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Video | The Range Rover Velar Is the Coolest Range Rover Ever

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author photo by Doug DeMuro February 2018

I recently had a chance to drive a 2018 Range Rover Velar, which is a new Land Rover model that's roughly the same size and price as all the other Land Rover models. My assumption, when I heard they were coming out with the Range Rover Velar, was that Land Rover had gone crazy and they were now going to manufacture an SUV for every single different market segment, including SUVs that compete with other versions of Land Rover's own SUVs.

In fact, my thought at the time they announced the Velar was: "Do they really need another one?" And now, after driving the Velar, I'm still not sure about the answer. But I'm certainly glad they made it.

To start, a little background on the Velar I drove: It came from a viewer in Northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., and the model I drove was a Velar R-Dynamic P380 HSE, which is a tremendously stupid way of saying that it was the top trim level, with a 380-horsepower supercharged V6 engine. The sticker price on the Velar I drove was just a shade over $86,000, and it had basically every option except the head-up display, which the owner regretfully told me he wishes he had gotten.

OK. But why is it the coolest Range Rover ever?

Well, here's the thing: Range Rovers have always been cool, ever since they first came out as an expensive luxurious European alternative to American SUVs like the Ford Bronco and Chevy Blazer. But they've also always been practical and off-roady, above all else -- and they've always had a relatively functional, boxy design, with attention paid to size and interior room and blah blah blah.

Well, none of that stuff is paramount to the Velar's mission. Instead, the Velar is supposed to be gorgeous first and everything else later, and it totally succeeds; it's the first Range Rover with truly sleek, sporty and modern lines, instead of a stately and proper design. It's meant to take on those new coupe SUVs -- the BMW X6 and Mercedes GLE Coupe and such -- but it does so without resorting to the coupe SUV gimmick. The end result is that it's better-looking and more distinctive and more practical. Truly, I can't say enough good things about the Velar's exterior styling.

And then we move on to the interior, where I have the exact same opinion. It's gorgeous. The seats are beautiful, the materials are excellent, the steering wheel is among the best I've ever seen. They've gotten rid of all the buttons so the entire center console is a screen. Yes, the entire center console: There's just one button -- the power/volume button -- and everything else is totally touch screen and totally configurable. That means if you want to adjust your climate control, you do it in the very same place you adjust your drive modes and your heated and massaging seats, and Land Rover doesn't have to devote interior space to all of that stuff individually.

Even though the Velar now has three big screens inside it -- one for the gauge cluster, plus an upper and lower screen in the middle -- the result is actually simplification: Gone are the days when you have 12 buttons for climate control, four for heated seats, a wheel with pictures for drive modes, etc. It's all right there and surprisingly intuitive … when it works. I say that because, during my time with the Velar, the center screens completely froze once. They wouldn't turn on even though I stopped the car, turned it off, and turned it back on again -- three times. In the end, the screens finally turned back on after I stopped the car, turned it off, walked away for a few minutes, and then tried it all again. So I get the sense you'll want your Velar with a warranty. I suppose the Velar is a typical Land Rover, after all.

But then again, it isn't a typical Land Rover when you get behind the wheel. Even though I love the exterior and the interior and I like the screens, the single thing that impressed me most with the Velar was its driving experience. It's fast, spry and it feels even sportier than the Jaguar F-Pace I drove with this very same engine. Steering is a bit light, but handling is tremendously secure, the transmission is quick and the Velar is wildly fun to drive. I only wish there was an SVR version with even more power -- I think that'd be my pick for the very best all-around car in the industry. The Velar doesn't drive like a sports car, of course, but I honestly and truly believe it's probably the sportiest "normal" SUV I've driven ("normal" being shy of all-out performance SUVs like the BMW X5M and Bentley Bentayga, which cost far more) -- and that includes vehicles like the Porsche Cayenne S and Audi SQ5. The Velar is impressive on the road. Really, really impressive.

Then again, you might consider me biased: I've owned three Land Rover models, including two currently -- an old Defender and a 2006 Range Rover. But I wasn't going into this whole thing expecting to like the Velar. Instead, I was starting to think it was a good example of Land Rover's lineup run amok with too many products. In the end, that thought may still be true. But I don't really care. Now I want one.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Video | The Range Rover Velar Is the Coolest Range Rover Ever - Autotrader