Continuing on our first drive, the lower display also offers access to Range Rover’s Terrain Response and Terrain Response 2 settings, rather than them demanding space for a physical control.
While you do get a pair of control wheels, they’re context-specific. Normally, they control HVAC temperature, but when you’re in the Terrain Response page they cycle through the various off-road settings instead. You still, thankfully, get a physical volume knob, along with the rotary transmission dial that rises from the console.
It could have been confusing, but Range Rover swerves that with a clean, tabbed UI. Optically laminated displays, where the TFT is bonded right to the coverglass, lend the impression that the buttons are printed on the panel rather than hovering somewhere underneath it.
I experienced no lag, or sluggish swiping, which can render other cars frustrating. The fact that it’s the ideal setup for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, but that neither is available, makes their absence doubly-frustrating, mind.
A third display is up in the instrumentation, either a 5-inch TFT sandwiched between analog dials on lower trims or, on SE and above, a full 12.3-inch TFT which can show either a full map, single dial, or twin dial layouts. On the steering wheel, the button labels are now backlit which allows them to vary according to mode and situation. Ambient LED lighting has ten color settings to choose between, and there’s LTE WiFi with an eight-client hotspot, Range Rover’s companion smartphone apps, and up to four USB ports and two 12V outlets.
As with the exterior, Range Rover’s attention to detail continues through the cabin. The new perforated leather hides a subtle Union Jack logo, which is picked up again on the speaker grilles. Everywhere you might be expected to touch is soft to the fingertips.
The mixture of patterns and textures can edge on overwhelming in places; the door trim, for example, has perhaps one too many finishes. Overall though, Range Rover deserves credit for pushing the envelope in materials. Offered alongside the leather, for instance, is a high-tech Kvadrat fabric option which promises to be just as premium as the more traditional hide. These aren’t cloth seats just because you can’t afford the Nappa, they’re a legitimate design choice in their own right: a tactile wool-blend, offset with Suedecloth inserts.
Legroom in the rear is impressive, helped of course by a wheelbase far closer to that of the Range Rover Sport than of the Evoque. A six-footer shouldn’t have too many problems sitting behind a similarly tall person up-front, and neither is headroom an issue despite the tapering roofline. The rear bench folds with a 40/20/40 split, but even with it up there’s a decent amount of space behind the power tailgate, that opens with a waggled foot underneath the rear bumper.
The Land Rover Activity Key is an option, a battery-free NFC sports wristband that can lock and unlock the Velar while you indulge in the sort of extreme sports that usually feature in promotional photos for cars of this ilk. We saw this in the F-Pace of yesteryear. That’s not to say the Velar can’t venture further than the parking lot. You need a certain level of off-road ability in order wear the Range Rover badge, and this mid-size model is no exception.
Coil-spring versions have 8.4-inches of ground clearance, rising to 9.9-inches when air suspension is added. The former can wade 23.6-inches through water; the latter 25.6-inches; each supports a maximum approach angle of 24.5-degrees, a break angle of 20.3-degrees, and a departure angle of 27-degrees. Range Rover’s Adaptive Dynamics system tracks wheel movement 500 times per second, and body movement 100 times a second, to individually adjust damping forces at each wheel according to terrain; brake-based torque vectoring, also standard, lightly slows the inside wheels through corners for greater stability.
Despite some tempting riverbeds, Range Rover preferred that we kept the Velar on the tarmac for the most part. Across an off-road demo course, though, the SUV’s all-wheel drive system had a chance to prove its worth. Capable of switching from 100-percent rear bias to fully locking the transfer case to the front in 165 milliseconds, it works with the optional Active Locking Rear Differential – available on the V6 – that shifts rear power side to side according to individual grip.
Terrain Response offers Eco, Comfort, Grass-Gravel-Snow, Mud-Ruts, Sand, and Dynamic drive modes through the lower touchscreen; Terrain Response 2, an option, adds an Auto setting that allows the Velar to figure out the right mode itself. You also get the all-terrain progress control system that’s effectively low-speed cruise control for creeping across arduous terrain; hill descent control; and low-traction launch control for getting started on slippery surfaces. Add a hitch, and the Velar can tow up to 2500kg on V6 models, with Advanced Tow Assist for reversing using the camera and rotary controller.
I suspect that few Velar owners will make particular use of any of the SUV’s off-roading talents. Nonetheless, in a segment – and for a marque – where “knowledge that you could” is equally important as actual ability, make no mistake. This is a true Range Rover, with all the bragging rights that comes with.
On the one hand, the Velar absolutely feels like the “modern Range Rover,” easily eclipsing the style and technology of its bigger siblings. With the US line-up topping out at the 3.0-liter V6, though, the allure of the Sport’s silky and full-throated 5.0-liter V8 may still prove too much to ignore. Combine Velar and V8, and I suspect you’d have the perfect equation for many luxury SUV buyers.
That doesn’t diminish what Range Rover has done now, though. Somehow the 2018 Velar both tugs at the sentimental heart-strings and appeals to the demanding modern driver: heritage and high-tech, in a deeply special package.