No-one’s going to win any bets by wagering the majority of this success boils down to the stunning concept-car-like design, and it’s no surprise for the 2014 update that change lies only under the skin.
Headlining the 2014 Range Rover Evoque is a new nine-speed automatic gearbox. It replaces the previous six-speeder also from German transmission specialists ZF, allowing the baby Rangie to join the Jeep Cherokee (with its own ZF-designed ’box) as the only productions models available with so many ratios.
We might start a discussion elsewhere about how many gears are truly necessary, as there was little wrong with the six-speed auto and more than one transmission expert has told us six remains a perfectly adequate number of ratios. However, the nine-speeder’s purpose here is to address some criticism of the Evoque’s fuel efficiency.
The Range Rover Evoque Si4 we’re specifically testing here is standard with the new gearbox, where it’s a $2840 option on the TD4 and SD4.
Also standard is a new Active Driveline. This turns the Evoque Si4 into a part-time all-wheel-drive vehicle, with the rear axle able to brought into play in just 300 milliseconds when the system deems necessary.
The higher gears of the new auto are essentially ‘overdrive’ gears, though don’t start imagining the Si4 cruising along the freeway in ninth gear at little above idle. Land Rover had to ensure the 177kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo (known from a number of Ford models including the ST hot-hatch and the Falcon EcoBoost) kept in the purple patch of its torque curve, so the rev counter reads 1800rpm at 110km/h – just 50rpm ahead of where the 340Nm peak torque arrives.
Still, the old six-speed Si4 would only be travelling at 78km/h with 1800 revs on board and registered about 2100rpm at Australia’s typical highest speed limit.
According to the official (lab) consumption cycle, the Evoque improves from 8.7 to 7.8 litres per 100km.
A 500km round trip to Canberra, with some urban running either end, produced a recorded real world figure of 9.1L/100km – no doubt less than the six-speeder would have used but not an outstanding figure, either.
Shifts are generally quick and smooth, and there’s also the option to change gears manually via paddleshift levers. You’ll rarely stretch beyond sixth gear in the city and suburbs, and one of the biggest clues to the total number of ratios is that, on moderate throttle, the rev counter moves only a small way before dropping a similar amount with each subsequent gearchange. It’s almost like a CVT in that respect, though without the characteristic droning. And the petrol engine sounds quite sporty when allowed to rev higher.
Downshifts could be quicker sometimes, though. On steep freeway descents, for example, the cruise control can struggle to maintain the set speed with the auto not dropping ratios fast enough to induce subtle engine braking. And when the gradient reverses, there’s occasionally momentary hesitation before the auto acknowledges the start of a climb.
The nine-speeder doesn’t overcome all of the turbo lag of the turbo four-cylinder, either, though the delay is mild and not that bothersome compared with the alternative four-cylinder turbo diesel.
The Range Rover Evoque Si4 still feels like the quickest of the line-up with eager throttle response, even with no change to the 0-100km/h figure of 7.6 seconds.
Si4 remains the sportier pick of what has been a fine-handling compact luxury SUV since it launched.
Although Torque Vectoring by Braking, another useful MY14 addition, is standard on all Evoques and allows the driver to get on the throttle earlier in corners, the Si4 turns in with a greater degree of sharpness than diesel-powered versions.
And the steering is enjoyably quick and accurate on curvier roads, while it’s helpfully light around town (and teamed with a good turning circle).
You can even travel in relative comfort even if you fit optional 20-inch wheels ($2000, from no less than seven choices) that harden the ride slightly. The pay-off is noticeably more grip than we experienced with the 18-inch tyres of the Range Rover Evoque TD4 Pure Tech we recently pitted against the new Mercedes-Benz GLA200 CDI.
Jaguar Land Rover has proven capable of engineering vehicles that consistently drive well, and now it’s working on catching up its German and Japanese luxury rivals on the technology front.
Evoque is now available with a semi-automatic parking system ($1350) that will help steer you into perpendicular bays and into and out of parallel parking spots.
Rear sensors are standard though the $670 reverse view camera is the most disappointing item on the long options list, especially as all-round vision is partially reduced by the thick B-pillar and narrow rear window.
The Evoque also misses out on a five-star crash rating, scoring four after just falling short of the minimum marks (12.39 when it needed 12.5 points or more) required in the frontal off-set crash test.
At $75,050 the Range Rover Evoque Si4 is priced similarly to a BMW X3 30d that offers six-cylinder turbo diesel power; add the options fitted to our test car and it turns into an $88,055 proposition. That also included forged nine-spoke white alloys that match to (poorly applied) white stripes and a white roof to make our test Evoque look quite Mini-esque.
Our car also included a $1900 Dynamic Tech Pack that brings three handy safety features – blind spot detection, lane departure warning and high beam assist that proved to be effective at night by switching automatically back to main beam if it detected an oncoming car or sufficient street lighting.
During the day, a $1500 panoramic glass roof brings plenty of light into the cabin that continues to be one of the best in its segment.
Although there are some less-than-grand plastics – including the centre console – that are more Land Rover than Range Rover, the overall sense is an interior that feels more expensive than those found in the rival BMW X1 and new Mercedes-Benz GLA. The Audi Q3 counters the most competitively.
The distinctive and spongy dash material is one highlight (which is also effective at reducing windscreen glare in bright sunshine), though the dash also adds functionality and tactility to the style.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen sits naturally on its own in the central dashboard section, flanked by shortcut buttons. These are useful as the main menu screen is busy and may be viewed by some as a case of information overload.
You won’t get numb-bum from the excellent (electrically adjustable) front seats over a long trip, and the rears also offer decent legroom and plenty of head space.
Storage is pretty good, too, though drink bottles have to lie flat in door pockets rather than upright.
The compact dimensions of the Evoque (4355mm long) mean – like its direct rivals – it’s not as practical for families as SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5, but a one-child family can squeeze a pram and a few other items into the boot and then use the spilt-fold 60/40 rear seat arrangement and floor space to secure softer bags.
But it does fare well in this respect when compared with its actual competitors, such as the Q3 and GLA.
Standard equipment should be more generous at this price point, though, and the presence of a rear-view camera on the overly long options list is particularly disappointing.
There’s vast appeal in the Range Rover Evoque, though – in the way it drives, though the majority of buyers are most likely to be lured by the stylish design inside and out.