Has the past year been kind to these fancy little premium SUVs? Let's take another look. This story was first published in August 2019.
August 2019: Land Rovers had for decades been built with the ability to drive across uncharted territory. But 2011’s Range Rover Evoque was designed to go off the sales charts.
And it did. With its stunning looks carried over from the show-stopping LRX concept vehicle, the evocative Evoque rolled out of showrooms faster than any Land Rover in history.
As a model that clocked up half a million sales within five years, it’s no surprise the Evoque has influenced the design of every Land Rover product since, while undergoing only an evolutionary styling change for its second generation.
Inevitably, its success has spawned more rivals trying to lure customers who want an SUV that would look almost as good on a catwalk as it would a driveway.
Sister brand Jaguar didn’t have a single SUV when the Evoque debuted, but now it has three. And its smallest, the E-Pace, is a direct rival.
Lexus has offered SUVs since the 1990s, yet only in the past five years has it provided smaller options than the RX. And following 2014’s NX, this year came the even smaller UX.
Lastly is the Volvo that became the company’s first-ever compact SUV in 2017, and surely its boldest vehicle design yet, the XC40. And for the first half of 2019, it was Australia’s most popular premium compact SUV.
But which of these SUVs has the most substance to go with all that style?
Prices at time of publishing
Pricing and specs
There’s again a bewildering Evoque line-up of 26 variants. The range starts much higher, however – from $62,670 rather than sub-$50,000, and it’s possible to spend more than $100,000 on the priciest variant when on-roads are added.
Our test car is essentially the entry-level P200 S (147kW/320Nm), though costing $65,400 (before on-road costs) by virtue of including an R-Dynamic package that adds fancier exterior finishes (as they do on our Evoque).
While the Evoque is actually the shortest vehicle, despite being the only model to be classified as a medium SUV, its rivals are all cheaper even if you choose their flagship variants.
Even the Jaguar twin we have here, complete with virtually identical turbo-petrol drivetrain, costs less. The P200 R Dynamic S (147kW/320Nm) is priced from $57,540, in a range that starts from $47,750.
Representing the UX is its flagship model, the $61,450 UX250h F Sport AWD (131kW combined, no torque listed) that sits atop an eight-model range, which starts at $44,450 and also offers front-drive hybrid versions and UX200s powered by a naturally-aspirated petrol engine.
Those minimalism-embracing Swedes offer the XC40 in just three guises. Here we have the $51,990 mid-range T4 Inscription (140kW/300Nm) that brings extra features and all-wheel drive over the base T4 Momentum ($46,990). The $56,990 T5 R-Design would still undercut its rivals here, of course, yet the Inscription more than holds its own on the equipment front.
Highlighting Jaguar Land Rover Australia’s obsession with options, buyers would need to spend more than $6500 on the Evoque P200 S and about $5500 on the E-Pace P200 R Dynamic S to get close to matching the Volvo’s standard features.
Surprising options on the Brit SUVs include keyless entry, digital radio, digital driver display, auto tailgate, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring. Add foglights and LED daytime running lights as also missing for the Rangie, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the E-Pace.
The XC40 comes with the biggest wheels (19s versus 18s), though you need the R-Design to have paddle-shift levers like the other models.
The UX250h F Sport is decently equipped, too, and offers some exclusive items such as auto high beam, LED foglights, tyre pressure monitor and wireless smartphone charger.
Land Rover can point to the Evoque’s Terrain Response multi-surface electronics system, while Jaguar shares its twin’s off-road cruise control, and is alone here with a torque vectoring system that can apply an individual front brake to help it negotiate corners.
Otherwise, there’s the expected array of luxury-car features, such as leather or leather-accented upholstery, electrically adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, generously sized infotainment displays (9.0 to 10.3 inches), good audio systems (with options for higher-end branded systems), and front/rear parking sensors.
Jaguar and Land Rover provide the most extensive customisation options, allowing buyers to play around with exterior trim including the choice of a contrasting roof, and offering a long list of seating options that looks more like a King Living catalogue.
