The first time I saw a Range-Rover Velar was about 9 months before its unveiling at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show. Only at the time, I did not know what it was. It is pretty much a daily occurrence that camo-ed JLR prototypes will be seen on the roads around Coventry and Warwick, and indeed the Velar I saw was on the A46 Warwick by-pass. It had more disguise on it than a lot of the cars do, so I was not sure exactly what it was, and a subsequent check of the plate revealed little more than the fact that it was indeed a Land-Rover product. I was driving, so unable to get photos, but I did get a good look at the back, as I followed it some way, and then the side as I overtook it, and it looked a bit like an enlarged Evoque, though it was hard to tell. And then a few weeks before the public unveiling, the story broke that this was in fact an addition to the range, conceived to fill a gap in Land Rover’s portfolio, that would sit between the Evoque and the Range-Rover Sport, a gap that few other than JLR product planners had been particularly aware even existed. Once shown devoid of all the disguise, it was clear that this new model had successfully found the line between retaining the family look and yet had an distinctive appearance all of its own. If you see one you are never going to mistake it for one of the other models in the range, with its very angled grille, more sloping screen than on other models and slim-line rear lights that round off the coupe-esque roofline. Pretty much everyone expressed approval at the design from the outside, and when they could see the interior, that got the big thumbs up as well, with the latest infotainment system taking pride of place in a dash that was dripping with luxury feel and an overwhelming feeling that only quality materials had been carefully selected and combined to make this a car that would be as special to ride in as it would be to look at. It needed to be, of course, as the pricing in the UK looked ambitious. But it seems that there is no shortage of people who will pay not just for the basic car, but thousands of pounds of options as well. And a fully-specc-ed Velar can easily exceed the price of a less than basic Range-Rover Sport, making me wonder just how big that gap in the product range really was. UK sales started in the middle of 2017, and the car had generally positive reviews, though there was some disappointment with the four cylinder Ingenium engines suggesting that the Velar was not quite perfect. The first Velar models reached the US only a matter of weeks later, going on sale as 2018 model year cars.
When I was at Hertz in Los Angeles in December 2017, my sources there told me that they had seen the plans for the 2018 calendar year fleet and that as well as the other Land Rover products which they had been running in 2017, two of which I had sampled on that trip, the Velar would be joining it in 2018. Like my sources, I only believe plans like this when you actually see the cars on site, but sure enough, when I arrived on the first day of my March 2018 trip, there was one Velar parked up. With utterly foul weather forecast for that day, I decided that I would save the Velar for when the sun shone, as I had ascertained that there were quite a few of them on fleet, and more were being plated up on an almost daily basis. A few days later, with the prospect of a 2 day rental, as opposed to the more usual 1 day test, I spotted a couple of Velars parked up: a black one and a white one. The photographer in me wanted the white one, and my mind was made up when I saw the badges on the back, as the Fuji White car was badged P250S and the Santorini Black one just P250. Luckily, it was not allocated to anyone else, so in exchange for a small upgrade fee over the reservation I had made, a Velar was to be mine for two days.
As you approach the Velar, you spot the distinctive door handles, which sit flush in the body sides. Unlock the car, and they all emerge, to sit proud of the body, so you can now pull at them to get in. They stay in this outer position whilst the car is unlocked. Press the button the key fob to lock the car, and they retreat, and the mirrors fold in. For photography, I preferred the “mirrors out” look, so on most of the pictures, the door handles are out as well.
