Unlike most carmakers, Land Rover doesn’t have the luxury of a wide range of body styles to adopt — they’re all SUV, all the time. The line-leading Range Rover is the statement vehicle, as luxurious as it is rugged, and exuding an aura of conquest. The Range Rover Sport — smaller, lighter, and faster, for the DIY go-getter. The Evoque syncs up with the edgy rebel; the Disco, the peripatetic explorer. But this time the storied British marque has taken to honing its lineup in terms of personalities instead. To wit, the new Velar.
But the new Velar — technically “Land Rover Range Rover Velar,” conversationally “Range Rover Velar” — is perhaps the most precisely targeted Land Rover yet, and as a result, also the riskiest. Its smooth lines, restrained detailing, and achingly precise proportions will be dismissed by many as boring, whereas others will see it as the most artistic and beautiful of the bunch. I vote for the latter. The Velar is an elegant departure in a lineup of relatively mainstream personalities, refreshingly daring in its simplicity and confidence. I see its market as the architects, the designers, the musicians — any driver who craves a degree of beauty in the products they choose to live with.
You can sense this differentiation everywhere. The crease that almost all cars have stretching from fore to aft is razor-thin on the Velar and as high as can be — barely an inch or so from the windows. The lower flanks are marked by sculpted concave recesses rather than additional character lines and lots of hard stops in the details. The door handles cinch up when not in use, like the retracting handles of the Tesla Model S. The burnished-copper detailing offers hints of distinction rather than outright stamps of color. The wheel proportions — the car designer’s Holy Grail of automotive perfection — are allowed to work their magic all the way up to 22 inches. That makes for a slightly brutish ride while traversing craggy mountain slopes, but my god you look good doing it.
2018 Range Rover Velar
Engines: 3.0-liter supercharged V6; 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four; 2.0 turbocharged diesel inline-four
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 380; 247; 180
Torque: 332 lb-ft; 269 lb-ft; 317 lb-ft
Spec 4: $49,900
Of course, this being a Land Rover, it’s overwhelmingly ready for that sort of action, evening wear notwithstanding. After many miles of cruising the gorgeous tarmac of rural Norway — amid the fjords and the deer-crossing signs — we tackled a variety of off-road challenges that included a climb straight up a ski mountain trail that’s clearly meant to be traversed when there’s already 36 inches of powder on top of it in order to smooth out the ride. No matter. The Velar’s 9.9 inches of clearance (with the air suspension) and the electronically controlled locking rear differential in its Intelligent Driveline Dynamics system help it scamper up the mountain automatically, with the help of Land Rover’s low-speed cruise-control-like All Terrain Progress Control. On the way down, Hill Descent Control keeps your speed in check, down to the slipperiest gravel — though your foot still instinctively hovers in the more white-knuckle moments.
Perhaps the biggest deal, though, sits in the center console. The new Touch Pro Duo infotainment system sets a pretty significant new standard for cabin interfaces, with dual ten-inch touchscreens and easily graspable, readily accessible functionality. The screens act and feel like smartphones, with thick glass over high-def displays, and smooth, responsive swiping, pinching and tapping. The top screen manages navigation, media and your phone, while the lower display accesses climate controls and the Terrain Response System. The top screen can tilt up to 30 degrees to ease visual access; it even smoothes out when the car is switched off and returns to its driver-set position when the journey begins again. At the bottom, two chunky rotary dials that can be configured to control climate, massage-seat settings, or terrain settings. They’re among the few protrusions in an overall smooth and minimal interior display, which jibes nicely with the equally subdued exterior treatment. It’s a pitch-perfect centerpiece for the entire Velar.
Driving this high-concept design exercise around Norway, I found myself lulled into psychological submission by its many grace notes — that center console, the sleek detailing, the wool-blend textiles offered as an alternative to leather. I typically favor the mercenary-type vibe of the Range Rover, but also dig the more subdued and mysterious gestalt that this car offers. It’s the thinking man’s Range Rover — one that’s still ready for most anything you can throw at it, but cleans up real nice in the end.