We hit the French Alps in Range Rover's genre-busting Evoque Convertible drop-top SUV
Why are we all so shocked at the idea of the 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible? A drop-top SUV? Since the Evoque convertible was officially launched in France, it seems appropriate to say: Sacre Bleu! Mon Dieu!
Calm down. The idea is hardly a new one, and let's face it, given the popularity of SUVs and the demand for more lifestyle-focussed cars, it was bound to happen.
Various takes on a convertible SUV have come and gone over the years, but is now the time for this style of car to shine? If you were going to pick any current SUV to translate into convertible form, the Range Rover Evoque seems like a logical choice.
The Evoque itself is a designer SUV, a stylised fashion statement that bundles looks with Range Rover's pedigree in producing SUVs.
Back in the '80s it was a bit of a trend to customise your Range Rover and chop the roof off. In the sexy opening scenes of Octopussy, released in 1983, James Bond's stunning squeeze is seen driving a brown Range Rover custom cabriolet (a Rapport Huntsman for the anoraks out there)...
Don't think other manufacturers haven't been thinking along the same lines too. Volkswagen unveiled its baby SUV concept, the T-Cross Breeze, at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show. Or how about the Citroen Cactus M concept we saw in Frankfurt?
There aren't any direct competitors to speak of in this space, so the ragtop Evoque really is in a class of its own. Perhaps Range Rover is trying to tempt buyers away from the new Mercedes C-Class convertible or the BMW 4 Series, or even divert attention from the upcoming Audi A5 convertible.
A Jeep Wrangler may be a soft-top four-wheel drive but you could hardly put it in the same company as the Evoque. They're completely different cars, price-points are miles apart and the Wrangler is designed for serious off-roading whereas the Range Rover is essentially an urban cruiser.
The Evoque has recently undergone a mid-life facelift (read the review here) and the convertible is based on the three-door coupe version.
The soft-top will be available in two trims: the SE Dynamic will be the entry-level offering and the HSE Dynamic is the top spec. The Evoque has five options, Pure, SE, HSE, HSE Dynamic and Autobiography. Interestingly, in Australia, we don't get the SE Dynamic trim for the coupe or five-door version.
There are two engine choices. Firstly, there's the new tD4 2.0-litre four-cylinder 'Ingenium' diesel engine that was introduced to the Evoque in the 2016 facelift which, at 132kW and 430Nm, is the more powerful of the two diesel tunes offered in the regular Evoque. Combined fuel consumption is a claimed 5.1-litres per 100km.
There's also a petrol offering in the Si4, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 177kW and 340Nm with a claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 7.8-litres/100km.
There's quite a price premium for the convertible. The equivalent diesel Evoque HSE Dynamic is $77,765 before on-road costs while the drop-top is $92,410 plus on roads, while the difference in the HSE Dynamic petrol variants is $10,605 with the convertible at $92,015 plus on roads.
The SE Dynamic diesel's list price is $84,835 while the petrol is $84,440. Across the board, then, there is a small premium charged for opting for diesel engines.
All four variants have a paddleshift nine-speed conventional automatic transmission and four-wheel drive with 'Active Driveline' that will intuitively and automatically engage torque vectoring, traction control and 4WD. It will stay in 2WD mode to help conserve fuel unless it senses the need to jump in and help you maintain control of the car.
The drive program for the Evoque Convertible's European launch was a drive from Lyon up to Courchevel in the French Alps. So we certainly put this to the test on windy roads, snow and icy surfaces. The two test cars we spent time in were the HSE Dynamic trim.
Our test cars both had long lists of options, the diesel adding a ski hatch, wind deflector, black pack, surround camera, massage front seats, adaptive LED headlamps with automatic levelling, keyless entry, climate control and a suite of driver assistance systems such as park assist, lane keep assist, driver condition monitor, blind spot monitor with closing vehicle sensing, reverse traffic detection, traffic sign recognition, automatic high-beam assist and head-up display. Ours was also fitted with some app-based connectivity features that we won't see for a while in Australia.
Our petrol variant shared most of the above equipment, though added heated Oxford leather steering wheel and a heated windscreen.
The Evoque convertible scores a new 10.2-inch touchscreen with Jaguar Land Rover's next-generation infotainment system InControl Touch Pro. The system made its debut in the Jaguar XF and the Evoque Convertible is the first Land Rover to have the system installed. With an Intel quad-core processor and solid-state drive technology, it's designed to respond mimic a tablet or smartphone with faster response to touch.
Both had 20-inch wheels with winter tyres fitted to handle the tough conditions. The SE Dynamic comes standard with 18-inch alloys while the HSE Dynamic has 19-inch alloy wheels.
The rising waistline retains the purity of the Evoque styling, and the soft-top has been specially designed to stay true to the sloping profile of the Evoque SUV roofline.