Getting in the Velar for the first time, there is a distinct sense of familiarity for anyone who has driven a recent Land Rover product. And these days, that is a Good Thing, as the interiors are now a country mile away from the utilitarian roots or even the more recent days of patchy design and build quality. This looks and feel every inch the luxury product that the pricing leads you to expect. There is lots of use made of leather, not just on the seats, but the dash and the door casings, plenty of nicely padded areas and judicious use of other materials and textures, leaving a clean and uncluttered look, almost minimalist in some respects. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the fact that there are two separate infotainment screens, for what Land Rover call the In Control Touch Pro Duo system. As part of the minimalist theme, these screens between them deliver all their functionality from a touch interface or the use of voice commands, with the only physical buttons being a volume control knob and just two knurled rings which are capacitive in nature with different functions available from them depending on which menu has been selected from the screen. At the time of the Velar’s launch, this was a JLR unique for this model, but the technology and the systems that they deliver are being introduced on the latest Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models with their 2018 update. The upper screen is 10 inches wide, and has very crisp and clear graphics. It also has a huge problem, as I would find out later in the day. It is set at an angle of about 45 degrees, and in bright sunlight, which was the case throughout my test, the sun strikes it such an angle that it became completely impossible to read. This, sadly, is a major ergonomic blunder, and I cannot believe that it was not spotted during development. So be warned, you may not be able to rely on the navigation map when driving, as you may not be able to see it. The lower, and smaller screen has four main options: selection of the Driving mode, of which there are six ( we will come to those), an audio repeater display, vehicle settings and the dual zone climate control system, which has two rotary dials as well as what is on the screen. Like the upper screen, there are various touch sensitive pads to allow you to make selections. Between the two screens, there is a lot of function, and, frankly, a lot of complexity. What should be simple things, like changing the radio waveband and scrolling to a different station are actually quite fiddly. I also found that after a few hours, the screen was badly marked with finger prints (not just mine, but I suspect those of previous renters as well). Luckily, the main instruments are far easier to use, or rather to read. There are two large dials, for revs and speed, in a single cluster. Between them are two vertically stacked gauges for water temperature and fuel level. When I reached the exit gate at the Hertz facility, I was asked to confirm if the tank was full, and I looked at the gauge to see the whole arc greyed out. There was no warning light showing, but it really was not obvious if the tank was completely empty. I did the prudent thing of stopping at the first garage, and when I got less than a gallon in, I knew it was indeed full. In fact there is a little arrow pointer, which moves down the grey-ed out area as the tank empties, but this is not going to be obvious as it aligns with F when the tank is full, and you might not realise that it moves. There are two chunky column stalks for indicators and lights on the left and wipers on the right. For the lights, you twist the end of the stalk to align the setting you want, and the stalk end then returns to the central position, so you have to rely on the warning light on the dash to see that the lights are actually on (or not). There are repeater buttons on the steering wheel spokes. Those on the left are used both to change the trip computer digital display presentation in the centre of the instrument binnacle, and also, as audio unit repeaters, with the backlit graphics changing depending on the mode the buttons will currently deliver. Clever, but again, requires careful learning. There’s an electronic handbrake buried on the dash just above the driver’s left knee. The gearlever is the cylindrical type that retreats into the console when the ignition is turned off. I find it very easy to use. There are wheel-mounted paddles for those who want to try to change the gears themselves. Needless to say, for this day and age, there was keyless starting. So, although overall, it looks good, there are a few ergonomic challenges here, only some of which you would learn through familiarity.
Before setting off, I needed to adjust the seat and wheel and get comfortable. There are electric motors for the seat, which goes in every which of 10 ways. The column adjusts by turning a locking wheel on the right hand side, just as I found on the Jaguar XE I had driven a couple of days earlier, which then allows you to move the wheel up and down or telescope it in and out. I was able to get the driving position I wanted. Once you have found it, there are 3 memory setting available in which to store your chosen position. The driver’s seat itself was a bit too expansive and flat, leaving me wishing for a bit more support. It was as if it had been designed for those of bigger and burlier frame than me, though having spent several hours sitting on it, the other attributes of its design were about right, with good seat comfort, You do sit higher than in a regular saloon, of course, and you notice the fact that you will be doing so when you get in and out, though this is rather more car-like than a Range-Rover Sport, and once installed, although this is a big and roomy vehicle, it does not feeling that intimidatingly large. There is a standard and vast glass sunroof (or moonroof in US parlance), which lets a lot of light into the cabin. There is an electrically assisted cover, which closes of its own accord when you park up and lock the vehicle, which would avoid the cabin becoming too hot were you to park in full sun. There is ample space in the back seats, too, with generous amounts of leg room unless the front seats are set well back, but if they are this would mean that someone with unusually long legs was in the front. The centre console does extend backwards quite a long way, and there is a noticeable central tunnel so a middle seat occupant would have to avoid these two features in the way they sat. Headroom is plentiful, and the Velar is wide enough for three adults to sit across it in comfort. There is a drop-down central armrest which had a pair of cup holders in its upper surface.
