The trail ahead of me is steep and heavily rutted. My friend in a Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro went before me and made it look easy, though I know that’s not the case. Still, the vehicle in which I’m sitting bears badging that traces a path filled with heritage, history, and heaps of mud and dirt along the way. This is a Land Rover. That means the path in front of me can go anywhere I’d like it, within reason. I’m just worried that the level of “reason” afforded me isn’t quite what it used to be… because this particular Land Rover is the new Range Rover Velar.
Is this a quest for more style over true capable substance? Thankfully, the answer is no. The Velar likes to get its fancy skin covered in dirt and far from the beaten path.
Land Rover is using the Velar to explore what it views as a white space within its lineup. That is, a space where a customer need can be met with a vehicle that doesn’t yet exist. The Land Rover family is comprised of three pillars. Discovery, Range Rover, and Defender are the three points of the castle. On one end you have Discovery which is a sort of entry-level (with respect to Land Rover) off-roader that’s a good all-around machine. At the other end sits Defender, which is focused for more hard-core off-road adventures. In the middle sits Range Rover. Within Range Rover you have diversity as the Evoque has added a relative value entry into the refined off-road space. Climb the ladder from there and you’ll find the Range Rover Sport and full-size Range Rover. It’s in between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport where the Velar finds its niche.
Think of this then as a Range Rover Sport, but with its hard edges filed down. But just the styling edges as the expected Range Rover chops are there, and then some. Under-hood options vary between two four-cylinder options, one drinking diesel the other gasoline, or a supercharged V6. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger produces 247 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. A similarly sized diesel produces just 180 horsepower but a healthy 317 lb-ft of torque. Finally, the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 cranks out a much more substantial 380 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. All three are backed up by an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It’s the V6 you want here. While the diesel doles out delicious amounts of torque, it’s the 380 horsepower from the silky six that proves to be the most enjoyable offering. Especially because it represents just a $2k premium over the base starting price of all models ($77k vs $75k). Additionally, the V6 comes standard with air suspension. Hit the appropriate switches and the Velar now has 9.9-inches of ground clearance. That’s two more compared to the fixed suspension on the four cylinder models. You can now wade through 25.6-inches of water as well.
Over 80% of the structure of the Velar is comprised of aluminum. That’s how it manages to save some weight. This is still a luxury SUV with heavy wheels and tires, fancy electronics, and all sorts of top-tier technology inside. So a curb weight of just over 4,600 lbs isn’t out of line by any means.
Especially once you step inside the Velar and realize you’re basically driving a concept vehicle that somehow made its way into production. The cabin is stunning.
The center stack is blacked out until you fire up the Velar with a press of the Start button. Then the system comes alive and you’re greeted by a plethora of options, graphics, and menus. It’s not overwhelming but it is lovely to look at. A pair of knobs help control the most relevant options, and buttons on the steering wheel help keep you covered as well. But swipe through some menu screens and you can adjust the driving modes and overall demeanor.
For me today, out on the trail, that demeanor is one focused on keeping up with other trucks and playing in the dirt. There’s no question I’m more comfortable than my friends in this group. A Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro and a first-generation Ford Bronco have come along to enjoy the trails that lead to Holy Jim in southeastern Orange County.
A few sections leave me a bit worried. I don’t want to reshape any aluminum. I don’t want to send bits of oil dribbling from the under bits into the Earth around me. I don’t want to turn an expensive wheel into something not quite round. I needn’t worry though, as the Velar plays true to its heritage. Dirt is welcome, as our water crossings, mud pits, and rocky rutted sections.
I’m quite aware that the percentage of owners willing to push their Velars away from strip malls and fancy restaurants is low. That’s a shame. While the interior space is incredibly forward looking, the actual mechanical engineering parts prove to be as capable as I’d hoped they would.
This is a Range Rover with extra doses of style injected into its body lines. Yet all of that style still works. See the door handles? They’re recessed into the body. If needed, they can push through 4mm of ice in the event you’re driving somewhere quite cold. Yet they know not to close on your hand, should you place it between the door and the handle when they’re trying to close.
There are less expensive ways to go exploring. But if you have the means, there aren’t many ways to have fun in the dirt that are this comfortable and this damn good looking.
[Disclaimer: Land Rover tossed us the keys to the Velar and included a tank of fuel. Yes, we washed it before giving it back and no those aren’t scratches in the paint.]