Test Drive: 2018 Range Rover Velar First Edition

Courtesy Range Rover

In Norway, it’s a journey to a mountaintop trolls call home.

I’m staring down the road just traveled from a great height. I’ve driven the new 2018 Range Rover Velar First Edition to the top of Trollstigen mountain in central Norway. From here, the road looks like a straight line flanked by a pair of mountain ranges until it approaches Trollstigen, ostensibly the home of the ill-tempered trolls featured in Norse myth, where the narrow road switches back and forth like a whiplashed snake until it reaches the summit at an elevation of 2,790 feet.

The journey here from the stylish coastal city of Alesund includes lightly-trafficked winding roads, tunnels, a ferry across a fjord, and a ride over the 850-foot-long Storseisundet bridge with a design that seems inspired by baseball’s hanging curve pitch as it drops down and away after rising high over the Norwegian Sea. It’s a Viking landscape sprinkled with modern architectural gems like a modern cabin designed by Kjell Vatne that looks out on a mystical-looking mountain that seems to be spewing clouds from a vent in its side.

The modern also mixes with the practical past in boutique hotels like the Storfjord with living grass rooftops that insulate both against winter’s cold and summer’s heat. The random brightly colored bicycles at road crossings, actually a tribute to a local who won a stage of the Tour de France, add a touch of whimsy.

Courtesy Range Rover

That mix of modern sensibility blended with a distinguished pedigree not adverse to a bit of fun aptly describes the new Velar, which occupies a new mid-sized slot between the English company’s bigger Discovery and smaller Evoque. The Velar stands upright in the front with slender headlights in a recognizable Range Rover stance but then tapers away into a more aerodynamic shape that suggests, along with the flush door handles, this all-wheel-drive vehicle is more tailored toward driving on pavement than dirt—even though it did navigate a slippery gravel slope quite easily.

There is an air suspension system that lowers the aluminum chassis to resist drag, and it’s a big factor in the Velar’s ability to zip from zero to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, a number that is indicative of the Velar’s impressive passing power on two-lane Norwegian roads. The supercharged 380-horsepower V6 engine is governed by an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The First Edition, of which only 500 are available during the initial model year, means that much of what is otherwise optional is standard in the Velar I’m driving. While the interior is comfortably refined, by far the most noticeable feature is the innovative use of a pair of stacked 10-inch touch-screen displays above the center console that eliminates most traditional buttons and dials, leaving just a pair of rotary dials and a smaller volume control for the audio system. In practice, having two displays meant I could retain “big picture” information like the navigational map on one screen while using the second to switch among driving modes, for example. There is also a five-inch screen in front of the driver that displays speed gauges and other basic information.

Courtesy Range Rover

The view from the top of Trollstigen is magnificent, but it’s not the only mountain I intend to climb. I’m headed toward the ski resort of Strandafjellent, at the eastern end of Norway’s Sunnmore Alps. I’m not going to have any trouble getting there.

$89,300; landroverusa.com