Mountain Wheels: Range Rover Velar provides comfortably scaled versatility (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Range Rover Velar provides comfortably scaled versatility (column)

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

After yet another bewildering week in America, I'm prompted to fixate on better, simpler times — like, about four weeks ago, in the winter wonderland of North Carolina's Biltmore Estate.

It was pre-Christmas excitement and the Biltmore House, the largest privately owned home in the country, the 1895-era testament to the successes of the Vanderbilt family, was all decked out for the holidays. How wonderful it was, indeed, with more snow than Colorado, just to make it all the more magical.

And since the larger property is also home to one of Land Rover's three U.S. driving schools, it seemed like a nice spot to check out the company's newest offering, the Velar. No relation, by the way, to the disgraced financier whose name was associated with several Vail-area performance venues.

Rather, this one is definitely evidence of Land Rover's growing success in both the U.S. and international markets, the fourth member of the company's higher-end Range Rover family.

Velar occupies a spot between the Range Rover Sport and the popular but smaller Evoque, with a lower-rooflined design that is evidently indicative of the direction of future Range Rover models.

Velar is only 2 inches shorter than the Sport but it is almost entirely a different animal, with a stance and a status that's capable, comfortable and loaded down with the newest iteration of the company's evolving mechanical and electronic technologies.

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Both diesel and gasoline versions are available, ranging between 180 and 380 horsepower, and the car's advanced off-road Terrain Response system and its unbelievable dexterity still make it a fully accomplished member of the Land Rover family.

Besides sporting a beltline slightly higher than Ed Grimley's — here, the optional 22-inch wheels seem like they literally come up to the vehicle's hood ­— the entire look is indeed like a vastly evolved Evoque, on a much larger scale.

It's somewhat less imposing in person, though it is possible to entirely disappear inside the vehicle if you set the seats to their lowest, gangster-styled position. For better visibility, I would recommend jacking them up a bit, though you may also find your headroom a bit limited thanks to that truncated roof profile. Seats are certainly more like the sports seats in the inter-related Jaguar F-Pace SUV, and tend to suck you into place, comfortably.

And while not quite as cozy inside as the smaller Evoque, foot space and general proportions in the driver and front passenger compartment are not gigantic. This is partially due to the Velar's impressive but space-eating shock-and-awe feature, the new InControl Touch Pro Duo system. That is a very broad touchscreen system which literally spills off of the center stack and into the center console.

Tap the starter and it all comes to life as a very vivid, two-stack, 10-inch-wide touchscreen controller, the lower of which can be reconfigured to provide climate, off-road or repositioned entertainment or navigation information, shared with the main instrument panel and an articulating, widescreen touchscreen on the dash.

After a few days of experimenting, it's not as overwhelming as it seems and the only downside is a lot of fingerprints everywhere (even the vehicle's piano black door frames seem especially susceptible).

Don't come packing an oversized coffee cup, however, as the car's underlying European-ness means two very small cupholders, one of which is hidden in another piano-black cubby.

We got endless opportunities to check out Velar's off-road chops in snow and mud while cruising the property's driving experience trails. An air suspension system is standard on V6 models and available as an option elsewhere; even without the added clearance, Velar is capable of the regular range of seemingly impossible with near-vertical hill climbs, ridiculously sideways posture and poised agility.

We didn't spend a lot of time on the highway but after a subsequent week in the diesel-powered model back home in Colorado, it's clear that Velar is even more at home as a solid, comfortable freeway cruiser.

The diesel brings a lot of off-the-line power and got me well in excess of 35 MPG during a lengthy highway journey; the 380-horsepower turbocharged and supercharged V6 will also be a favorite for capable cruising at high altitude.

2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar

MSRP: $49,990 and up

Powertrain: 180-HP diesel or 247-HP gasoline turbocharged four-cylinder/380-HP supercharged/turbocharged V6, all with eight-speed automatic transmission.

EPA figures: Diesel engine: 28 combined (26 city/30 highway)