Road Test: 2018 Velar D180

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One year ago, Land Rover astonished us with a vehicle no one saw coming, the Range Rover Velar. Of this newcomer’s many impressive qualities, perhaps the most astounding was Land Rover’s expediency bringing it to market. Along with the rest of the world, we first saw it last March at the Geneva Motor Show, and by early August we were driving it in Norway. Later that month new Velars were rolling into (and out of) showrooms. There was hardly time to process the arrival of this new member of the family.

Even more bewildering, however, was the generally positive initial reaction from traditional Land Rover cognoscenti. A historically tough crowd to please, they echoed the less informed shopper’s praise of the clean-sheet model’s styling. Simple as that, the Velar seemed to have achieved a core-group acceptance, at least on the basis of its design, escaping the vitriol that had been spewed at such models as the Range Rover Evoque or the fifth-generation Discovery.

Surprisingly, given the equally fickle buying habits of the general public, the Velar made a big splash in a market starved for styling. From almost every angle, the Velar delivers: Its stunning shape manages to elicit Range Rover’s past without directly referencing any particular model. With its front wheels positioned well forward, a fairly long rear overhang, and long, low roofline, the Velar looks to be hustling along at a good clip even when sitting still. You almost expect to see the rear end fade out in a motion blur effect.

Open the door, and the Velar reinforces that first impression. The ultra-modern cockpit’s command center, a dual-screen interface that offers a multi-configurable arrangement with minimal physical controls, manages to avoid looking like some custom stereo shop simply bolted a huge iPad to its center console. Tesla could learn a thing or two from this interior.

So the Velar is a looker, for sure. But how does it work, as both a daily driver and as a Land Rover in the pure sense of the marque? Alloy+Grit’s Steve Hoare was among the first to drive the Velar at its press launch (Fall 2017 issue), but those events, always scripted and short of time, are good only for a first taste and are hardly representative of a day in the life.

We needed some follow-up time with a Velar on our home turf, and preferably one of the four-cylinder Ingenium-powered models (Steve’s seat time was entirely in the supercharged V6 version). Land Rover provided a Velar D180 (diesel, 180 horsepower) in HSE spec, optioned with the R-Dynamic package.

Home turf for us happens to be Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a bucolic, rural slice of Philadelphia’s northern suburbs thick with newer Range Rovers. The Velar blended into its setting instantly, hardly creating a ripple. By now, it had been seen, but, among the ubiquitous mid-size luxury crossovers from Lexus, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche that positively litter the parking lots around us, the Velar was a statement vehicle, an attractive break from conformity. Where the herd seems to morphing toward a universal form, the Velar looks like a Range Rover, and nothing else.

We spent several days in the Velar, crisscrossing the county on various errands. A quick business meeting, a visit to an office property, countless runs to the post office, grocery store, school pickup and so on. If we’re being honest, it was the kind of week a typical Velar — or any new Land Rover, actually — is likely to see. There was rain and there was snow, but there were no off-road adventures this time around. We didn’t even manage to make it to our favorite local water crossings, but not because we had concerns about the Velar’s abilities; we simply didn’t have the time.

Even without having layered the Velar with mud, we can say that the Velar is low on the list of Land Rovers we would choose for extended excursions off the pavement — not because it can’t; the mechanical package is essentially identical to a Range Rover Sport’s — but because the Velar is not really optimized for life in the rough. Between its low-profile performance tires and aero-optimized chin spoiler, even a minor misstep could lead to lots of damage. More to the off-road point, the Velar’s hardware offers no low range, and our test vehicle was equipped with the fixed-height coil-spring suspension, leaving us few options should we get high-sided or otherwise situated in a spot of trouble that the electronic traction aids alone simply could not overcome.

Rather than debase it for what it’s not, early on we came to terms with the Velar and enjoyed it for what it is — a stylish, well-equipped and sophisticated family hauler. As a replacement for an old-school station wagon or uncool minivan, the Velar has a lot going for it, not least of which is the fact that it looks totally fresh.

And it seems as well stocked with electronics as a Radio Shack. Lucas (Prince of Darkness and oh-so-stale butt of English car jokes since the advent of incandescent headlamps) could never have imagined such an assortment of electron-driven systems. The tech package is seriously impressive, and it all worked, even in the rain. The Touch Pro Duo interface looked intimidating at first, but we had it mastered in a matter of minutes. The twenty-way seats with heating, cooling and programmable massage functions actually had me missing my old one-hour commute, and the crystal-clear Meridian audio system was the impetus for several extended drives home.

Back seat space is generous for kids and adults alike, almost as nice as the front with the optional rear climate package. Sorry, kids, no massage for you though. The cargo hold could easily swallow a weekend’s worth of travel bags for a carload. The seatbacks drop with a quick pull on the easily reachable release handles from the rear area, and the movable cargo tie-downs are a thoughtful addition.

The 2.0-liter turbodiesel powertrain would seem an ideal choice for our particular needs, had we been shopping for one. Diesel fuel routinely costs about the same as premium gasoline where we live, and on paper it would appear to have a roughly 25-percent efficiency advantage (26 mpg city/30 mpg highway) over the Velar’s 2.0-liter gasoline engine option (21/27). In reality, we achieved a bit less, averaging just under 25 mpg entirely in stop-and-go suburban traffic and with a fair amount of idle time specific to the nature of our errands.

The diesel gets off the line quickly and smoothly, competing admirably in the stoplight-to-stoplight rally. Passing slower traffic from about 50 to 70 mph revealed a slightly less enthusiastic partner, but nothing like diesels of old. It even sounds like a different kind of engine, when you could hear it at all. Only at idle do you catch the signature diesel clatter, and even that is well attenuated.

We found ourselves using the 8-speed transmission’s Sport mode in heavy traffic, in part to keep the auto start/stop function from engaging, but also because the standard mode offered softer launches. On the move, the Velar feels light on its 20-inch wheels, with chassis control that is probably slightly firmer than others in its class. The steering, however, is exceptionally light, something of a Land Rover hallmark in recent years.

In fact, overall ease of driving is quickly becoming one of the selling points for Land Rovers of all types, and in this respect the Velar is probably most unlike its early ancestors. Also, those trucks were purchased because they were needed; the Velar will be taken home because it is wanted. Different times, different solutions.

The Velar may be Land Rover’s most road-oriented vehicle to date. Some manufacturers offer ride height, four-wheel drive and big tires as measures of off-road utility, but Land Rover makes no pretense about the Velar being any kind of Rubicon runner. The heritage is there, underneath it all, and sure it could probably perform feats of off-pavement wonder if called upon. But why? What it does best is move a family through the relatively tame environs of the modern world safely, comfortably, and with a style all its own.

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