On the Evoque, these include sustainable nods with Danish wool blend and Dinamica suedecloth upholstery comprising the use of plastic bottles, and Eucalyptus Melange made from natural fibres.
Recycled plastic bottles also feature in a Lava Orange carpet mat available as a no-cost option on the XC40 R-Design. That model also brings a black contrast roof option, while the base Momentum is available with a white contrast roof. The Inscription is a single body colour only.
No fancy exterior or interior options for the Lexus, though paint options are determined by trim grade.
Jaguar E-Pace P200 R-Dynamic S
There’s a chunkiness to parts of the E-Pace’s interior – such as the large rotary HVAC dials or centre console handgrip – that hint more at Land Rover design than Jaguar. If it looks appropriately classy in some ways, the E-Pace’s cabin also lacks the contemporary luxuriousness of its sister car.
And while everything feels solidly constructed inside and there’s a smattering of smooth materials, switchgear quality feels mixed and lower parts of the cabin are fitted out in hard plastic. The leather seats look suitably posh, but are quite slippery and short on bolstering support.
The digital displays for infotainment and driver info in the instrument cluster are a case of déjà vu after stepping out of the Evoque.
And as with the Rangie, there’s a centre console tray that can be removed to reveal two cupholders. In the Jag, you can even remove the cupholders to create a supersized console bin (which houses two USBs, micro-sim slot and 12V socket). Add in a phone tray below the centre stack and wide door bins, and front-cabin storage is a big tick.
Despite the E-Pace’s sloping roof design, headroom is good and there’s plenty of knee room. The slippery leather upholstery is again not quite ideal.
Jaguar follows its fellow brand in charging extra for a tailgate that will open electrically, which reveals a similarly sized boot (484 litres) to the Evoque’s – and with identical elastic securing strap, side net storage, 12V port and temporary spare wheels. (The cargo shelf looks cheap, though.)
The E-Pace’s rear seats fold 60-40 rather than 40-20-40 and fold a touch flatter.
If there was going to be one driver’s SUV in this group, the smart money would have been on the E-Pace.
And, indeed, the E-Pace handles quite well with its smooth, accurate steering and good composure through bends. Yet it’s tubby at 1832kg (as is the 1813kg Evoque), and overall the experience feels less involving than what we’ve come to expect from the British brand’s sporty sedans, and even the rear-wheel-drive version of the larger F-Pace SUV. Or what might be expected from a vehicle that rides so stiffly.
Our E-Pace test car also sat on optional wheels – one-size-up 19-inch alloys – but the Jaguar’s oppressive damping creates a frustratingly jittery and jostling ride.
The E-Pace P200 S naturally shares its engine and gearbox with the companionate Evoque wearing the same badge. Different gearing, however, gives it a quoted 0–100km/h time that’s three-tenths quicker: 8.2 v 8.5 seconds. That makes it the quickest vehicle here.
The E-Pace is similarly blighted by JLR’s indecisive nine-speed auto, though conversely the calibration in the E-Pace can keep gears too high at low speeds, making turbo lag a constant issue.
Lexus UX250h F Sport AWD
Compact SUV or high-riding hatch? The UX’s relatively low driving position certainly gives you the sense of being in the latter body style. The F Sport variant’s front seats nail the sporty/luxury brief, though, with plenty of comfort and great all-round support and standard heating and ventilation. (The Sports Luxury model’s seats are also lovely.)
The steering wheel’s perforated grip sections make for another tactile touchpoint.
The panoramic (non-touchscreen) infotainment display provides good real estate for viewing information and maps, and like the main centre stack is angled towards the driver. Graphics are the lowest resolution here, however, and Lexus persists with a track pad that remains fiddly for selecting functions.
Some learning is also required for the various audio switches based around the palm-resting section of the infotainment controls.
There are nicely damped buttons for the track pad shortcuts and row of climate controls, and the stubby drive mode and ESC stalks positioned either side of the instrument binnacle are a distinctive touch.
