Range Rover Velar: An all-terrain, slipstream Cool Britannia dream

Starting at $49,900

In Norway, minimalist design reigns. Clean lines and unfussy surfacing abounds, from the weather-beaten farmhouses and modern commercial buildings that dot the landscape, to the Scandinavian furniture and clothing carefully curated inside them. It's all form-follows-function, it's all gorgeous, and it's no accident that none of it distracts from the country's omnipresent scenic vistas.

It makes a lot of sense, then, that Land Rover chose to stage the first drive of its latest SUV, the 2018 Range Rover Velar, within the Northern European country's borders. The British automaker has taken what it's calling a "reductive design approach" to its handsome new model, and it shows. Most Land Rover models are largely free of car-designer frosting to begin with, but the Velar takes things even further, with slimmed-down LED headlamps, spare bodysides and even flush-fitting retractable door handles.

The resulting look is streamlined and powerful, without veering toward the austere or brutalist. If any rugged SUV can be described as elegant, the Velar is it. In fact, its only real problem is that it renders the models sitting above it in Land Rover's hierarchy slightly stodgy by comparison (no mean feat, by the way).

With Velar, embracing minimalist design brings maximum results.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

The same is true inside the Velar's beautifully appointed cabin, where a brand-new infotainment interface, Touch Pro Duo, takes up residence in the center stack. The Intel-quad-core based system features twin 10-inch touchscreen TFT displays, one in the traditional mid-dash location, and the other canted just ahead of the drive selector, with a pair of ringed knobs poking through.

The setup looks impressively simple — almost worryingly so. Land Rover has greatly reduced the amount of switchgear in the cabin, a practice that has become something of a car-designer obsession these days. The result of such approaches always seems to look pleasing, but too often comes with a heavy toll on ergonomics and usability. Fortunately, I'd have a couple of days behind the wheel to suss out whether that's the case with the Velar.

Land Rover's model range continues to spread like kudzu, with this new midsize Velar slotting in between the Evoque and the Sport in its Range Rover family. Based on the same aluminum-intensive platform as the F-Pace crossover from sister brand Jaguar, the Velar nonetheless has a completely different look and feel to it.

Note how sleek and modern the cabin looks with all three large screens sitting dormant. 

Land Rover

Given the Jag's inherent road bias, it might be tempting to view the Velar's off-road credibility with suspicion, especially in view of my tester's rubber-band-like 22-inch 265/45-series tires. But whether climbing up a jagged-rock two-track amid skier gondolas on the side of Strandafjellet (a breathtaking ski mountain in Western Norway) or picking my way through an obstacle course, the Velar revealed it has capabilities to shade all but the most hardcore trail rigs. And at least with air-suspension-equipped models, the Velar also rides a fair bit better than its Leaping Cat sibling.

The aforementioned air suspension, optional locking rear differential and Land Rover's excellent Terrain Response 2 system augment the Velar's capabilities mightily, enabling up to 9.9 inches of ground clearance and a fording depth of 25.6 inches. (The latter is well shy of the top-dog Range Rover's 35.4-inch waders, but it's plenty to live out your Oregon Trail fantasies). Worried you might waterlog your new Rover? An onscreen wade sensor shows you how close you are to making a very expensive and very inconvenient mistake.

Fact is, there are technological assists for just about every aspect of off-roading, including All-Terrain Progress Control (think: low-speed off-road cruise control), as well as a particularly helpful 360-degree, multi-angle camera system that shows what's directly ahead of the vehicle when you're climbing an obstacle and all you see ahead is hood and sky.

The Velar may ultimately be less capable off-road than some other Green Oval models, but if it's guilty of anything, it's that it still makes tasks that should require a significant level of exertion feel too easy. For the modest degree of off-roading most customers are likely to attempt, buying a Velar is like hiring Dwayne Johnson to move your furniture. That's not a slight, exactly, but today's Land Rovers are so inherently capable that they can sometimes rob you of the sense of accomplishment that comes with conquering something difficult.

In North America, the Velar line receives a trio of powerplants, including a pair gas or diesel four-cylinder engines or JLR's ubiquitous range-topping 3.0-liter supercharged gas six cylinder. In Velar tune, the V6 makes 380 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, funneled to all four wheels through a well-sorted ZF eight-speed automatic. Official specs peg the 0-60 mph run in 5.3 seconds, but it feels slightly quicker, if only because you're sitting high up and moving nearly 4,500 pounds of British Royalty. Top speed is capped at 155 mph.

I only had the opportunity to drive the 380-hp V6 model, and the powertrain seems well matched to the vehicle's character and skill set, whether dawdling along to appear lawful for Norway's omnipresent speed cameras or giving it the boot on otherwise empty mountain passes.

