods. Some people have wondered the “Why” of the midsize Velar, since it’s just three inches shorter and two inches slimmer than the Range Rover Sport. Then you look at the Velar, and you get it: This is a pure style play, and no SUV brand plays that game as well as Land Rover.
Frankly, since SUVs are the new luxury cars, that also means SUVs should be made for women who might roll their eyes at the Rover Sport’s manly-man attitude. From its movie-set looks to its silken performance, the Velar doesn’t give a damn about anything but flattering its occupants for their discerning taste and evident success. Since the Velar’s ostensible $50,895 base price is the ultimate SUV bait-and-switch—the bait being four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines that you can’t have in the Rover Sport—get ready for thousands of Rover fans to flatter themselves, even if they end up spending closer to $70,000 or more on their Velars.
Man or woman, gay or straight, my Brooklyn neighbors fairly trembled at the sight of the Velar R-Dynamic HSE, though perhaps the single-digit temperatures had something to do with it. (The $90,170 sticker price would have made them quiver for sure). This high-design Rover shares a largely aluminum platform and some mechanicals with a stylish cousin, the Jaguar F-Pace. The Velar’s dramatic 21-inch alloy wheels and soft Byron Blue paint—it would make a great eye-shadow shade—contrasted with fresh snow on the street.
That snow barely affected the Velar’s dash around town, thanks to a steely 380 horsepower and 332-pound feet of torque from a supercharged 3.0-liter V6. The Velar accelerates from 0-60 mph in just 5.3 seconds...though I might note that a BMW X3 M40i does it in 4.8 seconds, and for about $10,000 less. Strivers can choose a more-affordable Velar with the 2.0-liter, 247-horse four-cylinder also found in the Range Rover Evoque, and no one at the Bikram yoga studio will be the wiser. For the ultimate in dual personality, there’s also the 2.0-liter diesel from Jaguar Land Rover’s Ingenium engine family. The diesel’s acceleration is leisurely, at 8.4 seconds to 60 mph, but that Velar achieves 26/30 miles per gallon in city and on the highway, respectively. All three engines come mated to an eager, paddle-shifted, eight-speed automatic transmission.
The Velar’s body and seating positions are lower than the typical Rover, but it can handle surprising off-road rigors. Rover’s stellar adjustable Terrain Response and All Terrain Progress Control systems are on board, monitoring wheel movements 500 times per second and adjusting the SUV's systems to better traverse mud, ruts, snow, boulders, even perilous curb blocks at the mall. An optional electronic air suspension boosts ground clearance to a maximum of 9.9 inches, enough to wade through 25.6-inch-deep water. A locking rear differential is an option.
Yet more than the square-jawed Rover Sport, the Velar looks too damn pretty for such abuse. It would be like playing fetch in a muddy yard with a Bichon Frise. I definitely wouldn’t allow Fifi’s nasty paws in my Velar, especially one swaddled in cream-colored, perforated leather. Come to think of it, the entire Velar seems formed from the richest cream, from its molded-dessert body to its coddling ride. Gerry McGovern, Rover’s chief designer, has become reputed for his sharp eye and impeccable London taste, but he’s outdone himself here. The F-Pace is one handsome devil, but the Velar looks even richer and more sophisticated. The Velar's minimalist sculpture seems a new design peak for the SUV—including those far-pricier but less compelling baubles from Bentley, Rolls or Lamborghini.
Power-retracting door handles amplify the Rover’s yacht-hulled symmetry. Unusually brutal temperatures in New York did mar that design, when one door handle temporarily got stuck in a half-open position. Josh Condon, The Drive’s deputy editor, had a more distressing and hazardous winter experience. On a drive to Pennsylvania, all four of the Velar’s side windows fogged up, to the point that Condon couldn’t use the passenger-side exterior mirror. The windshield fogged badly as well, requiring use of the Max Defrost setting, which still left foggy patches and uncomfortably raised the humidity inside. Condon tried everything—opening and closing windows, adjusting every climate setting—but the side glass still looked like bathroom mirrors after a hot shower. And while every other virtual button worked fine, the digital Max Defrost and Max A/C switches refused to operate unless Condon mashed them with bruising pressure.
Despite any sore digits, Condon still gave a big thumbs-up overall, impressed by the Velar’s style, luxury and performance. That, in a nutshell, is the Range Rover story: Loyalists put up with quirks and flaws, because these SUVs are so rewarding in other regards.
