Please welcome Martin, whose loaner-vehicle experience was somewhat more upscale than most, yet not quite up to the level set by his everyday ride. As you can see from the picture, this one’s been in the queue a while — JB
During my time with the 2018 Range Rover Velar, the SiriusXM subscription included with the car introduced me to a variety of contemporary pop music that I had “missed” since I basically stopped listening to terrestrial radio about a dozen years ago. I guess that my arrival into my thirties might have been accompanied by a vague bigotry against modern pop culture, which had become so brainless, coarse and artificial that I retreated to earlier books, movies and music, looking for the intellectual and emotional meat that the current culture could seemingly not produce. I am sad to say that my negative suspicions of the mainstream music industry were confirmed, and in fact my expectations were too high. Top 40 radio is truly the negation of art, a soulless industrial product defecated from a machine fired with cynicism and hypocrisy. I sailed to the safer harbors of earlier decades, jazz, and classical.
Similarly, I had a bias against the small crossover segment. Here it is, the industry giving you what you want, or at least an imitation of it: tall, stilted hatchbacks, offering no greater interior space and worse fuel economy than the vehicles on which they are based. In many cases, actual ground clearance is only the matter of an inch more than the equivalent normal car. But you are sold the frisson of a ruggedly independent lifestyle, in which mountains are crossed and streams forded.
If you want to drive an SUV, you should buy one, and not these poor simulacra, which are neither fish nor fowl. I wanted an SUV, so I bought a Range Rover, and when it was down with the British flu recently (located in some part of its electrical sensor package, obviously), the dealership gave me the keys to a 2018 Range Rover Velar, in P250 S trim. Here was my chance to test my biases against reality. Ain’t nothing like the real thing?
Based on the Jaguar F-Pace platform, the Velar is larger and has a less steeply raked profile than the Evoque. This increases headroom and general utility; it also more closely recalls the shape of full-size Range Rovers. The current corporate face Land Rover has developed works as well on this smaller car as it does on the new Discovery, conveying strength and elegance. I was surprised how low the roofline of this crossover is — from a distance, the shape appears to represent a larger car, and as you get closer, it seems to shrink a bit. The surface styling is restrained and attractive, perhaps even a touch classy. Avoid the Santorini Black color of this particular car, however, as this covers up some of the nicer details of the design.
The retracting door handle is a neat party trick that consistently delighted anyone I drove in this car. Moving inside, the styling and layout of the cabin continues to please, with a well-considered mix of hard and soft plastics, not terrible leatherette seats, and an attractive steering wheel. Here again, the car charms with a sense of specialness, as the gear selector knob rises from the center console, the infotainment touchscreen pivots out from the dash, and the power retracting cover slides across the roof, opening the interior to light from the large, panoramic sunroof.
So far, so good! From initial approach to ingress, the Velar makes a very positive introduction. The two-screen setup of the center stack, which I was prepared to hate (“Bah, humbug!”), turned out to be functional and simple to use. The wide screen at the top displays media, navigation and other features one expects of a modern car, while the lower screen integrates climate control, heated and cooled seat functions, window defrosters, drive mode selection, and various other operations. The two physical wheels at the bottom edge of this screen change function depending on what you want to do. In climate mode, they change the dual zone front temperature. When press-clicked, they change various heating or cooling features. In cars equipped with the optional massage feature (this car was not so optioned), a third click of the wheel reveals the massage functions. Predicted reliability of this technology suggests you will become acquainted with your Land Rover service adviser on a first name basis (Hi, Don!).
Now we get to a few things that are not so nice. The seats, while well bolstered and with good thigh support, nonetheless have no lumbar adjustment at this trim level, and during my 6 or so days with the car, I felt there was something just a tad off about the seating position. Also, the manual steering wheel adjustment didn’t extend the wheel far enough towards the driver, causing me to put the seat a bit closer than I would have liked. Maybe I just have short arms for a 6’1” man.
The back seats are comfortable and offer plenty of legroom for two adults, the center seat being only useful for smaller children and not for long journeys. The seats are 60-40 split, with a center armrest that folds down to offer two cupholders and two USB charging points. The hatch reveals a decently sized opening and a trunk with a useful amount of space, making a trip to Costco light work.
Starting up the car, the 247hp 4-cylinder turbocharged engine idles very roughly when cold, so much so that I initially wondered if this car was a diesel model, or if somehow I had engaged the seat massage function accidentally. After warming up, the rough idle seems to go away, but this is definitely not welcomed behavior.
But the engine has power, and the 269 lb-ft of torque gets the car hustling. Moving away from rest, the car is quite perky, perhaps even jumpy. It is clear the engineers were targeting a sporty feel with this model. Acceleration is brisk, and there is more engine noise than anticipated; perhaps there is artificial sound amplification piped into the cabin, although I am not sure. The eight-speed transmission was inoffensive, but not the smoothest I’ve used, with occasional hunting between gears for no apparent reason. The suspension and damping are firm, again in the service of “sportiness”. Over the rough, potholed streets in this Midwestern winter, there were times when unpleasant crashes were transmitted to the cabin. On the whole, however, I found the body control and stiffness to be acceptable, and driving the Velar was even fun at times. The engine has enough grunt to reduce any sensation of plodding heaviness.
Land Rover’s excellence in the 4WD space is legendary, however I was unable to test much of the Velar’s capabilities in this regard. I only switched the system out of Normal a single time, into the Grass/Gravel/Snow mode after a modest snowstorm (by Upper Midwest standards). It appeared to work very similarly to the same setting in my traditionally-sized Range Rover, allowing a bit more wheel slip and routing power to other corners. With optional air springs, perhaps the little Velar would be able to follow its big brother into parts unknown?
Outward visibility is only average. The Velar, having a mostly upright profile, provides a moderate view out rear window, although the front A-pillars are angled more than I prefer, and this does impede diagonal vision a bit at intersections. Compared to my wife’s Infiniti QX60 and its atrocious visibility, the Velar was a major improvement, if not anywhere as good in this respect as a real Range Rover. In the end, my bias against small crossovers was reduced somewhat by my time with the Velar. Clever luxury touches, a decent driving experience and the attractive overall design will bring enjoyment to the owner. At just over $61,000, the sort of upper-middle income owner who will buy this should be mostly satisfied with his purchase. Personally, I still wouldn’t buy a car of this type, but now perhaps I will take a more tolerant view of people who do.