When I first started writing about cars more than 10 years ago, the idea of spending a week in a Range Rover seemed about as unattainable as spending a week on a yacht; it was an almost unimaginable luxury. But a decade ago, there was barely such a thing as a “compact” SUV; big cars were either bland suburban people-movers or, like the Range Rover, luxury picnic machines that could also drive up a mountain. Now, you have a lot of choices.
The flagship Range Rover has long been a standard vehicle for a posh family weekend. Somewhere along the way, Land Rover introduced the Evoque, which was kind of zippy and an early contender in the small SUV segment. In 2017, the Velar appeared, a kind of middle ground between the Range Rover Sport, which is just one notch down from the Range Rover, and the Evoque. Earlier this month, I finally got a chance to drive a Velar for a week. And it definitely is middling.
The driving experience is smooth but unmemorable. The four-cylinder model only generates 247 horsepower, which is not a lot, though the six-cylinder gets close to 400. Still, it’s not particularly fast—the four-cylinder goes zero to 60 in 7.2 seconds—and it’s not particularly agile. It is 9.5 feet long, and yet has only half the available cargo space of, say, a Lincoln Navigator. I had a hard time finding the sport or the utility.
In 2018, the Velar won the title of “Most Beautiful Car In The World” at the World Car Design Awards. But truthfully, it is not the most beautiful car in the world. The interior and exterior styling feels stale and generic, like a two-ton luxury paperweight. You will experience some comfort, but it’s empty comfort, a showroom high-rise condo with rented furniture.
Well, what about cost? The base model starts at $62,000-plus, whereas the P400 “Dynamic” version runs close to $87,000. That is the heart of the mid-luxury price range, and you can get a lot from Volvo, or Mercedes, or BMW for that money. Last year, I drove (and wrote about) the Mazda CX-90, which is a comparable car, and, in my opinion, a superior one, at less cost. Land Rover should not be competing with Mazda for pockets or eyeballs, but that’s where the market is now.
As far as fuel economy goes, the Velar has a large tank, which means that even though I drove it several hundred miles, I only needed to put in half a tank of gas one time. But the city-highway MPG ranges anywhere between 19 and 26, depending on the model and where you’re driving. In an era where “luxury” increasingly means “electric,” that is not winning any medals.
The Apple CarPlay function worked well for the most part, though it would lose connection here and there. I fiddled with the Cruise Control and self-driving technology, and it all seemed to work fine, though there was one moment where I nearly swerved into my blind spot. Most modern cars will scream and blare and flash at you if it looks like you’re about to do something stupid. I had to catch this mistake myself, which, admittedly, is my job as a driver, but I still found myself getting annoyed at the Velar for not going at me harder. That is a 2024 car’s first job. These are all computers on wheels, and getting to your destination in one piece should be the prime directive.
Car and Driver recently named Velar 16th in its rankings of compact luxury SUVs, below offerings from Lincoln and Buick, for pity’s sake. Unless you are a college football program in year two of a rebuild, you don’t want to be ranked 16th in anything.
I don’t mean to be harsh about the Velar. Then again, maybe I do. As a Land Rover, its main skill might be off-roading. But I received specific instructions not to take it off-road, which is never an order I receive when I’m test driving, say, a Jeep. There was a time when Range Rover marketed itself by showing vehicles driving up the sides of mountains. But you would barely notice a Velar, “the most beautiful car in the world,” if it was parked by the side of the road.