Below the centre stack, a wireless charging tray fits most smartphones, and next to that is a contender for the industry’s coolest 12-volt socket, which is hidden until it pops up on demand.
The integrated analogue clock (borrowed from the LS limo) manages to avoid looking incongruous in this more youthful-focused Lexus.
There are more cheaper-looking plastics at a lower level, though crucially the UX’s interior looks swankier than a Corolla’s. Choose a Sports Luxury variant and there’s some paper-grain-style trim that’s inspired by Japanese shoji sliding doors (not complemented by tatami matting, more’s the pity).
Door bins are comparatively narrow, but lift the side-hinged console bin lid and there’s a handily long storage space that includes two USB ports, jack, and coin storage.
Despite the longest dimensions here, the Lexus has the least spacious back seat. Decent headroom and two USB ports are positives, but the UX otherwise disappoints with its tight toe space, cramped knee room, lack of door storage and a bench that doesn’t match the comfort elsewhere.
The boot’s remarkably shallow space (324 litres) also suggests a roof pod will be mandatory for any family planning a weekend away in the UX.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that UX stands for Urban Crossover because Lexus’s hatch-cum-SUV is at its best in the city, where its hybrid drivetrain provides whisper-quiet low-speed motoring courtesy of its electric motor and, ergo, terrific fuel economy.
And even though it’s the longest vehicle here it’s still easy to park and manoeuvre, thanks to a tight turning circle and nicely weighted steering.
The seamless interaction of the conventional and non-conventional motors in the UX adds to its refinement, with the CVT auto contributing to the smoothness of the drivetrain.
Prod the UX for a burst of momentum, however, and the CVT brings a flare of revs and an unpleasant racket from the petrol engine that isn’t commensurate with the vehicle’s actual speed.
And despite all those motors, including another electric motor integrated into the rear differential to create all-wheel drive, the UX250h’s performance is merely adequate.
The F Sport variant brings a sportier suspension tune to the UX, with revised spring rates and anti-roll bars. However, with relatively indirect steering, a soft brake feel and a limited sense of tyre grip in our damp test conditions, the little Lexus doesn’t approach twisty roads with the same level of gusto, or conviction, as its rivals. Or feel as fun to drive as the related Toyota Corolla or C-HR.
On typical urban roads, this suspension is also prone to crashing even over fairly minor potholes. A UX200 Luxury Sport we tested separately proved better at dealing with surface imperfections.
Range Rover Evoque P200 R-Dynamic S
Part of the new Evoque’s evolutionary exterior design incorporates the flush-form approach of the Range Rover Velar, including its outward-ejecting door handles. Pull these to climb inside and you find the Velar’s had a greater influence on the Evoque’s interior.
The baby Range Rover now provides a properly premium cabin. Our Evoque featured a padded, patterned material prominent on the dash and doors, expensive-looking roof lining, perforated and stitched supple-leather seats, soft plastics from top to bottom on the doors, and nice details such as the metallic twist tips of the indicator and wiper stalks, plus the capacitive steering wheel control pads.
Less cluttered and more symmetrical in design, the cabin’s dash array features a Touch Pro 10.0-inch digital dash display. S buyers can have a Velar-mimicking twin-screen approach if they pay $600 extra, while a full digital instrument display is another option.
The gloss-black panel below features a mix of touch buttons for controlling areas such as temperature/ventilation, off-road cruise control, hill descent control, plus physical dials for selecting surface modes on the Terrain Response system.
The instruments section mixes analogue speedo and tacho dials with a central info-graphics panel.
The Evoque’s front seats are invitingly supple while offering good lateral and under-thigh support. There’s also the kind of elevated driving position expected from an SUV. That doesn’t necessarily mean fabulous all-round vision, mind you, as the Evoque’s rear window is narrow.
Sizeable door bins contribute to good storage options, which also include twin cupholders on the centre console hidden by a removable tray, and a twin-lid console bin with decent depth (and containing two USB ports, micro-sim slot and 12-volt port).