The boot is relatively shallow, but the floor area is sizeable, so overall cargo capacity is pretty decent. Access is through a large tailgate, which is electrically assisted when you open it, and has a power close feature, which is just as well, as it is quite heavy. Unlike in some other models in the range, the rear window is fixed to the rest of the tailgate and does not lift independently. There is some space under the boot floor for odds and ends around the proper spare wheel that is also here. If you want additional cargo capacity, then the rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split three ways, 40:20:40, and they simply fold down, to give a flat load bay that is now quite long. Inside the cabin, there is a rather modest glove box, bins on all four doors, a deep cubby under the central armrest, and a stowage area below and in front of the panel with the lower display screen on it, which is a bit awkward to reach. Rear seat occupants get map pockets on the back of the front seats and bins on the doors. For those in the front, there are two open cup holders and an additional one which hides under a cover in the centre console.
P250 in the badging tells you two things: that this is a petrol-powered Velar, and that it generates 250 PS (247 bhp). This comes from a 2 litre turbo 4 cylinder Ingenium engine. Much has been written about this latest JLR engine, and not all of it totally positive, though the consensus does seem to be that the engine is getting more refined as minor tweaks are made to the powerplant. Certainly, I found little to complain about – well, apart from the fact that a nice rumbly V8 would have sounded an awful lot better, of course! Although this is a big and heavy car, 247 bhp proves more than sufficient to make the Velar feel decently brisk at all times. It is also very smooth, with the 8 speed automatic gearbox doing a very efficient job at finding the right ratio without the driver being aware of it shifting gears. Once on the move, noise levels were low, with engine, road and tyre noise all well suppressed, so this would be a very pleasant vehicle in which to travel a long distance at a decent speed. There’s not even too much of a price to pay at the pump. I covered 275 miles during my two day tenure of the Velar, and needed to put 11.14 US gallons in the tank to fill it up, which means 24.12 mpg US or 28.82 mpg Imperial, not bad a result considering that some of those miles were on the tortuous canyons above Malibu and yet more were in the legendary traffic that is the 405 Freeway. The Stop/Start system would have helped there, of course, with it cutting in and out slightly roughly, but always quickly when you needed power for the off.
Where the Velar really scores is in the other driving dynamics. Whilst this may be a large SUV-type vehicle, it has also been honed by the JLR team who seemingly apply their magic to the steering and chassis set up of all the current products. Every Range Rover Velar comes with all-wheel drive and the Terrain Response system, which has Eco, Comfort, Grass-Gravel-Snow, Mud-Ruts, Sand, and Dynamic drive modes, selected on the lower of the digital display panels in the centre of the dash. I did not test out the middle ones of these, as rental car companies do not take kindly to you taking their vehicles off-road, and as this was an almost brand new car, it was pretty much unscathed, so it would have been more obvious than usual, though I am sure that with 8.4″ ground clearance and a wading depth capability of 23″ you would find that this is a true Land Rover product off the tarmac with impressive off-road capabilities. The Eco, Comfort and Dynamic settings do pretty much what you expect them to, in terms of throttle response, steering weight etc. I left the test car in Comfort most of the time. In case you want to make changes to individual settings, you can do this as well, using the same capacitive buttons on the lower touch screen. It is when you start to see all the permutations here that you realise just how complex electronics have become, almost too complex, you might think, as I am sure most owners will not bother to explore any of this lot. Also standard is a rapidly adjusting Adaptive Dynamics suspension system and torque vectoring, which add stability when cornering. I found the steering was particularly good, with just the right amount of feel, and weighting which meant that the car was a doddle to manoeuvre, but not over-assisted when you really needed to know what the driven wheels were going to do. The handling proved equally well judged, with plenty of grip and with body roll kept well in check, it remained comfortable even when being hustled along a twisty road. Although this is a big vehicle, it did not particularly feel it on those canyon roads, where it could be driven with some gusto, without undue alarm. Only the car’s width caused me to need special care on some of the narrower roads. The Velar rides well, too. The test car came on 255/55 R19 wheels, and no doubt the relatively high profile helps, but most of it will come down to careful tuning, and all those test miles which are clocked up and why you see so many JLR prototypes out on the roads of the UK. There were no issues with the brakes, which did their job with no fuss. There is an electronic handbrake which is on the dash somewhere just over the driver’s left knee, which shows how often it is likely to be used. Although the window line is high, which might lead you to fear for visibility, I had few problems, and there are plenty of driver aids to help. As well as front and rear parking sensors, there is a rear-view camera which projects an image onto the main infotainment screen (when you can see it), and there are blind spot warnings in both mirrors and a lane departure warning system.
