A small Range Rover with a big mission.
BY TONY SWAN
Can style rule in a utilitarian realm?
That’s the $43,995 question riding the broad shoulders of the smallest-ever Range Rover, the Evoque. To be accurate, it’s the $43,995 to $53,895 question, if we include all the trim levels. That lofty base-price range makes the thesis issue—the preeminence of style as a purchase motivator for SUVs—critical to this Range Rover newbie. A matter of life and death, even.
The product planners and the marketing troops would probably want to protest at this point that their new vehicle delivers something its competitors—
After our first Evoque experience, which included substantial episodes of bouncing around in wild Welsh terrain that ranged from rocky trails to deeply rutted mud tracks—all in persistent rain—we readily concede that this small-scale Range Rover would leave its German rivals mired down or high-centered on some lonely moor. However, the Range Rover people recognize that most Evoque owners probably won’t venture farther from pavement than a dirt road or pea-gravel parking lot.
So if superior off-road credentials don’t count for much with urbanites who have no off-road aspirations, where’s the competitive edge? It’s not price. The Evoque’s least-expensive get-in—for the base Pure Plus five-door model—is higher than upscale versions of the Q5, X3, and GLK.
Is the edge in performance?
This four-cylinder engine is offered by a brand known for V-8 power, and most of the competing powerplants are sixes. Moreover, the Evoque four is mated to a six-speed automatic, whereas the others offer seven- or eight-speed units. A manual transmission is offered elsewhere but won’t be available in U.S. models.
Although we found throttle response to be a little reluctant at times, and the system’s electronic brain balks at any hint of indecision with the right foot, the Evoque seems to scoot along readily enough, particularly in passing situations. We predict 0-to-60-mph times of 6.9 and 7.0 seconds for the three- and five-doors, respectively, numbers near the back of the class but not embarrassingly slow.
The Evoque comes to market with respectable fuel-economy forecasts—19 mpg city and 28 highway, per the EPA, at the good end of the pack. There’s a turbo-diesel version available in Europe that would stack even better numbers, but that won’t be offered here, either.
Zigs and Zags
The jury’s out on dynamics. In rugged outback stretches, the Range Rover’s combination of full-time four-wheel drive and respectable ground clearance (minimum 8.4 inches) made easy work of the crusty Welsh high country. But on narrow, rain-slicked highways, bordered by jagged stone fences, there wasn’t much opportunity to explore the Evoque’s limits of adhesion or measure its athleticism other than trying to avoid oncoming lorries straddling the road’s center line.
We can say that the Evoque’s new electric rack-and-pinion power-steering system, although quick, could provide more tactile info, especially on-center. On the other hand, braking performance is powerful, with good pedal feel, and ride quality is unlikely to provoke unhappiness, on-road or off.
But can the Evoque match the athleticism of an X3? The Rover’s optional Adaptive Dynamics package, with magnetorheological dampers at its core, would have much to say about the outcome of an Evoque/X3 showdown. But it’s a stand-alone option that’s only available with the top-of-the-line Prestige Premium model, pushing that trim’s heady $52,395 price upward by $1250.
The Eyes Have It
However, you don’t need a comparison test to understand the key element of the Evoque’s appeal. Just check the photos. Makes the Teutonic trio look pretty tame, doesn’t it? The Evoque began as the Land Rover LRX, a concept car unveiled at the 2008 Detroit auto show and Gerry McGovern’s first styling statement as the company’s then-new design director.
With its rising beltline and rear-sloping roof, the LRX was reminiscent of the Mini Cooper, albeit on a somewhat larger scale, and the Evoque stays essentially true to the show car. Taking another page from the Mini’s book, the Evoque offers contrasting roof colors among its wide array of personalization options, yielding a snazzy look that makes the competition seem even more ho-hum.
Like the concept, the production Evoque is based on LR2 architecture and rides on the same wheelbase (104.7 inches). The Evoque is shorter, lower, and distinctly wider, though, lending a little brawn to its appearance.
The sloping roofline doesn’t compromise rear-seat headroom, and there’s plenty of space for four inside. Cargo volume trails that of the German machines—20 cubic feet for the five-door with rear seats up, 51 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat. (For reference, the Audi Q5’s numbers are 29 and 57.) Interior appointments are Range Rover–posh, standard-equipment comprehensive, and the array of electronic goodies extensive. The latter includes the five-camera system from other Rangies that provides a 360-degree view of the Evoque’s immediate surroundings—
Prices and Packages
Unlike the competition, the Evoque is offered in three- and five-door body styles. They are identical in most dimensions save for a 1.2-inch disparity in height, the three-door being the lower of the two. Consistent with its dashing looks, the Evoque’s trim levels march to their own beat. As noted, the lineup begins with the $43,995 Pure Plus five-door—add a grand for the Pure Plus coupe (as Land Rover calls the three-door).
The Pure Plus is well equipped, but if you want navigation, you need to step up to the Pure Premium level—$47,995 ($49,395 for the three-door). That’s probably as much Evoque as anyone will need equipment-wise, but it will be possible to spend more if you like. The Dynamic Premium model adds various fancy trim touches and a choice of four interior color schemes; it commands $51,495 in five-door guise, while $52,895 is required for a three-door. Topping the lineup is the five-door Prestige Premium model at $52,395. Like the Dynamic Premium, it basically adds nicer trim.
When the Evoque goes on sale in October, Range Rover anticipates that about 80 percent of U.S. sales will be five-doors. Of course, how heavily sales will run in total—with those heavy price tags—remains to be seen.
So how important is styling? How many buyers will pay a premium to be the coolest on their block? We’re going to find out soon enough. But in the meantime, keep in mind that Christian Dior didn’t get to the top of the design game selling plain T-shirts.
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