The new Range Rover Evoque sets an almighty high benchmark for luxury compact SUVs.
The new Range Rover Evoque signals the beginning of a new era for the iconic British brand. As the smallest, lightest and most efficient Range Rover to date, the Evoque shows that even a brand as historic as Land Rover can make an irresistible compact SUV, so long as it’s done right.
From the outside, I am yet to meet a single human being that thinks the Range Rover Evoque is unattractive. If I do eventually come across such a person, I would have to question their taste (and sanity). It’s, truly, stunning. It looks fantastic in photos but to see it on the road as it screams past you or as it sits hovering in your rear-view mirror (with its cat-eye style day time running lamps), it’s a work of art.
The attention to detail and meticulous design characteristics that have gone into styling the Evoque are nothing short of remarkable. In the car industry it’s often the case that designers will come up with an amazing concept and the engineers will then give them 100 reasons why it can’t be made that way and eventually dumb it down to mediocrity. In the case of the Range Rover Evoque, the designers had the upper hand.
The first time we saw the Evoque was in the form of the Range Rover LRX concept in 2008. If you put the original concept and an Evoque side by side, it’s almost as if they simply made it as it was in concept form. There has been little compromise on design; the Land Rover team knew they were on a winner so they insisted the engineers work within the boundaries of the concept design. This is the same philosophy that Apple employs when it creates a new product - driven by designers and not engineers. For that reason, the Range Rover Evoque had already won half the battle before it even went to war.
There has been over 37,000 pre orders for the Evoque worldwide, which is astonishing as none of the buyers had properly inspected the goods they are buying. 10,000 Australians have shown strong interest and more than 200 have already put their money down. This sort of pre-order interest is not common to many brands, let alone Range Rover.
It would almost not matter what the engineers had put under the skin because as most would agree, half the decision in buying a car is made on looks alone. Thankfully though, the Range Rover Evoque packs a winning package all around.
Based on the Freelander platform, the Evoque is a compact SUV that is at its best around suburbia. Range Rover allowed us to test its off-roading ability rather substantially but given we spent most of our time crossing rivers and climbing slippery hills on 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in low profile tyres, it’s pretty evident that despite having great 4WD ability, it’s unlikely many owners will ever use it. Which is why there is a two-wheel drive version coming next year.
Lets be honest, Land Rover may make the Defender, but the Evoque is a different beast all together. Die hard fans will say the company has gone soft, but in fact, it’s simply creating what the market wants, which is what smart companies do. Range Rover currently has an 80:20 male to female skew of buyers that are generally over 40 (for Range Rover Sport) or 50 (for Range Rover Vogue). For the Evoque, Range Rover expects buyers in the 35-45 year old bracket with a 50:50 male to female split. That’s not to say this is a girl’s car (far from it), but given the aesthetically pleasing design, it’s understandable why it would be as popular for men and women.
There are two different body shapes for the Evoque: three-door coupe and five-door. It should be pretty obvious which shape is right for you, sure the three-door has a slightly lower roofline and looks more sporty but not only does it cost an additional $1,500 (don’t ask why having two less doors costs more money!), it’s also rather impractical.
You’d buy it if you were single or a couple without children, but if you had a regular reason to use the back seats, I would recommend the five-door. It’s not that the two rear seats are useless in the coupe (a no cost option to have three seats), it’s the issue of getting in and out of them. The angle of the front doors and the way the front seats move forward doesn’t leave you with much room to get in and out of the back. This is one of the downsides of letting designers have their way, but frankly, when you actually sit in the back there is ample room, even for tall adults.
The five door, in my humble opinion, makes much more sense. It’s still a very attractive car but its usefulness is significantly higher than the coupe. The rear doors are some of the smallest I've ever seen on an SUV, but allow enough opening to easily get in the back seats. My initial thoughts prior to driving an Evoque were that you’d be pressed for legroom for the rear seats but that’s far from true as there’s oodles of both head and leg room. In fact, when optioned with the enormous Panoramic sunroof, the sense of openness is uncanny.
During the media presentation Range Rover’s public relations team made a big fuss about how great the Evoque rides and behaves on challenging roads. It’s something I hear pretty much all the time from all car companies. But after more than five hours behind the wheel, I realised they were right.
Leaving the Opera house for our drive programme to Chateau Elan in the Hunter Valley, dynamic mode was engaged (which turns all the instruments a purposeful glowing red) and it was time to test out the Evoque’s much talked about handling characteristics.
It’s good to remember that not all Evoques are created equal, as there are three different flavours: Pure, Prestige and Dynamic. As you can probably guess, the Dynamic variants are the ones with the more sporty nature (they are differentiated with the rear Evoque badge being in red, rather than silver). There are also two different engine choices: petrol or diesel. The 177kW 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol is my pick of the bunch but diesel lovers will be pleased with the 2.2-litre turbodiesel, which is available in three variations (eD4, TD4, SD4) offering different power and torque configurations. The eD4 front-wheel drive model won’t arrive here till next year, so it wasn’t tested and I spent the majority of the time in an SD4 and Si4 petrol.
