Land Rover’s Velar fills gap between Evoque and Sport

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News

In the world of high-end sport utility vehicles, the Range Rover rules the roost. Now, British automaker Land Rover is extending the Range Rover’s reach with a fourth version of the iconic SUV.

It’s worth questioning whether the premium market needs yet another variant of the Range Rover. Land Rover argues that the newest addition, dubbed Velar (price range $49,900-$89,300), fills a meaningful slot in terms of capability and cost between the Evoque ($41,800-$65,600) and the Range Rover Sport ($65,670-$111,350).

That’s part of the rationale for the Velar. But a more emotional and key attraction of the newcomer is its appearance. Land Rover’s design team has fashioned a vehicle that defies the big, blockish look of most SUVs. Although the Velar is still large, its silky sheet-metal profile and tapering roofline give the vehicle an unusually sleek and svelte persona.

In short, the Velar is a design statement unlike any other full-size SUV and looks sufficiently different from its Range Rover siblings to justify its existence.

The Velar is based on the platform of the F-Pace SUV from Land Rover’s sister brand, Jaguar. Launched last year, the F-Pace has established a reputation for a focus on more sporty handling dynamics than rival crossovers. And the Velar inherits some of that character, although the Land Rover’s off-road capability is significantly more advanced than the Jaguar’s, and its interior is much more sophisticated and better finished.

On a test drive through the stunning scenery and occasionally challenging roads of coastal Norway, my supercharged, 380-horsepower gasoline V-6 Velar performed ably. The significantly less powerful four-cylinder gas and diesel-engined versions were unavailable.

The Velar may have Jaguar genes but it’s clearly aimed at delivering a more sedate, cosseted driving experience. That said, the 22-inch wheels on my top-of-the-line $89,300 test vehicle were ill-suited to broken asphalt I encountered and the ride was choppy. The available 18- or 19-inch wheels would be a better choice. At the wheel, one’s view over the broad expanse of hood is limited, which makes placing the car on narrow roads tricky.

Off-road, the Velar’s sophisticated drive mode system makes short work of steep muddy trails and loose rock mountain tracks. A hill descent and ascent “cruise” control system allows the driver to set a desired speed and simply focus on steering the vehicle. However, the lack of forward vision is unnerving when tackling a blind brow on a trail. A forward camera view in the center console helps but it would be much more useful if it could be projected in the instrument cluster or the head-up display.

Certainly, the Velar has the off-road credentials to live up to the high standards set by other Land Rover models. But the Velar’s real raison d’etre has to be its combination of artistic exterior design and a beautifully executed interior. The instrument panel has a finely crafted minimalist look with a combination of leather and metal trim and sleek glass displays in the center console and cluster.

A few important rotary controls remain but most functions are managed through the touch screens. Happily, the confused logic that hampers such systems in recent Jaguars and Land Rovers is much improved in the Velar, which now ranks among the best in the business for infotainment management.

For Land Rover in the U.S., the Velar promises to be a key addition to the lineup. Joe Eberhardt, president of Jaguar Land Rover North America, expects the Velar to conquest sales from rival brands, rather than cannibalize buyers from other Range Rover models. “It could become our best-selling model.”

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at