Rear passengers will welcome the new Evoque as it brings a noticeable improvement in roominess, complemented by rear ventilation, centre armrest and good storage.
Boot space also improves (591 litres), though an auto tailgate should be standard rather than optional, and the 40-20-40 split rear seats don’t fold particularly flat.
Our test car wore optional ($2120) 20-inch wheels rather than the standard 18s. The big wheels emphasise the Evoque’s concept-car looks, though they also contribute to some thumpiness across surface joins as well as a general lumpiness to the ride at lower speeds.
We could understand why buyers would be happy to accept the compromise, especially as ride quality improves at higher speeds. During our three-up country road testing, the Evoque edged out the XC40 for best ride and its cabin was also the quietest of the quartet – confirming that refinement is one of the Range Rover’s biggest areas of improvement.
The steering’s on-centre feel isn’t perfect, and the weighting is arguably too light, though the Evoque’s front end mostly provides a good interpretation of the driver’s wheel inputs.
It’s also responsive, with the Range Rover turning into corners with a similar level of keenness (and grip) to the Jaguar and generally displaying an appetite for twisty roads that was perhaps unexpected.
Perky response and a quiet nature are provided by the P200 S’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, though performance is best described as satisfactory rather than scintillating.
The nine-speed auto isn’t the smartest box in town, either – quite literally, in the way it tends to hesitate either when you’ve just turned out of a junction or just after the stop-start system has re-engaged the engine.
The auto can also be slow to shift up a gear, so the engine isn’t always as relaxed as it could be when pottering around.
Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription
Big, practical wagons were once Volvo’s bread and butter, though the XC40 proves the Swedish brand can deliver clever stowage in smaller dimensions.
The XC40 cabin is brimming with small storage spaces so it can cope with even the biggest of in-car hoarders. Beyond the sizeable console bin, there’s a drawer beneath the driver’s seat and extra-long door pockets enabled by Volvo focusing audio output on a large dash-top speaker rather than big speakers in the doors.
Shopping or take-away bags can be hung on the glovebox’s retractable hook, and the centre console features an integrated coin slot and removeable rubbish bin.
Materials quality is a step down from the bigger XC60, though the presentation is sufficiently premium. It also benefits from sharing its 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital driver display with Volvo’s more expensive SUVs. The centre touchscreen just takes some familiarisation, as it often takes a swipe or double touches to find or engage many functions.
The Inscription variant, as the most luxury-focused of three trim grades, adds some classic Scandinavian aesthetics with its light-coloured wood trim and Swedish-crystal gear lever.
Up back, passengers enjoy a similar level of quality with nicely textured door cards, armrest ventilation, USB port, and plentiful room for heads and knees even for those breaching the six-foot mark. No ingenious integrated child booster seats as with the XC60, but there are ISOFIX points in the outer seats.
A through-port allows access to the boot if needed or permits storage of longer items such as skis.
Normal access to the boot is provided by a standard electric tailgate (with hands-free function), which reveals a luggage compartment that matches the thoughtfulness of the main cabin.
Besides a generous boot size of 460 litres, the cargo floor can fold upwards to create separate compartments (and help to keep looser items in place). The newly formed divider cleverly exposes three shopping bag hooks. There’s also a useful underfloor storage section.
Other helpful features are a long elastic storage strap, integrated boot hook, and a 12-volt socket.
Driving dynamics have rarely been a Volvo forte, yet on a winding road there’s an exuberance to the XC40 that’s missing from the more mature XC60 and XC90 SUVs.
The steering is too light and lacking in feel to be classed as truly engaging on such roads, but its accuracy and respectable responses play to the driver’s confidence, as do strong cornering grip (even in the wet) and excellent vertical body control over bumpy country roads.
That light steering is then warmly welcomed in everyday driving, as is the supple and absorptive nature of the XC40 Inscription’s suspension that is exceptional around town to provide the best all-round ride comfort of this group.
It’s just not quite as impressively quiet in terms of wind and road noise as the Evoque.