The US Velar range is broadly similar to that offered in the UK, though fewer engine choices are offered than UK buyers see. Every model has seating for five and all-wheel drive, and American buyers can select from among three engines, depending on the specification package. The base model is the Velar, which comes as the Velar, Velar S, and Velar SE. The Velar R-Dynamic has distinctive styling and is available in SE and HSE specification packages. The top-of-the-line model is the Velar First Edition. Listing at $49,900, the base Velar looks to be pretty good value, with its lengthy list of posh features, and at this price, it is notably cheaper than a UK buyer would pay even though the car has been shipped thousands of miles from its production origins. It’s a good pick if you want to keep your costs in the $50,000 range. The 247 bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine powers the base Velar tP250 trim level. Its Touch Pro Duo infotainment system features two 10-inch touch screens, Bluetooth, eight-speakers, voice commands, two USB ports, and smartphone integration via InControl Apps. Other standard features include seats upholstered with synthetic leather and suede, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, a leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting, push-button start, a proximity key, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and autonomous emergency braking with advanced emergency brake assist. For more power than the standard turbocharged four-cylinder can supply, you would need to start with the Velar S. You can upgrade to either the supercharged V6 or turbodiesel engines. Key equipment additions to the Velar S include perforated, grained leather seats, an 11-speaker Meridian sound system, navigation, automatic high beams, a hands-free power liftgate, and a Wi-Fi hot spot that can connect up to eight devices. Prices for this edition start at $54,700 with the standard four-cylinder engine, $56,200 with the D180 turbodiesel engine, and $64,200 with the supercharged V6, the P380. The supercharged V6 is the only engine available for the Velar SE. This $67,400 edition comes with a 17-speaker Meridian surround-sound system, an interactive driver display, driver drowsiness monitoring, rear cross traffic monitoring, and traffic sign recognition with adaptive speed limiter. The Velar R-Dynamic SE starts at $60,100 and gets upgraded cabin materials (such as satin chrome and aluminium trimmings), larger wheels, blind spot monitoring, driver drowsiness monitoring, rear cross traffic monitoring, and traffic sign recognition with adaptive speed limiter. The P250 turbocharged four-cylinder engine is standard, and both the turbodiesel and supercharged V6 engine are available. The sticker price increases to $67,600 for the Velar R-Dynamic HSE, which comes with 20-way power-adjustable front seats with massage, heat, and ventilation; active park assist for parallel and perpendicular parking; adaptive cruise control with stop-start functionality and intelligent emergency braking; active blind spot assist; and lane keep assist. To celebrate this model’s inaugural year, Land Rover is offering the Velar First Edition for 2018. With the supercharged V6 engine under the bonnet, this $89,300 trim comes with special badging, an activity key (a wearable, waterproof wristband that doubles as a key so you don’t have to worry about your actual key falling out of your pocket), two additional USB ports in the second row, an electronic air suspension system, the Terrain Response 2 system with automatic drive modes, and an active rear locking differential. Advanced safety features include a 360-degree camera system, a head-up display, active park assist for parallel and perpendicular parking, active blind spot assist, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control with stop-start functionality and intelligent emergency braking. Needless to say, there’s an extensive list of optional features available. It is once you start ticking boxes here where the prices rise to very significant indeed.
My expectations for the Velar were high. And I was not disappointed. I still cannot quite believe how invisible the display on the upper infotainment screen became in bright sunshine, and there were a couple of other cockpit ergonomic niggles, but all the basics are very right, and if you like the style of the Velar – which I do – then I don’t think you would be disappointed were you to shell out the considerable sum of money that Land Rover asks for it. Having now driven the Evoque and the Range Rover Sport, I can see there is a nice family progression, and that there truly is a place for all three. For sure, the prices overlap, but then that’s the case in many ranges these days. Pick an Evoque if you want something that is smaller and nimbler, and go for the Range Rover Sport if you want something that is even more commodious inside. Otherwise, I think the Velar is the pick of the range. Deciding which one, and then how much of the options list to raid will be your only (hard) choice. I know that I will be keeping a very close eye on the Hertz fleet to see if any of the P380 Supercharged models appear, as I am sure that with another 130 bhp and a couple more cylinders, the car will feel even more impressive. Even in P250 guise and S trim, it is a very desirable machine indeed.