The Velar is no slouch dynamically, either. Hopefully it gets a full-on SVR model.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Coastal Norway is achingly beautiful -- it features the sort of undulating, serpentine roads that look like they came into being by throwing hot asphalt from a passing airplane. These roads have a tendency to get quite narrow in places — often funneling two-way traffic down to little more than a single lane with next-to-zero notice — so the Velar had moments where it felt quite large as a fjord explorer. Even so, its solid brakes and level handling meant that there were no white-knuckle moments, and despite the coarse-grain bitumen surfaces and fat, sticky tires, road noise was well controlled. No, the nearly 4,500-pound Velar won't frighten Porsche's Cayenne or Macan on hard-charging B-roads, but it's plenty fleet of foot.

While the V6 certainly has ample power, it'll be interesting to see how the 2.0-liter four-cylinder models perform. The gas version has 247 hp and 269 pound-feet of torque. LR estimates 0-60 in a respectable 6.4 seconds, so that powertrain combination sounds solid enough. The 180-hp diesel offers 317 pound-feet, but its 0-60 is estimated at a leisurely 8.4 seconds, so it may not be a great choice for everyone. EPA fuel economy estimates have yet to be released, so it's not even clear how much fuel you stand to save by going diesel.

Speaking of performance, you won't be able to tap the Velar's true potential without coming to grips with Touch Pro Duo — it's not just an infotainment interface, it's the Velar's digital backbone. The system not only handles such mundanities as HVAC settings and seat controls, it also replaces Land Rover's traditional Terrain Response 2 control knob.

In Control Duo features two touchscreens with crisp graphics and contextual multi-function knobs.

Land Rover

TR2 functions like a vacuum's Dial-A-Nap feature, presetting the vehicle's various systems for ideal performance on a given terrain, both on- and off-road. Everything from air suspension height to steering and throttle responsiveness and safety-system thresholds are governed by Terrain Response 2, allowing you to gird the Velar for conditions like Mud and Ruts; Grass, Gravel and Snow; Sand or even just enthusiastic road driving.

While media player and phone functions are handled primarily through the upper screen, you can pull down a menu to control them through the lower screen, as well. That's advantageous when you want to leave the navigation map on the other display, for instance. You can also keep tabs on various functions through the available 12.3-inch TFT gauge cluster (which functions a lot like Audi's lauded Virtual Cockpit), and a well-done head-up display assists in keeping eyes on the road, too.

Touch Pro Duo's graphics look sensational, and the interface does an admirable job allowing the user multiple ways into the same functions, whether it's using the big contextual knobs, touchscreens, or the steering wheel and voice controls. You can even send door-to-door navigation routing to your vehicle using a smartphone app, or pre-cool the interior. Better than most competing systems, Land Rover's latest infotainment architecture adapts to the way you want to work with it, not the other way around.

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Overall, processor time is snappy, menu structures are largely intuitive, and the system looks great. There's definitely a learning curve to it, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility remain a year away. However, Touch Pro Duo nevertheless seems to be a substantial leap ahead of JLR's still-new In Control Touch Pro system.

Having said all that, in numerous test vehicles equipped with In Control Touch Pro, Roadshow staffers have experienced significant stability problems — chiefly in the form of freezing and reboots. Hopefully this new system doesn't suffer from the same gremlins, but we'll need more time with it to know for sure.

The rest of the Velar's cabin is no less stunning than its technological complement. There's good visibility all around and the interior is flooded with light thanks to an available panoramic moonroof, and all materials and switchgear looks and feels top quality. Seats are all-day comfortable, augmented by available heating, cooling and massage.

An optional, leather-free cabin with fabrics made of wool and recycled materials is available.

Land Rover

Interestingly, there's a new option for those who don't like leather. The Velar's available "premium textile combination" (shown above) is an optional extra that's priced the same as high-end Windsor leather. Comprised of more sustainable materials including a polyester blend made from recycled soda bottles and wool, the seats looks great and feel more breathable than animal hide. The first-of-its-kind upholstery has passed Land Rover's standard battery of material tests for things like tear-resistance, color-fastness and flammability, among others.

Designed in cooperation with high-end Danish furniture firm Kvadrat, the resulting leather-free interior looks attractive and modern enough that this diehard hide fan would seriously consider the option. Land Rover only expects about five percent of Velars to be so-equipped, but says it's ready to ramp up production if demand warrants.

As you'd expect of an all-new model, an armada's worth of active driver-assistance systems is available on the Velar, including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and lane-keep assist, along with less-expected features like traffic-sign recognition and a drowsy driver monitor. 

For the tow-happy -- properly equipped, the Velar will lug up to 5,500 pounds -- a backup trailer hitch assist tool is also included.

The only problem is, your commute won't be nearly this beautiful.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

When it hits the market this fall, the Velar should have genuine broadband appeal among upscale shoppers, drawing in everyone from tech junkies and luxury hounds to off-roaders and the design obsessed. The biggest velvet-rope barrier to entry, as always, will be price. The gas four-cylinder Velar starts at a reasonable-sounding $50,895 delivered, but rockets all the way to $90,295 for a top-shelf V6 First Edition model like the one shown here. That's a very thick wedge of cash, but whether you're a design buff or not, the Velar feels worth it -- and that's something I don't often say of fully loaded models.

The real question the Velar poses may actually be: Why spend more for a Range Rover or Sport?

Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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