There are few faults to find with the T4 Momentum’s 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder and eight-speed auto. The engine can get a touch vocal if pushed hard, but there’s plenty of flexible performance, and the gearbox, if not the quickest to shift up, is highly adept at ensuring it has the right gear selected for the prevailing road speed.
Owners will need to get accustomed to the unorthodox gear lever action, however. With no neutral lock-out, putting the XC40 into drive or reverse requires a double flick of the lever. It’s particularly easy to forget when you’re attempting a quick three-point turn.
If limiting your fuel bills and fuel stops is the highest priority, the hybrid UX is a shoo-in. Whether counting the official fuel consumption of 4.7 litres per 100km or our indicated test figure of 7.4L/100km, the UX250h uses the least fuel in this group by some margin.
The XC40 registered 10.0L/100km on test (in keeping with previous testing), comparing with its official 7.4L/100km. Higher than ideal, yet a better result than those achieved by the P200 S Brit-twins.
Trip computers for the E-Pace and Evoque calculated respective average fuel-use figures of 12.4L/100km and 13.8L/100km – the Rangie higher, we suspect, owing to its auto’s propensity to hang onto lower gears longer than necessary.
Volvo Australia has said in recent months it is looking at reducing its servicing costs, and it’s to be hoped this will be sooner rather than later. Anecdotally, we know these have put some buyers off.
The Swedish brand charges $4030 for the XC40’s five-year maintenance plan – and that’s the basic plan.
Servicing details for the Jaguar Land Rover pair are identical, as you would expect: $1750 for five annual visits.
Lexus provides the first annual service for free, then charges $631, $523 and $631 for a total of $1785 across four years. As part of the Japanese brand’s famous customer service, a courtesy loan vehicle ensures owners aren’t without wheels during the maintenance work while the company then collects it from a place of convenience.
Lexus also gets closest to the now-industry-average five-year factory warranty with four years (100,000km), whereas Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo remain on three (though Volvo’s kilometre limit is unlimited).
No style points are on offer here, though subjectively the Evoque is our team’s winner with its strikingly dynamic design. The XC40’s form is also pure Scandinavian cool, while there’s appeal in the UX’s creased and sharply edged body that looks like a sheetmetal interpretation of origami. The E-Pace looks good, too, from many angles, though its front end makes it look like a caricature from a Jaguar cartoon.
Objectively, the E-Pace isn’t as convincing as Jaguar’s other SUVs, struggling to offer a definitive dynamic advantage as compensation for an overly stiff ride that spoils everyday comfort. It’s not particularly well equipped, either, if more affordable than its Rangie twin, and the Jaguar’s interior doesn’t look particularly special.
Limited fuel use and hushed urban motoring are the UX’s USPs, and it’s a better hatchback alternative to the old and flawed CT200h.
But as a vehicle positioned as an SUV, the UX’s limited interior and boot space make it an impractical example of the breed. The F Sport suspension hinders ride quality rather than inspiring a sportier drive, and the $4500 premium for AWD is questionable value.
If the UX appeals and practicality isn’t a priority, we would recommend saving thousands by opting for either the UX200 or UX250h Sports Luxury 2WD models ($53,000 and $56,500, respectively).
If you’re planning to defy the typical SUV trend and get your trendy SUV dirty, the Evoque has the most off-roading tools here, including the ability to wade through water up to 60cm deep.
There’s also an unrivalled depth to the quality of the Evoque’s interior, which is such a stand-out that it can mix it with the next segment up (which includes Volvo’s XC60). That’s important, though, because the Evoque is priced more like a mid-sized premium SUV.
And that makes the Volvo XC40 look terrific value (ultra-high servicing costs aside). It’s about $13,000 cheaper even before you start paying Land Rover thousands more for features that are inclusive on the Swede.
Factor in a more practical cabin and boot, a less obtrusive automatic gearbox, a more compliant urban ride, and even a cracking engine if you go for the T5 R-Design, and it quickly becomes clear why Swedish SUVs are so in vogue right now.