First in line was an SD4 Dynamic five-door, which was optioned with a $1,950 Adaptive Dynamic pack. With 140kW and 420Nm of torque, the SD4 is not short on pulling power but it still takes 8.5 seconds for 0-100km/h dash. In Sydney’s famous traffic, the six-speed automatic works well in slow driving conditions but can present a bit of turbo lag getting off the line. Once we hit some mountainous terrain on the way to Hunter Valley, the SD4 came to life. Engage dynamic mode and the steering tightens up and the throttle becomes far more sensitive. This is an excellent way to enjoy a spirited drive, but the question comes back to why you picked a diesel if you wanted a dynamic sports car?
You see, I am a huge fan of diesels, I really am. But once in a while a vehicle comes along that is desired on emotion rather than need or logic. In which case, going for efficiency doesn’t make all that much sense. In front-wheel drive configuration, a diesel Evoque (manual) uses just 5.0L/100km. That’s a whole litre less than the Toyota Hybrid Camry! So if you’re going for fuel efficiency, diesel is hard to beat. By the time you get to the TD4/SD4 automatic, that figure jumps to 6.5L/100km. Again, that’s pretty darn impressive. But hear me out, because the 177kW 2.0-litre petrol only uses 8.7L/100km. Merely 2.2L/100km more than its equivalent diesel, and let me tell you, it’s a hell of a lot more fun.
If you’re going to buy a car with your heart, one that you love looking at, wouldn’t you like it to have the performance to match its menacing looks? 177kW and 340Nm of torque may not mean all that much, but 0-100km/h times drop to 7.6 seconds and the responsiveness and overall feel of the engine changes dramatically.
Once I found myself behind the wheel of an Evoque Si4, there was no turning back. Power, agility and a great exhaust note to match, sorry diesel fans, but this is the Evoque to get. All of a sudden the ride and handling made a lot more sense, Range Rover was right, this does handle very well for an SUV. You can push it really hard into corners and it grips and powers out like a four-wheel drive rally car. I liken its behaviour to the BMW X6, which despite its SUV status, goes around corners like an M3.
Better still, there is no turbo lag in the petrol and it gets off the line with ease. Gear changes are smooth and you can make use of the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, if you must.
Once the ride and handling part of the road test was over, I spent some time in the passenger seat (both front and rear) to inspect the Evoque’s interior. If you're thinking the baby Range Rover is nothing but a tarted up Freelander 2. It’s not. It’s a proper Range Rover. The interior is top notch; I would easily give it the status as best in class. There is delicate craftsmanship employed throughout the cabin from the dash to the seats and even the roof lining. If you opt for the technology pack (which you have to if you’re buying a Pure for the time being), it’s also not lacking technological features.
An 8" high-resolution touchscreen with (satellite navigation is $3,400 as a stand alone option) coupled to a 380 watt Meridian sound system is enough to entice you to pull over to enjoy your music. If you’ve never heard of Meridian Audio before, they’re not exactly your everyday consumer brand. They make speakers for home theatre systems that cost about $65,000+… each. Of course that’s not the same speaker system employed in the Evoque, but it’s pretty darn good nonetheless. Sync it up via Bluetooth and you can even have your iPhone wirelessly stream your favourite playlist.
If you’re picky, you’ll be pleased to know there is an almost endless range of customisation opportunities available. There’s also a heap of options and most of them are not too expensive (apart from keyless entry for the Pure, which at $1,495 is pushing its luck). Options are just inexpensive enough to make you go “I might as well” – which is why the $49,990 entry price for the base model eD4 Pure manual is a little deceiving. The top of the range Si4 Prestige auto retails for $75,895.
There's a good deal of storage space inside the cabin and the $1,020 price tag for the power tailgate is worth it, just for the convenience.
Apart from all the electronic nanny controls which will help you in preventing an accident, driver and passenger airbags, knee airbags, and side curtain and thorax airbags will be there to protect you in case you do.
There's a lot more that remains to be said about the Range Rover Evoque, but if its looks alone haven't convinced you, I highly recommend taking it for a test drive. Just remember, if you're going to start customising your Evoque down to small detail, you might be waiting a while for your delivery.
Chances are that you already know if you’re going to buy this car, none of its competitors are a match when it comes to styling and road presence - and for most of us, that is reason enough. The coupe is an impractical choice that only a few can make, but the five-door (particularly in petrol) is the most pleasant compact SUV I’ve driven to date. It’s gorgeous inside and out and drives like a sports car. You really can’t ask for more.
It's more than fair to say that the new Range Rover Evoque sets an almighty high benchmark for luxury compact SUVs.
Range Rover Evoque: (Coupe Variants additional RRP $1,500)
eD4 110kW 6 Speed Manual 2WD (available July 2012)