Space inside remains equivalent to the coupe, including rear seat accommodation, while the headroom is similar to that of the five-door. It doesn't feel claustrophobic with the roof up, though all-round visibility remains somewhat compromised, with the A-pillars, C-pillars and squashed down rear window being the main hinderances.
The windscreen and the windows are high enough to deflect the wind and the optional wind deflector works marvels. It passed the 'hair test' with flying colours with the roof down, windows up and foldable wind deflector in play, such is its ability to tame in-cabin turbulence. However, with the windows down, hair starts to fly everywhere.
What's neat is that the seating positioning remains unchanged despite the addition of the bracing that's had to be accommodated to ensure the rigidity of the chassis and the body. In the driver's seat it was possible to forget there was no roof, as it was beyond the scope of my peripheral vision. The top of some convertible windscreens can be dangerously close to forehead height for those over 180cm in height, but the Evoque ragtop isn't among those.
The rear seats are functional and can fit two adults in a reasonably comfortable fashion. Boot space is a tight 251 litres, less than half of the comparable 575 litres available in the five-door Evoque. But that optional ski port is a welcome addition, offering the chance to utilise the space in a more adventurous fashion when needed. Trip to the snow anyone?
According to its maker, the roof is the longest and widest soft-top roof fitted to a production car. It's fully electric and with the simple touch of a button can be opened in 18 seconds and closed in 21 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h.
After a long stretch of motorway we took the opportunity to pop the roof on while moving through a toll plaza. It was perfectly timed and when the boom gate opened and the throttle was pushed back down, the roof had just secured itself into place.
The Evoque has proven to be an extremely popular proposition for Land Rover hitting 500,000 sales in February making it the fastest selling car in the history of the brand. Will the convertible prove popular too? Time will tell but it certainly draws attention on the road.
Over two days we spent around seven hours behind the wheel tackling steep, narrow, winding roads through picturesque French villages and spectacular countryside - it breezed through the aforementioned trip to the snow thanks to it's all-terrain 4WD capability.
There are multiple off-road modes to select from and it was right at home even high in the Alps above Courcheval. The launch provided the opportunity to test out the hill-decent control both on a steep, rutted dirt track, on firm and icy ground and on soft slushy snow.
There's no doubt you could head off the bitumen anytime you feel like it. If you keep in mind the approach and departure angles, as well as the wading depth, the 4WD system is intuitive, inspires confidence and can handle a wide range of scenarios.
Convertibles based on sports sedans can be a little low and tricky to get in and out of. Problem solved with an SUV convertible. It's high set and easy to jump into and out of on any whim - particularly when pulling over on the side of a road while passing through French provincial towns with incredible views and buildings that beckoned as you attempt to pass by.
On the highway and urban roads the stability of the Evoque convertible structure is impressive. One of my biggest frustrations is vibration through the rear-view mirror but it was hardly noticeable in this. The ride is firm and confident while handling every road surface we threw at it, include occasional potholes on the exits of tight hairpins.
It is hard to pass judgement on the overall ride quality due to the winter tyres fitted for this launch. It will be good to get it back on Australian roads when it's launched in quarter three later this year.
The effort put into adding acoustic insulation in the roof has paid off. That said, the winter tyres fitted are surely louder than the summer rubber we'll have fitted in Australia, so there was some noticeable noise from those with the roof up.
Both the petrol and diesel engines sound great in tunnels, and there was ample opportunity to test pop it into sport mode, drop down a gear or two with the paddle shifters and roar through a country tunnel just to hear what they sound like.
The 'Ingenium' diesel certainly seems to have an edge when it comes to refinement. It's responsive and auto its tied to shifts smoothly through the gears. The weight seems to be most apparent when trying to power up a steep incline.
The extra weight of around 280kg is noticeable compared to driving a regular Evoque. It lacks the lightness and ease that characterises that car. But the ragtop certainly doesn't feel cumbersome and upon first getting behind the wheel it felt surprisingly lithe. It's not until jumping into a coupe and driving them back-to-back that the slight difference becomes apparent.
Is this likely to bother a buyer interested in this car? Probably not.
The Evoque has a five-star Euro NCAP rating but only a four-star ANCAP rating. Its maker claims that the convertible is automatically rated the same as the car it was derived from, though Land Rover has added extra safety features, most crucially the roll-over bars in the rear bodywork that will deploy within 90 milliseconds in a roll-over situation.
Overall, Land Rover has done a really thorough job of transforming the Evoque into a ragtop that is stylish. It's comfortable, both engine options perform well considering the weight gain and a lot of thought has been put into ensuring the DNA of the Evoque is obvious and evident in the drop-top.
Land Rover boldly claims the Range Rover Evoque Convertible is the world's first four-seat, four-season, four-wheel-drive luxury convertible compact SUV. It certainly is an exciting prospect that largely maintains the character and drive integrity of the Evoque breed while adding an extra sense of roof-down excitement and fun.