Without doubt, Range Rover’s Evoque is THE car launch of 2011. But while it’s been lauded, there’s also been some confusion as to where it sits within the Land Rover/Range Rover brand, within the car market as a whole and who it’s aimed at. Some, like me, don’t care. Why? Well, because it feels pretty damn good to know that a car manufactured on UK shores has pre-orders of a staggering 20,000-odd already. Another reason I’m not losing sleep over how the Evoque is going to sit in the range is that it’s rare that a car launched as a concept (some three years ago, as the LRX) stays true to its original, envelope-pushing design. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a universe where aesthetics are unimportant, you can’t help but admit that it’s a looker. Go on, look again: those lines, the fact it evokes (geddit?) speed, its city-gent-with-a-weekend-place-in-the-country good looks, the assured confidence of wearing the Range Rover badge.
So, let’s start at the beginning. What is the Evoque? Well, it’s Range Rover’s smallest and ‘greenest’ production car to date. What they call in the industry a “mini-sport utility vehicle.” Or a hybrid (not that kind of hybrid) of a SUV-coupe-hot-hatch, if you want to make things even more complicated. Its aim, I’m guessing, is to attract a younger, cooler driver to the brand and with the help of some clever marketing bods, Range Rover has pulled in some sharply-dressed brand ambassadors to do this job for them – or City Shapers as the glossy brochure calls them. Interesting use of the word ‘city’ right there. So the landed gentry aren’t the core target market – although the motor did look rather beautiful parked up outside Lord Roxburgh’s pad just south of Edinburgh the other week, when I was up in the Borders test-driving the car.
Marketeers reckon that 90 per cent of those buying the Evoque will be new to the brand – not only is that some clever marketing, but that’s also some clever designing. Just from the sheer shape and look of it, there will be an obvious assumption that those wanting to get their hands on the first models rolling out of the factory will be in the 24 to 45 age bracket, urban dwellers, and will include a fair smattering of women amongst them.
The success of the Evoque is – and petrolheads will hate me for saying this – the vehicle’s styling. Whether you’re driving down Park Lane in London or in the wilds of Scotland, this baby turns heads. Parked up outside a village shop, just across from the local kirk in a tiny village in the Scottish Borders, I was approached by one gentleman walking his dog and accosted by another who pulled up next to the Evoque in his Freelander. He’d already ordered his and told me his colour and interior choice, plus his engine size. It gets that kind of reaction from people.
On the inside, things remain in the high-end league: it’s certainly shiny and swish. Some have beautifully stitched leather panels, others have highly-polished knobs and handles, plus wood insets. Driver comfort is paramount, so the adjustable steering column creates the perfect position while the seats move up, down, back and forward. I was driving (I’m 5’4″) and so was another journalist (6′-plus), and we both felt comfortable behind the wheel – after the twiddling of a few knobs.
In terms of bells, whistles and buttons you prod, there’s all manner of gadgetry to keep you busy. I especially liked the split-screen display: so the driver can keep his/her eye on the sat-nav while the passenger can watch television or a DVD. Clever. Like, Mission Impossible clever. You can also adjust the interior lighting with a one-touch button, as well as fiddle with the knobs on your stereo which offers 16-speaker Meridian sound. Radio 4’s never sounded so good. The Park Assist facility will mean you can squeeze its oversize bottom into even the tightest of city centre parking space.
The only area in which this car disappoints is its back-end. Nice face, shame about the… you get the idea. For the driver, because of the sexy exterior slope, visibility out the back is limited to a slit-like back window and narrowing side rear windows. For those sitting in the back, it’s not exactly spacious, but opt for the large panoramic roof window if you’re planning on carrying passengers as this helps to open things up a bit. And that’s in the five-door. While the coupe does look speedier somehow, for practicality I’d go for the five-door every time. Back out in the boot and it’s a good size – we were shown a bale of hay being loaded in the back, in the hope that the farmers’ wives could see its potential. I own a Great Dane, and I’m not so sure he’d be comfortable for a long journey back there, but you’d squeeze a Labrador or Springer Spaniel in perfectly.
So to the technical stuff. I drove, for several hours, the diesel and petrol engine versions of the Evoque. My first introduction to the car was the Si4 240hp six-speed automatic Dynamic edition petrol, and after an hour or so of driving I felt a little deflated. It lacked the solidity and response that I’d expect from something like the Discovery or Range Rover Sport. It felt a bit ‘thin’. Plus the gears insisted on changing down whenever they could, even when I was about to throw myself around a steep, upwards sloping bend. Annoying. A pleasant, comfortable ride, but still a bit annoying and not as much fun as you’d expect when you’ve got over 1.5 tons of brute force at your toe. (And when you’ve got 1.5 tons at your toe, expect a very thirsty petrol car).
After lunch I car-jacked a diesel: the SD4 190hp six-speed automatic in the Prestige finish, to be precise. Now this felt very different. Fun, exciting, fast and powerful – and with that distinctive Range Rover diesel gurgle that lets you know you’re driving something solid (an insider told me that amplifiers had had to be positioned on the engine to increase its volume in the driver’s cabin as the ride was so quiet without them. God is in details such as these). It pulled away confidently, and was great around corners. What’s the point of owning a beast of a car like this if your head isn’t thrown back once you’ve put your foot down? You’d be mad not to opt for the diesel: and at 46.9mpg, it’s not hitting the wallet too badly on a weekly basis.
Having turned off the Borders’ B-roads, we went completely off-road: this was going to be interesting. This was going to be a test. It felt almost – almost – as sturdy as its bigger brothers in the Range Rover stable. Yes, it’s not as confident or agile as the larger cars in the range, and it certainly doesn’t have that workhorse feel about it, but with clever pieces of engineering like the hill descent and the electronic power-assisted steering, it moves off-road well. Other buttons let you switch to a special rut mode (which helps with the lower slung undercarriage, thanks to the adaptive dampers), plus there are others for mud and sandy surfaces. You’re driving with confidence knowing you’ve got the safety backing of Range Rover’s team of excellent engineers and experts behind the wheel with you.
To put it bluntly, it’s a well screwed together piece of kit that really looks the business. If I was looking for a five-door diesel for my stable, I’d shell out for this in the next 12 months, while it’s still got the power to turn heads.
THE SMALL PRINT:
Price: £27,995 to £44,320; Power/torque: 237bhp at 5500rpm / 340lb ft at 1750rpm; Top speed: 135mph; Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 7.1 seconds; Fuel economy: 23.7mpg (EU Urban)