The 2018 Range Rover Velar has won fans and a big long list of orders for its styling alone, but is it worthy of the legendary Range Rover badge?
Perhaps it's unfair stereotyping to suggest anybody buying the new 2018 Range Rover Velar has as much interest in off-roading as a fish does in skydiving.
Indeed, the same is already said of those buying any of the brand's properly proven off-roading models, but, there it is. After all, the terms 'Toorak Tractor' and 'Balmain Bulldozer' didn't come up by themselves.
So, when Land Rover told me I'd spend more than half of the Velar's one-day Australian launch event in environments most buyers are unlikely to enter, it was clear the British SUV brand was out to prove the car's mettle.
Because, that's the thing: Range Rover has always been the more luxurious but still immensely capable offshoot of the Land Rover brand. But, with the launch of the very urban Evoque, and now this super-sleek Velar, you could be forgiven for thinking the brand has sold out.
But, just as Porsche maintains that its Cayenne and Macan are genuine sports models despite their jacked-up designs, Land Rover is resolute the Velar is still plenty capable of hauling you over all manner of hills.
As we found this week on the Australian launch event, it is. But we'll come back to that.
Entering between the small Evoque and the large Sport, the mid-sized Velar arrives initially with a 42-variant line-up (yes, really), priced from $70,300 and reaching all the way up to $169,150 (before on-road costs) for the more expensive of two First Edition specials, which will be available until around March next year.
As is the Jaguar Land Rover way, the breadth of optional extras available for the Velar – which makes just about every feature available on just about every model – could have buyers up all night. Still, the company tells us its customers prefer this 'freedom', and the most common approach is to choose a few combo packs and then add some extras on top. Easy.
There are four models in the family, all of them all-wheel-drive. The range starts with the eponymous Velar and climbs through S and SE to the top-shelf HSE. Along with six engines and a wealth of packs and options to choose from, each grade comes in two core flavours: standard and R-Dynamic, the latter adding a subtly more sporting look inside and out.
For a more in-depth look at the standard features of each model in the range, take a look at our pricing story.
At launch, we drove the SE trim grade, priced from $109,950 (before on-road costs). Land Rover Australia considers this the sweet spot, with most of its circa-400 pre-orders going that way.
The SE's list of standard features is long, but standout items include 20-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights, 'deployable flush door handles', Navigation Pro, 825W 17-speaker Meridian Surround Sound, and a powered gesture tailgate.
Also standard on all models is the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, which pairs two high-resolution 10-inch displays in the centre console, stacked vertically to do away with the majority of physical controls usually found in that space. These are matched to a 60Gb solid-state memory drive and a 4G data connection for service and mobile app connectivity.
Standard safety includes autonomous emergency braking (up to 80km/h), lane-departure warning (assistance is optional), rear-view camera, 360-degree camera, rear cross-traffic monitor, blind-spot monitoring, and a driver-condition monitor.
There are six airbags: driver and passenger airbags, side airbags that deploy from the front seats and curtain airbags spanning the front and rear seats. Note, though, the Velar has yet to be given an NCAP crash safety rating.
Like all Land Rover models, the Velar is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty – which, although bettered by a number of volume-selling brands, is about par for premium brands. Free roadside assistance is also provided over that time.
Service intervals are 34,000km or 24 months for the four-cylinder diesel, and 26,000km or 12 months for all other engines. There's a five-year capped-price servicing plan, too, although pricing for that wasn't available at the media launch. It's expected to be confirmed when the Velar officially goes on sale on September 22.
Optional extras on our test car included 20-Way Seats with Driver/Passenger Memory, Massage and Heated/Cooled Front Seats ($7730), Sliding Panoramic Roof ($4370), Silicon Silver Premium Metallic Paint ($3550), Interior Luxury Pack ($2440), Head-Up Display ($2420), Premium Exterior Pack ($2310), Electronic Air Suspension ($2110), Perforated Windsor Leather Seats ($1910), Tow Hitch Receiver ($1000), Black Roof Rails ($940), Configurable Dynamics ($940), Privacy Glass ($890), Electrically Adjustable Steering Column ($890), All Terrain Progress Control ($640), Premium Carpet Mats ($640), Solar Attenuating Windscreen ($560), Configurable Ambient Interior Lighting ($540), Satin Blonde Linear Veneer ($440), and Terrain Response 2 ($430), all bumping the total to $135,700 before on-road costs.
