PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Back in the 1950s, many Americans were wondering how long nuclear fallout would affect the United States should the Soviet Union decide to lob a nuclear bomb at us. Instead, they should have been wondering about the half-life of midcentury modern design, which was first popularized 60 years ago, and is as popular as ever. It's an apt question in this city known for its midcentury architecture, not to mention interiors that enshrine those who have become the immortals of midcentury modern interior design: Jacobsen, Saarinen, Eames, Miller, and Knoll.
But for Gerry McGovern, chief design officer for Land Rover, the city's modernism is timeless. "It has longevity, these places in Palm Springs prove that," he said of its housing stock. "They look as modern today as they did when they were created 50 years ago."
That same sensibility can be found in McGovern's transformative designs for Range Rover, the luxury SUV line sold by Land Rover. "When I went to Land Rover, cars looked like the way they did because of what they did. That isn't relevant anymore."
That's apparent from the first glance of the all-new 2018 Range Rover Velar, McGovern's finest demonstration of modernist car design. "By modernism, what I mean is quite simply reduction. It's about paring everything back."
There's not a wasted line on this SUV, with sumptuous surfaces that soften its stout stance. Its perfect size and style fits between the Evoque and Range Rover Sport and like them, its projects an aura of wealth and sophistication. Built using the same aluminum-intensive platform and construction as the Jaguar F-Pace, the Velar shares its sibling's welcoming ways. Approach a Velar, the mirrors unfold as the flush door handles pop out invitingly, even through 4 mm of ice. The vehicle even lowers, to make access easier.
But nothing prepares you for what awaits inside, where McGovern's minimalistic vision proves that simplicity is the ultimate luxury.
Gone is the chaos created by a surfeit of controls. Instead, sleek piano black glass surfaces lie alongside aluminum accents and sumptuous leather. The center stack is comprised of two 10-inch capacitive touchscreens, which the company calls InControl Touch Pro Duo. The top screen controls navigation, audio and other infotainment duties, while the bottom screen houses climate controls and the Land Rover's Terrain Response system for when road conditions deteriorate. Enhancing the cabin's optional 12.3-inch instrument cluster that can be configured four ways. A five-inch cluster is standard.
For the first time, Range Rover is offering a non-leather option to its standard leather interiors. It's made by Kvadrat, a Danish company that has produced fabrics for Knoll, Herman Miller and other midcentury moderns for many years.
"I do think the whole world of textile design is moving on, and we're going to see some fundamental changes in this area and we want to get ahead of the game," said McGovern. "It's going to replace leather."
And while the Velar's stylish wardrobe and technology may seduce you, its capability will go beyond anything most drivers will throw at it.
Engine choices include a 247-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a 380-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V6, or a 180-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel. An eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive are standard.
The V6 provides the sort of power you'd expect of a Range Rover, with the transmission providing quick, unobtrusive shifts, even in manual mode. Thankfully, the transmission holds each gear rather than downshifting for better fuel economy. The tested V6 had the optional air suspension, which provides up to 9.9 inches of ground clearance and 25.4 inches of water-fording capability. As you might expect, the comfort drive mode suits the Velar, with its magic carpet ride and modest side-to-side motions, although it's far from excessive. Choosing dynamic mode instead adjusts everything for on-road fun, with quicker steering and a firmer ride with noticeable jiggling.
Both four-cylinder engines had a coil suspension, which feels less plush and assured on pockmarked, crowned roads. Yet once it sets in a corner, this setup proves as stable as the air suspension. The turbo four feels potent, yet turbo lag is evident when driven with enthusiasm. The diesel seems more even-tempered, with a smooth, quiet, yet powerful demeanor and little if any noise or vibration.
Venturing off-road proves the Velar to be as capable and refined as any Range Rover, although its steering lacked any sense of feel. Its impeccable off-road comfort keeps passengers protected from the shock of rocky trails as torque vectoring and traction control manage torque distribution to suit the terrain and conditions.
And it was blessedly quiet, which made it perfect for listening to the incredible Meridian sound system.
Despite its desirable design and up-to-date technology, the Range Rover Velar proves that its beauty and sophistication doesn't make it any less capable than other Land Rovers or Range Rovers. Best of all, the Velar's base price starts just below that of a top-of-the-line Evoque, making this an affordable modernist luxury, which is more than I can say of a Noguchi coffee table.
And it looks incredible in front of your midcentury modern home.
Base prices: $49,900-$89,300
Engine: Supercharged 3.0-liter V6; turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (gas, diesel)
Horsepower: 380; 247; 180
Torque: 332; 269; 317 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 18/24 (V6); 21/27 (four-cylinder); 26/30 (diesel)
Wheelbase: 113.1 inches
Length: 189.1 inches
Cargo capacity: 34.4-70.1 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,512 pounds (V6); 5,291 pounds (Four-cylinder)
Curb weight: 4,217-4,471 pounds
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.
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