ALESUND, Norway—I don’t get excited about SUVs very often. In fact, because this crazy job I love often sees me driving supercars, I rarely get frothy with adjectives for anything that doesn’t have a carbon-fibre monocoque or an irresponsible power-to-weight ratio.
Call it jaded maybe, but it’s normal, I think. Most gearheads feel similarly: SUVs are all kind of the same; most cars are pretty similar. It’s only those rare models on the fringes – the ones that do something different, the ones that dare try something new – that are exciting, but they’re few and far between.
No suspense, here: Range Rover’s newest addition to the lineup is one of those rare cars.
The Velar isn’t made of exotic materials (well, aluminum) nor does it have a monster engine or an air-shredding soundtrack. It’s a mid-size luxury SUV built to slot into a particular market segment because the bosses saw a chance to make an extra buck.
The reason the Velar is worth getting excited about is because of the way it feels. Let me explain.
Just when you thought Land Rover couldn’t possibly have any more SUVs, along comes this thing. The Velar is the sixth model in the company’s all-SUV lineup. It slots into the range between the $50,000 Evoque and the $77,000 Range Rover Sport.
The Velar is based on Jaguar’s F-Pace SUV platform, which is itself shared with the Jag XE and XF sedans. But Land Rover has done a good job disguising the car’s lineage. To my eyes this is the best-looking machine in Land Rover’s showrooms right now.
Options are key to making the Velar look its best though. The black roof is a must. As are some massive rims—22-inchers are the biggest available. They look slick, but if you live near potholes (e.g. in Canada) then you should probably downsize to 21s or even 20s.
But you don’t necessarily need the R-Dynamic sporty bumper pack. The base version looks cleaner and fits better with the car’s modernist aesthetic.
The Velar represents the next step in interior design. Nothing this side of the as-yet-unreleased next-gen Audi A8 feels as futuristic from the driver’s chair. Volvo is moving in a similar direction with its cars, but Range Rover is taking it a step further.
Sitting in the driver’s seat feels like you’re playing with an iPhone for the first time. It’s not like anything that’s come before. It’s calm, serene.
There’s as much screen real estate as in a Tesla, but it’s actually done better here. The controls are easier to get to. The thousands of functions are divided intuitively between the upper screen (nav, media, infotainment) and lower screen (climate, seats, vehicle settings). The screens are flush with the dash, blended right into the cabin architecture. With no buttons to fill the cabin, it feels empty, clean and clutter-free.
The colour and trim options deserve a special mention because they’re totally unique: grey cotton fabric, embossed leather-like stuff over the whole dash, and carbon-fibre woven with copper are all available. It’s all delightful. Land Rover collaborated with Danish furniture supplier Kvadrat for the grey cloth. I’d tick the box for that instead of leather.
There’s nothing too revolutionary on the technology front. It’s all in service of the design.
The dual-screen infotainment system is called Touch Pro Duo. It’s appearing on the Velar first, but will proliferate across the lineup as other models get updated. The graphic design is improved and simplified. Reponses are snappy.
The buttons on the steering wheel are context-sensitive. Depending what you’re trying to do, you’re presented with different options. It’s a bit like a PlayStation controller. There’s a learning curve, but don’t let that put you off.
Coil springs are standard, with air suspension as an option. All the off-road modes you’re used to on other Land Rovers are present here, too. An eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are standard.
Performance? It’s more than adequate. But that’s not really the point of the Velar. Land Rover’s not pitching it as “sporty” because frankly it has better stuff to pitch.
Our test cars in Norway were fully loaded First Edition models. The 3.0-litre supercharged V6 powers the car from zero to 100 km/h in 5.7 seconds with 380 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque.
The engine note is much more muted compared to the crackle and pop this same motor makes in the F-Type. The V6 is overkill—nice if you can afford it, but not a necessity. The four-cylinder diesel will get the job done. A four-cylinder gas engine option will be joining the lineup later.
The electronic air suspension makes for a smooth ride. There’s a bit of slack in the steering and suspension as the car rolls through corners, but just enough to make it feel relaxed. Put everything in sport mode and the steering tightens up. It’s useful on a curvy, mountainous road, making the car easier to place.
Body movement is well-controlled and the damping is very good—at least on Norwegian roads. We didn’t get a chance to try the spring suspenders so can’t comment there.
The Velar S starts at $62,000 for the four-cylinder diesel model. The supercharged V6 bumps the price up to $69,000. The SE models comes with more luxuries and tech-y gadgets and starts at $73,000.
Fuel economy was respectable, hovering just over 10 L/100 km during our drive in Norway.
When it comes to cars, we’re shallow, and this machine looks good without being shout-y. Inside, it’s nicer than my living room while still being functional. It doesn’t really feel like a car, more like a lounge, and that’s a good thing for those trying to get around on the regular.
Traffic is stressful; a car should put you at ease, and the Velar does exactly that through good design.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.