Beneath the goodies and novelties, the Velar rides on the same aluminium-intensive 'D7A' platform that underpins the Jaguar F-Pace, giving it the same 2874mm wheelbase but different overall dimensions.
There's 558 litres of storage with the rear seats up (the F-Pace offers 650) and a standard space-saver spare. A full-size spare can be optioned ($1020), but you'll lose some space if you do. There's also 40:20:20 split-fold rear seats, and storage grows to 1731 litres when you lay those flat.
The interior of the Velar is, just like its larger stablemates, a beautiful place. Truly. Materials are a mix of leather both real and artificial, along with suede, aluminium and more – as you'll have learned, the options seem endless.
Fit and finish is appropriately neat. Even the curved, optically-bonded resin surface of the two infotainment screens has an incredible visual depth to it, making the interface appear as though it's set far beneath the surface without robbing it of any sharpness, clarity of responsiveness.
As with many new premium cars, the latest version of Land Rover's infotainment system can be confusing, and you'd be wise to set aside an afternoon to familiarise yourself with the myriad functions, menus, screens and controls.
It can at times feel slow to respond, but, overall, Touch Pro Duo is an impressive interface well-suited to this gadget nerd's tastes. Whether it will appeal to buyers who might prefer conventional switches and dials, however, is the question.
Interior space is good, even with the tapered roofline, and legroom in the rear is likewise comfortable – although passengers taller than this 5'9"/175cm writer will feel a little more snug.
Seats in both rows are comfortable, although the front pews can at times feel less than supportive in the sides, with a wide design matched to relatively compact bolstering.
Another small debit: the exterior door handles – yes, the supercar-like ones that sit flush with the body when not in use – are plastic, rather than metal or aluminium. As a key touch point, this served to slightly diminish the premium feel promised by the Velar's good looks (even if this was allayed once inside).
Powertrains available from launch include three diesel and two petrol options, with a third petrol mill to join the range from December.
Those include 132kW/430Nm D180 and 177kW/500Nm D240 versions of JLR’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder Ingenium turbo-diesel engine, with a bigger 221kW/700Nm D300 turbo-diesel to headline the oil-burner end.
On the petrol side, there’s a 184kW/365Nm P250 2.0-litre Ingenium unit, joined by a 280kW/450Nm P380 supercharged V6. A second 'P300' version of the 2.0-litre Ingenium will enter between those two later this year, offering 221kW and 400Nm of torque.
At launch, I briefly drove the supercharged V6 petrol P380, but spent most of the event with the D240 diesel. As Tony noted in his international launch review, the P380's heart is getting on, and while it's quick, it isn't bristling with angry intent. Let it off the leash, and it'll make a good go of hitting a gallop, but there's no sense of a snarling bite – as one one might desire to find in a flagship model. Catch Tony's review here.
The D240, a newer unit and part of Jaguar Land Rover's new Ingenium family, is a four-cylinder, twin-turbo, 2.0-litre diesel. Producing 177kW of power and 500Nm of torque, this mill – along with the bigger 221kW/700Nm V6 D300 diesel – has so far shared a majority of orders for the Velar. A less powerful 132kW/430Nm version of the 2.0-litre engine is also available as a price leader, in the form of the D180.
For a diesel, the D240 is a relatively quiet unit. In this writer's case, the softened thrum helped allay the niggling – if not entirely reasonable – sense that yet another diesel in yet another sports-styled car would yet again seem juxtaposed.
It's on-the-move that the engine is at its quietest, of course, and it's still overall noisier than the bigger six in the D300. But, in all, JLR has done a respectable job on refinement with this one.
Matched to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic, the D240 tune has solid mid-range urge, although response to a good whack on the accelerator is notably slow, taking a moment – or two – to shift down. Likewise, launching from standstill can feel achingly delayed if you were planning on a quick getaway at the line.
Of course, switching to sport mode will sharpen responsiveness, pre-preparing the system for intentful driving.
When the engine management system does at last deliver, torque is genuinely meaningful – if not monstrous. Available from 1500rpm, the D240's 500Nm of torque won't force you into your seatback, but it should never leave you concerned that quick overtaking isn't in the 1840kg Velar's repertoire.
