Concept car to reality. How many times do you read that in a sales brochure and are left feeling short-changed?
Land Rover had teased before – its well-received Range Stormer concept wasn’t really a portent for the Range Rover Sport. The sharp, low-slung 3-door body, with intriguing details like crushed glass to diffuse glow from its exterior lights, were eschewed for the high-rise and heavy handed production version.
But when then LRX wowed Geneva back in 2008, there was a tangible buzz about this being different. Here was a stylistic reinterpretation of Land Rover design cues, shrink wrapped into a purposeful little package that hinted at a confident brand, nodding at its history, but definitingly looking towards a bright future. Would they have the conviction to turn it into a production reality?
2011 brought the answer, the LRX no longer a halo Land Rover but the first rung on the Range Rover hierarchy – the Evoque.
The Evoque’s certainly dramatically styled – but is it a Range Rover?
Times have changed and we need to think of Range Rover not as a single model line but as a sub-brand within the group. Land Rover caters for rugged and practical clientele, Range Rover for those demanding luxury and style. Think of the former as Hunter wellies, the latter as Louboutin heels and you’re about there.
Land Rover itself provides an apt example, for underneath that slinky Evoque bodywork is a platform based upon one shared with the taller, roomier, less expensive but arguably less visually appealing Freelander 2.
Should we be concerned? Well, the second generation Freelander wasn’t as well received, or as popular, as Land Rover and its Indian owners, Tata, had hoped but ‘bad’ car it isn’t. By spinning a second, more coveted design from the re-engineered underpinnings, Land Rover is having a another bite of the cherry. Judging by the number of Evoques you see on the road, JLR management got it right this time around.
Familiar design language from the stately Range Rover is integral to the pert, size-masking shape Gerry McGovern’s produced for the Evoque. Some of the LRX’s detailing has vanished in the productionisation process, like the vertical door handles as per the 1970 Spen King original, but place it next to the 3-door version that reached the market and the two are barely distinguishable. Range Rovery DNA is present through the clamshell bonnet, floating roof and chamfered corners on the squared-off body.
What’s new is the sporty air achieved by narrowing and drawing back the headlights and grille and that aggressive slope to the roofline as it tapers rearwards; the shallow glasshouse which concludes with a letter box sized rear screen completes the hunkered down stance.
Looks like it might be a bit tight in the Evoque’s rear?
Looks are deceptive in the small Range Rover’s case. Naturally, it’s not as spacious as the Freelander 2’s upright body but there’s room for five adults, at a push, within the Evoque cabin – as a family vehicle accommodating three kids on the back seat and copious swag of school run detritus, it fits the bill.
Although the coupe (really, Land Rover?) body looks shallower, both it and the more practical 5-door version tested here have the same internal and external dimensions. Naturally, a pair of extra access points make it a lot easier to live with in terms of usability but the Evoque loses a modicum of its visual delight from the purity of the 3-door form.
Land Rover provides an wealth of interior colour ways to brighten the cabin, which has the potential to be dark due to the high waistline. The Prestige model being sampled also featured extra niceties with the LUX pack, as well as an optional glazed roof that makes the Evoque’s interior seem more spacious and airy.
Being a high end model, the Evoque is already brimmed with electrical equipment to ease the chores of driving and the cabin itself was impeccably constructed, it was just a pity some of the choices of plastics felt a tad utilitarian for a car priced firmly in the mid-£40,000s.
All the controls felt logically sited and worked well, looking familiar from other Jaguar Land Rover interiors, but the metallic finish to the plastic lost the tactile appeal of the rubber coatings fitted to the Jaguars.
The dash itself follows familiar Range Rover patterns too, with a padded horizontal band bisected in the centre by a reclined console. This Evoque, being an automatic, naturally comes fitted with the cylindrical gear selector, first seen on the XF, rising satisfyingly from the glossy black mouldings.
Inside the Evoque is likely to be less love it/loathe it than the outside – it’s a pleasant place in which to spend time, the seats front and rear being comfortable and the high setting offering a safe and commanding vantage point of the road ahead, but I can’t help but feel it could have been bolder still.
As an SUV, how does the Evoque perform on the road?
Any car wearing a Land Rover emblem as a badge of honour will be more than simply ‘capable’ off-road but to suggest the majority of Evoques go anywhere dirtier than a muddy puddle on a particularly inclement day is a fallacy.
