Style married to substance
By David Morgan
I COULDN'T make my mind up about the Evoque.
It is a sales success story without precedence, but its squat cabin and pillbox slit of a rear window are at odds with the practical elegance and handsome design of its stablemates.
But I suspect I'm missing the point. Evoque, both in three-door Coupé and my five-door test car, is more of a design accessory than a hardened rock climber and as such appeals to a different type of Land Rover/Range Rover buyer.
Dealers are being inundated with enquiries and winning many conquest sales from other premium sporting marques in addition to traditional Land Rover/Range Rover customers.
So far 90,000 examples have been built for a global market on Merseyside, with long queues forming for the baby Range Rover – and I'm not surprised.
The Evoque five-door is part of a family of 11 – all bar two of which are fitted with an able permanent 4x4 system. The remaining pair are entry level front drive models.
I've been testing a 2.2-litre SD4 turbodiesel in Premium trim, coupled to a 4x4 traction system with a six-speed manual transmission and the manufacturer's award-winning push button terrain response system that's just about to appear with the same function format in Land Rover's revised Freelander 2.
After a week with the manual Evoque, I still don't like the slit-like rear window and the "squashed toad" side elevation of this premium 4x4.
But I have to say it's a superb compact 4x4 with incredible head-turning style that's surprisingly able off-road and has sufficient space to make it a reasonable cargo carrier.
It's more expensive and not as roomy as its Land Rover Freelander 2 sister – but it is a lot more agile, more comfortable and delivers a sporting feel the Freelander can't match.
When it comes to luggage capacity, the Evoque is not disgraced. It has a boot, with a marginally restricted height, that will swallow a good load of 575 litres where the Freelander manages 755 litres.
Drop the Evoque's rear seats and you are left with a long and totally flat load space that can accommodate 1,445 litres – a bit short of Freelander's 1,670 litres, but still good for a vehicle in the exclusive Range Rover club.
There are more automatic Evoques sold than manuals, and I would have liked to drive this smooth and powerful turbodiesel coupled up to the six-speed auto transmission that costs £1,700 extra.
But the manual was not a disappointment – even though only 15 per cent of buyers opt for the manual box.
Unlike Mercedes-Benz which still struggles to deliver a good manual change and is an expert at automatic transmissions, this Range Rover has a perfect cog-swapper – slick with a positive movement reminiscent of a short-throw change in a sports car. It made the 2.2 SD4 great to drive.
My test car was precise on the road, with excellent roll control and a well-damped suspension.
I was pleased to find it lacked the excessive road noise that spoils so many new cars – despite the fact my brilliant white machine was running on 19-inch alloys.
Crucially, though, the tyres were noise-absorbing 55 section covers and made the Evoque look good and ride well. It turned a good looker into a great cruiser.
Driving across Sutherland to Scourie, the SD4 soaked up irregular surfaces and was a relaxing platform.
The only complaint was that irritating visibility issue from the rear where narrow glazing and a high waistline restricts views.
My visit to Sutherland was primarily to try the Evoque off-road over a soggy moorland track I know well.
With loose stone sections and steep climbs, it is perfect for exploring how a vehicle copes in the rough stuff – and the terrain response system worked brilliantly.
Push button control lets the driver select drive modes easily on the move.
The four-cylinder 2.2 SD4 turbodiesel is a smoothie. It delivers plenty of power and 309lb.ft. of torque that remains almost constant in the usable rev range from just 1750rpm.
That makes the Evoque easy to drive and blesses it with a brisk feel under acceleration and reasonably quick off the line.
Range Rover's published figures suggest you can average 49.6mpg on the government combined cycle – that's unusually fair.
On test after a lengthy drive around the West Highlands and a brisk cruise along the Pentland Firth coast and down the A9, I managed 43mpg. That's not bad for a car that has a kerb weight of almost 1.7 tonnes. What was even more impressive was that round town I still managed 40mpg.
Evoque is not a cheap option – but you get a lot of quality for your money. My 2.2 SD4 Premium is well up the range and costs £38,295 – significantly
more than an equivalently powered 2.2
Along with a £1,150 adaptive dynamics suspension tuning pack and £305 for bi-xenon headlamps, Range Rover had added a £4,325 LUX pack that includes a powered tailgate which I think is unnecessary, an 825-watt surround sound audio system which is impressive, great park assist system with surround camera and tow assist facility, and a TV installation that is both analogue and digital.
You also get a great DAB radio, a heated windscreen as a legacy from its Ford ownership days, plastic front wings, and LED running lights with a clever programme that switches one off when you select the turn indicator on that side to ensure the flashing orange light is seen easily.
A lot of thought has gone into this fine Range Rover newcomer. I still don't like its squat looks and over-small rear glazing – but the Evoque with full 4x4 is a superb addition to the Range Rover stable and delivers genuine ability with style.
FINAL THOUGHT: One for the stylistas – but capable with it. Designed to turn heads and sharpen Range Rover's image, the Evoque is far from being a good-looking dumb blonde. The off-road ability of the full 4x4 model is really impressive, and levels of handling and comfort make it a perfect baby for the Range Rover stable. Great car.
Range Rover Evoque Prestige five-door SD4 manual
- Price: £38,295 (£44,075 as tested)
- Capacity: 2179cc
- Power: 190bhp
- 0-62mph: 10 seconds
- Maximum speed: 124mph
- Economy: Combined 49.6mpg, Urban 42.2mpg
- Motorsnorth average: 43mpg
- CO2 emissions: 149g/km (VED F)
- ESP: Standard
- Insurance: Group 22