Need more oomph? Consider the 221kW/700Nm D300. A very brief spin in that model, and through our experience with the related F-Pace, shows that unit to be smooth and effortlessly muscly.
The D240 is around 120kg lighter than the D300, though, and that difference at the front end – along with the surprisingly low-slung design – makes it a more dynamic drive. It's not as taut as its F-Pace counterpart – it will lean more when pushed in corners and steering feedback isn't as present – but it's also less specifically focused on plush luxurious touring than its big brothers.
That's not to say the Velar doesn't cover both bases well – although it must be noted that all models at the launch event were aided by air suspension. This setup isn't available on entry-level D180 and P300 – which make do with the standard steel springs – but it's a $2110 option on D240 and P300, and standard with D300 and P380.
On the highway, the Velar will still lope along gracefully, moving you in comfort and with no mistaking that you're in anything other than a new offering in the Range Rover family.
Still, there is no doubt that in delivering sportiness, the Velar's firmer ride – even in comfort mode – means you'll find just a few more of the bumps and ripples on B-grade roads than you would in the bigger Range Rovers.
The Velar can also be had with Land Rover's Terrain Response system, offering settings for different surface conditions and driving preferences: Eco, Comfort, Grass-Gravel-Snow, Mud-Ruts, Sand, and – on R-Dynamic models – Dynamic mode. Each mode tweaks engine, transmission, all-wheel drive, suspension, and stability control to suit the environment.
As for fuel consumption, our display read 9.6L/100km after the first day's mixed urban, highway and off-road driving. The following day - more a return trip to the airport than anything else - saw the number dip to 8.4L/100km, after a couple of hours in highway driving.
Land Rover claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 5.8L/100km for the D240 – well below the numbers we recorded, although a proper week-long review rather than a compressed launch event might see us return a closer figure.
Now, that promise of off-road ability. Granted, very few Velar owners will venture further from the blacktop than an unsealed country road or a gravel driveway (at the country club), but… if you decide to give it a go, a suitably-optioned Velar will take you a lot of places.
First up, that air suspension. Any sort of meaningful off-roading will need that package, so it's now doubly obvious why all of the cars tested on launch day were so equipped. Likewise, the two cars rolling on 22-inch wheels were left at basecamp, suggesting even Land Rover knows it would be creeping towards absurdity to go off-roading with such a setup.
With air suspension, the Velar benefits from 251mm of ground clearance, which has it sitting fairly tall and comfortably shading the still-decent 213mm you'll get on the steel springs standard with the four-cylinder models.
Likewise, the Velar's approach angle of 28.89 degrees, breakover of 23.5 and departure angle of 29.5, are just about in the realm of 4x4 ute numbers.
A wading depth of 650mm is available with the air suspension, dropping to 600mm without. We did a couple of creek runs – crossing and following – although none took us any deeper than the bottom of the doors. Dare we try a deeper run? (We'll see if JLR will play along...)
There's no low-range transfer case like you'd find in a 'proper' off-roader, though, and the four-cylinder models can't be had with the active rear diff lock available to the sixes. Regardless, our D240 tester got along just fine on some properly steep sections, going up confidently and coming down neatly with the standard-fit Hill Descent Control.
Now, look. Although steep and loose, there was nothing scary about Land Rover's chosen off-roading course. No gaping holes to skirt, no giant rocks or steps to negotiate around or over, no near-vertical climbs or descents, nothing to get the heart racing.
But, for a car this pretty and sporty – aimed at buyers who only ever want to know that they could head for the hills even if they probably never will – this drive was proof enough that Land Rover hasn't forgotten its priorities and its image. They've just... evolved with the desires of a changing market, right?
Land Rover says the Velar "fills the white space" between the Evoque and the Range Rover Sport, but it also fits – nicely, appropriately, not awkwardly – into a niche between the bigger Rangies and the Jaguar F-Pace, delivering a sporting feel and style without entirely compromising the image and ideals of the Range Rover brand.
The simple truth is that the Velar is going to sell in handsome numbers, regardless of the details, because it's downright beautiful.
Handy, then, that it's also a bloody good car.
NOTE: For variety, a small number of international, left-hand-drive images have been included with this review to show more angles of the vehicle's interior.