In fact, the Evoque is the most road-biased model the marque has produced. Much fettling has been employed on the platform, the EUCD underpinnings shared with many Ford and Volvo models from when Land Rover was part of the FoMoCo family, aimed at making the Evoque a satisfying driver’s car.
The result is one that’s successful for an SUV but doubts remain about whether those for whom driving satisfaction and an ‘at oneness’ with their car would automatically opt for the smallest Range Rover.
There’s more resistance and communication through the steering wheel than might be expected but it still errs on the side of vagueness through demanding bends. You quickly adapt to it though, experience reassuring you that turn-in and initial bite of the rubber will see you briskly through the corner. Traction from all four wheels ensures the Evoque doesn’t get wayward but arrive at a corner carrying too much speed and you sense the onset of understeer.
Quality of the ride was where the Evoque received mixed reviews, being fine on billiard table smooth motorways but somewhat less settled over urban ruts. The result of the sportier suspension and damping arrangement is a ride which deals with the initial bump absorption effectively but allows ripples of intrusion through to passengers as it rides over secondary vibrations.
Body control on the other hand is composed and under control, the Land Rover showing little sign of rolling into sweeping curves scratching its door handles on the asphalt.
Monocoque construction, there’s little flex through the shell, reducing cabin rattles and creaks but limiting for challenging off-roading. Fortunately, if traversing mountains is more your thing, Land Rover can help you out with its other offerings.
The Evoque still looks a substantial car – is a 2.2 turbo diesel up to the job?
With 190bhp, the 2179cc common rail engine in the SD4 Evoque is shared with other Land Rovers and the Jaguar XF, offering a welcome dose of grunt at 309 lb/ft of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, the Range Rover is blessed with enough thrust to reach 60mph in just 8 seconds, topping out a top speed of 121mph.
It’s a flexible and quiet unit too, sounding snarly rather than clattery as it’s worked to provide desirable levels of performance. The gears kick down briskly and smoothly when required, delivering rapid overtaking pace whenever required.
In spite of its performance and automatic gears, the Evoque is reasonably economical, delivering a claimed average of 43.5mpg. After a week at the wheel, the trip computer suggested an average of 39mpg over a wide range of urban commutes and motorway leg stretching. Not brilliant but tolerable but if running costs are more of a priority then opt for either the eD4 or TD4 models but be prepared to sacrifice performance. The automatic SD4’s hefty VED Band H rating might swing the momentum to a cheaper model for many.
The Range Rover Evoque is a brave new world for Land Rover but one which is already producing sizeable revenue streams for the company, as well as keeping the Halewood factory where its produced very busy.
Is it a mini Range Rover? Well, it’s desirable, well appointed and expensive too. On road it’ll out-handle its biggest sibling but couldn’t hope to hold a candle to it off road.
That tenuous and tired Victoria Beckham marketing link up suggests wading grille deep in rivers before scaling impossible-looking slopes are past times that wouldn’t even cross the minds of most Evoquers. This car is one people could covet purely on looks alone.
But it’s much, much more substantial than just a Freelander with a glamorous makeover. As well as driving up JLR profits, the Evoque is a car that can attract customers to the Range Rover family much younger in their lives than before. As the families and wallets grow to first Sport and then full-size Rangie proportions, Land Rover now has a hierarch to keep buyers loyal for years to come.
It might not be Land Rover’s traditional market but they’ve understood exactly what this sector wants from a car in a way that makes the Freelander 2 appear too safe and conservative. The Range Rover Evoque is a focused and satisfying car – its success is deserved but also no surprise.
Thumbs Up: Styling boldness, build quality, grunt, handling, useable space, performance, brand appeal.
Thumbs Down: Secondary ride quality, some interior plastics, not cheap to buy or run.
Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque range starts at £28,695 for the 5-door eD4 Pure up to £45,420 for the 3-door coupe SD4 Prestige LUX, SD4 Dynamic LUX and Si4 Dynamic LUX models.
Model Tested: Land Rover Range Rover Evoque SD4 Prestige LUX automatic
Top Speed: 121mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 43.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 174g/km
VED Band/Cost: H/£195pa
Engine size: 4/2179cc common rail fuel injection, turbocharged diesel
Boot space: 575-1445l
Kerb weight: 1685kg
Price: £44,420 (September 2012)
All photographs © Keith WR Jones 2012