At 2000m above sea level, visibility was low, and through the curtain of falling snowflakes, the shadowed cars were barely visible as they made their way in convoy along the steep and slippery track that wound its way up the mountainside...
Destination Drive: Put simply, this is something you can do in any car. Whether you're excited about your new car and are looking for inspiration, or whether you regularly hit the road and cruise around, this series is for the love of driving and to provide ideas for those occasions when you want to enjoy your car and the places it can take you.
At 2000 metres above sea level, visibility was low, and through the curtain of falling snowflakes, the shadowed cars were barely visible as they made their way in convoy along the steep and slippery track that wound its way up the mountainside. Despite the precarious and formidable conditions, the Range Rover Evoque Convertible carved a confident path across the icy surface, as it crept higher toward the peaks of the French Alps.
You’d think a location that was a little more tropical or coastal would have been the obvious place to show this car off, but no. The aim was to showcase the drop-top SUVs off-road credentials in this frigid yet fantastic spot.
Range Rover launched its convertible SUV in Courchevel, France with a flourish - amid a flurry of snow. The trip too would be a whirlwind - exactly four days ex-Sydney. After leaving on a 6am flight, there would be just a few hours to kill in Dubai before the next flight that touched down late in the evening in Lyon.
Eager to spin the wheels of the rag-top Evoque on top of the giant snow-cone that is Courchevel, the early start didn't come accompanied with as many grumbles as usual, and with sights firmly set on reaching the dizzying heights of France's famous ski field, the trip got underway.
The plan was to head out of Lyon through the urban bustle, out onto the motorway, through tiny villages, on an off-road detour and up the windy mountain pass to Courchevel, where the car would be put through its paces over obstacles in the snow. After a night in Courchevel, there would be another snow-driving activity on the way back to the airport.
The French countryside was simply breathtaking. The European highway provided the opportunity to stretch the legs of the Evoque Convertible thanks to the speed limit of 130km/h, and as the kilometres ticked by, the cramped and built-up cityscape opened up.
Throughout regional France, the countryside is peppered with tiny towns and sprinkled with hairpin bends that wind their way up and down the sides of mountains. The streets are often cobbled and very narrow through the centres of 'blink and you'll miss it' villages, and when you first catch a glimpse of the the snow-capped peaks in the distance, the butterflies in your stomach seem to flap a little harder.
The Evoque Convertible beautifully handled every type of road encountered. Though it’s the same inside as the regular Evoque, a lot of work has been done to increase the rigidity of the body. Some convertibles feel a little shaky because of the lack of a fixed roof. In some topless cars the rear-view mirror shakes quite badly, but this felt almost exactly like driving the regular Evoque.
A detour off the sealed road provided the opportunity to kick up a bit of dust and test out the hill-descent control and get a taste of the car's four-wheel-drive capabilities. A simple push of a button activates hill-descent control, and the speed can be lowered and raised using the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel. You do need to be careful going over larger rocks or traversing ruts, as its underside isn't clad with hardcore underbody protection.
As we passed the snow line and headed higher towards Courchevel, the opportunity to spend some time as a passenger presented itself. This meant more time to play around with the new 10.2-inch touchscreen and infotainment system that recently made its debut in the Jaguar XF. It looks and works like a conventional tablet and was easy to navigate around.
The distraction of a new toy was quickly overshadowed by the majesty of the view as the destination drew closer. Courchevel is a popular ski village and part of the Three Valleys - the biggest connected ski area in the world.
The rich and famous flock here. There are eleven five-star resorts and two six-star resorts (or palaces). And as for Michelin-starred restaurants, there are eleven - four of which have been awarded two Michelin stars.
The five-star L’Apogee was impressive enough to almost induce a trance at the first glimpse of the driveway, reception area and lobby. The furnishings were plush, the lighting subtle, there were exposed wood surfaces everywhere and it smelled amazing - an intoxicating mix of sauna wood and day spa.
The room was charmingly glamorous with a deep bathtub and gorgeous sitting area as well as a balcony with a view over the mountains and ski lifts - not that there was much time to enjoy it all.
The following morning’s activity involved heading higher up the mountain past the Courchevel Altiport, which had previously held the dubious honour of being named the seventh most dangerous airport in the world.
As the road wound its way higher and higher, it was necessary to carefully pick the safest place to put the wheels. From this vantage point, the view was spectacular - across the valley, the neighbouring alpine peaks were visible and the steep drop to the side was enough to encourage a tighter grip on the steering wheel and an extra-cautious creep around the next corner.
The light flutter of falling snow became heavier and once past the Altiport, there was one more hill climb to tackle before the destination was reached. A snowy course was laid out in an open, hilly area about 2000m above sea level. It had definitely started to snow, so the roof went back up but the heated seats stayed on.
In these conditions it was a lot of fun testing hill-descent control on the slippery surface and getting the convertible sideways around the corners. The optional heated steering wheel was also set to maximum as the icy chill started to permeate layers of clothing.
The extra safety measures that Land Rover has included in the Evoque Convertible - pop-up roll bars that deploy in the event of a rollover, along with side curtain airbags - provided some peace of mind as the car slid around in the snow with a bit of help from an extra heavy foot on the throttle and exaggerated steering.
After some fun in the snow, it was time to get out of the clouds and head back to the airport. The road cut a path through more gorgeous villages and over beautiful waterways before we reached a lunch stop at a winery not too far from the Lyon Airport. Sadly, with more driving to do, the winery's spoils went untested but the food was incredibly satisfying.
Over the whirlwind drive, the Evoque Convertible proved to be very capable and fun. It was very similar to driving a regular Evoque, although the extra weight was noticeable on inclines.
The Evoque Convertible will be available in Australia in two well-kitted-out trim levels in the third quarter of this year, with a choice of a turbo-petrol or turbo-diesel engines. The diesel engine is fantastic - it’s newer and very quiet and refined.
The Range Rover Evoque Convertible does command quite a high price premium over the hardtop, however. The fixed-roof diesel Evoque HSE Dynamic is $77,765 (before on-road costs), while the drop-top equivalent is $92,410 (before on-road costs). Opt for the convertible HSE Dynamic petrol, and at $92,015 (before on-road costs), it's up $10,605 on its lidded twin.
If France is on your bucket list, most definitely add Courchevel to the itinerary. Hire a car and enjoy the spectacular drive up into the Alps.
Click on the photos tab to see more images by Tegan Lawson.