We’ve just finished lunching on locally caught fried whitefish, reindeer stew with mashed potatoes, and freshly picked strawberries with cream at a little cafe with a stunning 270-degree view of the fjords below. The whole setup is, as the kids say these days, “Norwegian AF.” In the winter, this joint serves as a warming hut for a local ski resort, and getting here involves criss-crossing up a mile and half of steep, rock-strewn switch-backs. On a brisk day in January, it would be exhilarating to blast down on a set of skis. Today, in early August, we’re glad to be swaddled in the all-new Range Rover Velar, equipped with height-adjustable air suspension and hill-descent control.
“Hullo, do you mind if I join you for the ride down?” asks the chipper PR rep with a smile and posh London accent sparkly enough for three Orbitz gum commercials. Of course the answer is yes, so she hops in and introduces herself with a laugh. “It’s quite confusing, really. My name is Mercedes, but do you know how awkward that is in this business? Especially when you have to ring people up and say ‘Hi, this is Mercedes, of Jaguar Land Rover.’” Looks like giggles will accompany the crunch of rock under rubber on our descent.
While we’re on the topic of confusing names: Let’s talk about “Velar,” bequeathed to this all-new fourth model in the Range Rover line. When developing the original Range Rover back in 1969, Land Rover engineers dubbed the prototype Velar, from the Latin word for “to cover, hide.” That makes sense for a secret prototype, and it does roll off the tongue quite luxuriously (with emphasis on the first syllable). But it raises the question: Is Range Rover hiding something with this new model, especially when the underpinnings are shared with Jaguar? Not if you ask the engineers. Chief body engineer Rob Scott is up front about the platform and engine sharing between Velar and the Jaguar F-Pace. Both are built on the same line at the Solihull, England, factory that gave birth to the Land Rover brand, now owned by the Jaguar Land Rover group overseen by Indian conglomerate Tata Motors.
The Velar launches with an array of six aluminum-intensive, direct-injection inline-four and V-6 engines developed in-house at JLR. For North America, there are two 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinders on offer: a 180-horsepower diesel or a 247-horsepower gas engine. The current top of the range is the 380-horsepower supercharged V-6 gas engine that powers our fjord explorer and allows it to tow up to 5,500 lbs. “This is the most road-oriented Range Rover ever developed,” Scott says.
It’s a claim we partially validated along the always stunning, occasionally harrowing byways that tickle the west coast of Norway. The majority of roads we drive are single-lane in each direction and often narrow for sharing in curvy, forested parts between towns. At first blush, the Velar feels good, familiar. There’s nothing wrong with the shared bones. We loved the Jaguar F-Pace’s mix of sport and civility enough to almost name it 2017 SUV of the Year, and the like-minded Velar comports itself in similar fashion but with more attention focused on smoothing out bumps, rounding off hard edges, and creating a “calm sanctuary.”
This is a tough assignment for our First Edition Velar, which comes shod in 22-inch wheels and low-profile tires, but credit goes to the aluminum-intensive double-A-arm front and multilink rear suspension, continuously variable adaptive dampers, and optional air suspension. The Velar’s neatest trick is how thoroughly it cloaks all its technology; although there are multiple drive modes on offer—tunable electric power steering response, a brake-based torque-vectoring system, and an electronic locking rear differential—they are mostly invisible.
Range Rover claims its 4,500-pound V-6 Velar will hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, which is all very believable. Our V-6 Velar is always a willing partner; no matter the on-road mode selected (Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, or Race), all 332 lb-ft of torque felt readily available via distant thumps of the ZF eight-speed transmission. Popping back the left downshift paddle gets things going fractionally quicker, but the right foot covers most situations. That said, the V-6 Velar is not a head-snapping wolf in a fitted wool suit. There is plenty left to hone a sharper-edged, more track-focused Velar from the SVR group.
After thoroughly trouncing a series of man-made obstacles, including wheel articulation ramps, a curved side slope, a hill climb, and a triumphant charge up a groomed off-road course, we ask the opinion of Land Rover expert Steve Hoare. For someone who spends his weekdays editing Alloy+Grit, a Land Rover enthusiast publication, and his weekends tending to five Land Rovers ranging from a 1949 Series 1 to a 2003 Discovery 2 (all pre-independent suspension and electronic aids, mind you), he is remarkably charitable.
We both agree that traction and forward progress are never an issue; its height-adjustable air suspension and the off-road modes in the Terrain Response 2 system, programs such as Low Traction Launch and All Terrain Progress Control (a low-speed off-road cruise control), take nearly all of the drama out of climbing hill and dale. All one really has to do is steer and thumb speeds up or down. But the Velar’s story isn’t really about on – or off-road prowess. It’s about design. Even though it shares the same 113.1-inch wheelbase as the F-Pace, the Velar borrows none of its exterior body panels. Its hood, fenders, and roof are made from aluminum, and the rear hatch is composite—all in the name of weight savings. Doors are steel to help with side impacts and the architectural look chief designer Gerry McGovern was after. Unlike the curvy and muscular F-Pace, the Velar is smooth and slabby—less sculpted in the gym, more hewn from solid billet
Perhaps surprisingly, the Velar is the more aerodynamic of the two; its 0.32 drag coefficient (in turbodiesel configuration) makes it the most aerodynamically efficient vehicle in Land Rover history (and a good deal slicker than the incongruous 0.37 Cd of the sleek-appearing F-Pace). An upright grille and short front overhang combine with the longer rear overhang to give the Velar its rakish, wind-cheating profile. Cleverly executed details such as the optional blacked-out roof and pillars, flush-fit deployable door handles, and a reversed cut line that rises from front bumper to rear further buff the Velar’s visual appeal.
The Velar is positioned above the Evoque and below the Sport in the Range Rover lineup, but it challenges all, including the flagship, when it comes to interior execution. Reductionism is the overall theme, but it’s doubtful Ludwig Mies van der Rohe would eye roll what the interior design team has done. When the Velar is completely asleep, the driver is surrounded by a sensory-indulgent chamber composed of swathes of texture in blocks of muted colors ranging from fuzzy dark gray synthetic suede on the headliner, open-pore char-coal-colored wood inserts on the dash and doors, and glossy black touchscreen displays. When the drape lifted on the Velar last year, it uncovered a production midsize crossover so slick and dramatically proportioned as to be mistaken for yet another gorgeous yet implausible concept. Our brief Scandinavian stint reveals that the Velar is the real luxurious deal against the backdrop of Norway’s jaw-dropping roads and vistas. How it handles the reality of big-city traffic and broken tarmac remains to be seen.