Auto review: Range Rover Velar climbs, wades and looks pretty cool, too

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 29, 2018

The new-for-2018 Range Rover Velar may not be anyoneís first choice to deliver dozens of packages for a holiday party. Whereís the minivan when you need it?

Surprisingly, the midsize luxury crossover is holiday-ready. It has a generous 34 cubic feet of cargo space in the rear with all seats up, and a very generous 70 cubes with the three-way split rear seats folded down. Thatís plenty of room to shovel in gift boxes containing books and clothing, plus goofy stuff like the Spicy Shave Cream and Pooping Pooches calendar. Seriously?

Turns out there are surprises everywhere in the Velar, from snazzy pop-out door handles that also improve aerodynamics to an optional air suspension system that lowers the vehicle 1.6 inches for easier access. The Velar is built to handle any surface: rocks, sand, mud, asphalt and, oh, about 23.6 inches of water. Itís also equipped with a wade sensor to make sure you donít get in too deep.

Inside, thereís a first-of-its-kind seat fabric, a polyester blend made from sustainable materials like recycled plastic bottles and wool. Another wow.

Slotting in between Range Roverís Evoque and Sport, the Velar has a simple but rugged exterior with a sloping roofline that looks sharp but does hamper visibility. The R-Dynamic version adds panache with a mesh grille, hood and tailgate lettering, hood vents, black roof and other accents. It also gets 20-inch darkened split-spoke wheels.

Velarís ride is lively enough but few will call the 4,500-pound SUV athletic. Standard power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that gets 247 hp and 269 pound-feet of torque. Itíll get to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds. Two V-6s, plus a supercharged version and a turbo-diesel, also are available.

All three are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that glides through the gears smoothly and without issue.

Ride quality is superb as the coil or air suspension works with a torque vectoring system to control body lean on corners and absorb anything the road dishes out. A standard all-wheel-drive system maintains a 50-50 front-to-rear torque ratio unless wheel slippage is detected. The turbo four-banger can also tow a surprising 5,291 pounds.

Also standard is Range Roverís Terrain Response system, which adjusts suspension and height, throttle response and steering to handle varied surfaces. Modes include Eco, Comfort, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Dynamic ó the latter for more spirited driving.

While the Velar isnít geared for hardcore off-roading, thereís not much it canít handle. Air suspension can allow up to 9.9 inches of ground clearance, and ďlow-traction launchĒ adjusts the throttle on slippery rocks. In addition, Velar has an optional all-terrain ďprogress control,Ē which is like a low-speed cruise control, and an active rear locking differential.

Back at the mall, Velar offers active park assist to help guide itself into a parallel or perpendicular spot without a scratch.

Despite all these features and a hefty curb weight, fuel economy is respectable. EPA estimates give it 21 mpg city, 27 highway, for 23 combined. Contributing to those numbers is a start-stop feature that, unfortunately, is slightly jolting and intrusive.

Velarís 5-seat interior is simply designed but sophisticated in its look, featuring high quality materials like perforated Windsor leather and satin chrome trim. Finding comfort is guaranteed with the optional 20-way seat adjustment but, oddly, none for lumbar support. Seats can be cooled, heated and have a massage feature for the driver. A nice touch is an electric-powered headrest.

The brains of the beast are in Velarís so-called Touch Pro Duo, an infotainment system found on two 10-inch screens on the center stack. Itís not the easiest system in town. It essentially works like a tablet; all controls are integrated into the screens. Together they control everything from AC and navigation (upper screen) to the vehicle data and drive modes (lower screen).

A separate 12.4-inch digital gauge cluster can be customized to highlight the numbers most important to you.

Add a panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting with a gazillion choices, and an 825-watt Meridian sound system with 17 speakers and suddenly that road trip to the mother-in-law doesnít seem so bad.

New for 2019 are more standard safety features, including rear camera and parking sensors, emergency braking, lane-keep assist and driver drowsiness monitor. A Drive Pro package ($1,495) adds adaptive cruise control with steering assist, blind spot monitor and traffic sign recognition.

Whether folks want sophisticated style, off-road ability or high-tech instrumentation, Velar delivers. And, you might expect some surprises.

FACTBOX:

2018 Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic SE

MSRP: $60,100

As tested: $74,895 ó includes 20-way heated/cooled seats ($3,050), extended leather ($1,840), Drive Pro Package ($1,495)

Whatís all the excitement about? Range Roverís all-new model is ready for mud, rocks or the Ritz Carlton

Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine standard; two V-6s available, one a diesel; all mated to 8-speed automatic with satin-chrome paddles

Howís the performance? 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds; well-controlled ride

What about fuel economy? EPA-rated at 21 mpg city, 27 highway (23 combined)