Modern infotainment has long been among those flaws. Not so long ago, Land Rover's (and Jaguar's) infotainment systems would have thrown Fred Flintstone into a tantrum. The more-recent Incontrol Touch Pro system joined the modern era, but its screen interface was still a disjointed mess. For the Velar, it’s try, try again. A new Touch Pro Duo system heightens the Velar’s art-gallery vibe, with many navigation, climate and vehicle controls moved to a pair of stacked screens. The glossy surfaces are a magnet for fingerprints, but once up-and-running, the system brings serious visual drama. The only analog switches are a volume control and a clever pair of rotary knobs that change function depending on what screen is displayed: The knobs control temperature, but press the outer ring, and they adjust seat heat. Smartly done.
Screen response is much faster than the old setup—unless you get one with editor Condon’s stubborn buttons—and graphics are sharp, including pretty animations of the Velar in case you forgot what it looks like. Ditto for a set of touch pads on the steering wheel, which even change their touch-point readouts on the wheel itself. Yet considering the vast screen real estate, there's a scatter of tiny, button icons that are hard to operate in motion. And a few too many functions are digitized for my taste. Yet by Jaguar Land Rover standards, Touch Pro Duo is a major advance, and I got the hang of it soon enough.
Enough twiddling, and onto driving: Where Jaguar's F-Pace cousin is stiff-legged and aggressively sporty—a speedy footballer, say—the Velar is more the team owner, content to watch the games from his well-insulated suite. The Velar proved swift and capable on country two-laners, but it’s less agile than the F-Pace. Considering the Velar V6 weighs about 4,400 pounds, at least 600 fewer pounds than a Range Rover Sport, I honestly expected more of a quicksilver handling feel. The V6 also sounds subdued and fairly ordinary. Yet the steering is polished, and this V6 Velar will still reach 155 mph if asked.
Compared with the nearly toy-like Evoque, the Velar’s expanded passenger and cargo space should be another selling point. There’s just-enough room for two tall adults in back, including 37.2 inches of rear legroom. For comparison, a Honda Civic sedan offers 37.4 inches, while a Toyota Corolla offers a relatively vast 41.4 inches.
And thank God the Velar has four-wheel-drive, because its price climbs like a Sherpa on Everest. The $50,895 base price describes a Velar with the 2.0-liter gasoline engine and few deluxe features—not even an S, SE or HSE designation that denotes the hierarchy of trim levels. Better to consider the Velar S as the true starter model, at $55,695. The diesel engine adds a reasonable $1,500 premium, at $57,195. (For some JLR brand perspective, that’s about $10,000 more than a Jaguar F-Pace 20d with the same diesel engine). Adding supercharged V6 hustle will cost you $65,195 for a Velar S, or $68,305 for the SE, and these are likely the versions you’ll most often see on showroom floors.
Some automotive media have talked smack about how the Velar costs $16,000 less than a Range Rover Sport, but comparing a stripper Velar to any Range Rover Sport is ridiculous. Let’s talk showroom reality: The base-model RR Sport SE starts fairly well-equipped from $67,695. It may have only a 340-horsepower version of the 3.0-liter V6, but it actually costs $600 less than a Velar SE V6, not thousands more. With the identical 380-hp V6, the Range Rover Sport HSE is $73,345. That’s $5,000 more than a Velar SE, and that Velar offers slightly less standard equipment. (You can go crazy on a Range Rover Sport as well, but that’s with leather-lunged V8 power: $83,145 with a 518-hp supercharged V8; or about $114,000 for the 575-hp Range Rover Sport SVR). Bottom line, if you prefer the Range Rover Sport to the Velar, and you demand a V6 regardless, you can have one without denting the monthly payment. For 2018, the Range Rover Sport even adopts the dual-screen Touch Pro system, albeit with a less-dramatic dashboard integration.
The Velar’s stuffing gets even more serious with the R-Dynamic models. They’re loaded with everything from an Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) suite to puddle lamps that flash a silhouette of the Velar on the nighttime pavement. My Velar R-Dynamic HSE tester started from $78,095. A special shout-out goes to the $3,060 Meridian sound system—if you can hear my shout over the system’s 1,600-watt glory—which is simply one of the finest audio units in any automobile.
My Velar topped out at the aforementioned $90,170, and we’re still not done climbing the price list. A Velar First Edition, produced only for 2018, starts from $90,295. In that case, you might as well spring for Flux Silver paint, an $8,850 option whose satin finish is applied at Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations in Warwickshire, England. There you have it: a “$50,000” Velar that can top $100,000 all-in.
Still, we’re not done: Reports suggest a Velar SVR hustling our way, with an estimated 542 horsepower from a supercharged V8. Fortunately, whichever model you choose—and whether painted Flux Silver or WTF Fuschia—the Velar is guaranteed to turn heads while inflating your own.
Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.