2012 Range Rover Evoque (3dr) Review: Posh Plaything
Is it a ‘real’ Rangey or a glorified shopping trolley?
By Imthishan Giado
It’s the car that took everything you knew about the Range Rover brand and tossed it on its head. More fashionista than farmhand’s friend, can the Evoque succeed in bringing more faithful into the fold, or is it destined to be the next Pontiac Aztek, unloved and an brave foray into the unknown that didn’t pay off? With Land Rover’s track record, the answer is hardly in doubt. Find out why, after the jump.
Land Rover seem to be in a feisty mood these days. No longer content to supply cars for the outdoorsy types, the company’s clearly on a mission to conquer the hearts and minds of consumers from Bangkok to Beijing. New money is what they want (old money is already well catered to by existing Range Rover) and so hence, we have this, the all new Evoque.
Well, they say all new but really, we know that under the skin is a massively modified version of the Freelander/LR2 platform. The latter is far from one of favourite cars. Hugely capable though it is offroad, it feels really long in the tooth and well overdue for the knackers yard. Compared to modern rivals like the Audi Q5 or Mercedes GLK, it’s hopelessly off the pace. Yet with a few nips and tucks, the swan-like Evoque has emerged and it’s an absolute stunner.
Obviously given the donor platform, the Evoque cannot hope to be as physically imposing in person. As crossovers go, it’s barely bigger than your average RAV4. Yet when is the last time that you saw a RAV4 that looked like this? Truly a concept car brought to life, this is one of the few cars on the planet that looks good virtually from every angle you can think of. Sitting on chunky 20-inch alloys (the only wheel size we get here) it’s the Air Jordan of crossovers, all attitude and imperial supermodel presence. The trademark Range Rover cues remain – clamshell bonnet, ‘floating’ roof, prominent side vents, coffin-edge profile – but married to a hot-rod chopped glasshouse and gorgeous detailing, like the silver bar that connects the two tailpipes, or the blacked out lower valance that visually shrinks this already petite car.
Like all slaves to fashion, there are compromises that one must bear. That glasshouse is great to look out, but it cuts down on visibility especially through the pillbox-slit rear. Put it this way – the Evoque is a car that absolutely cannot be sold without a rear view camera and back up sensors. Then there’s those Dumbo-sized wing mirrors that could double as the paddles used to direct planes to their landing slots; they’re seriously huge and detract from the sleek profile, but as you’ll find, they’re essential to maintaining visibility. Finally, access is easy in this ‘coupe’ version – if you want to get into the front seats. Unless you’ve got the contortionist skills of Doug Jones, getting into the back is a different matter, with the front seats taking an absolute age to get out of the way and then slide back. You could of course get the five door version. Frankly, though why bother? If you’re concerned at all about practicality, you’d have bought a LR4, not an Evoque.
OK so the exterior is phenomenal, a true original in the world of dull, segment-filling crossovers. Can the interior cash the cheques that the body’s writing? Oh yeah. For all the money you’ll be spending on the Evoque – and believe me, it’s a lot – you’d expect a bespoke interior and you’ll get one. But even in my wildest dreams, I didn’t expect it to be this good. My test car came with a bordello-red interior and keeping with that theme, was only a high-priced call girl short of perfection. Throne like seats, leather everything and perfectly weighted instruments are just the start. Every surface point is sporting that special JLR soft touch coating – I call it perfection – that makes touching the instruments something you look forward to.
Then there’s the back-to-basics layout. Of late, JLR has started to really go frou-frou with dials and instruments, opting for fancy LCDs that look good on a spec sheet and do all sorts of instamagical things like changing face colours and so on. Being the cheapest model in the range, the Evoque ditches all of that for simple two box approach – tach and speedo – and as a result, it ends up being the most attractive gauge cluster I’ve ever seen, easy to intuitive to read at a glance.
Ditto for the central fascia mounted navigation system and HVAC controls. Yes there’s the now de rigueur touchscreen, but it’s a brand new high-res system and there are only four screens, so you avoid endlessly flipping through pages trying to find what you want. If there’s one quibble, it’s that the graphics engine feels slightly overburdened, navigation between pages acceptable but not zippy. Given that a bank of physical buttons exists anyways to control the most popular functions, it’s not a dealbreaker. By the way, this car came with the Meridian sound system and it’s a box you’d better check, unless you hate music. Dare I say it, it might even better than the one you find in the big dog Range Rover…
The Evoque’s cabin truly feels like an upmarket, premium experience, but it’s not without flaws. Those sports seats, for instance, are great, but in my seating position, it doesn’t leave too much room for back seat passengers, 5’10″ being the maximum height of the person I could stuff in there. Although the back seat could accept three passengers, I reckon it’s strictly a two person affair. Boot space with the seats folded down is a healthy 1350 litres, but seats up, it drops dramatically to 550 litres. For reference, the five door version is slightly more ample at 575 litres.
Remember when I said earlier that visibility isn’t that great? Turns out, it’s more complicated than it was at first glance. Yes, looking out the back is pointless, like it is in a Murcielago. But somehow though, Land Rover have pulled off the neat trick of great forward visibility, the sloping glasshouse only curtaining the very edge of the rear view. Provided you keep the seat at a decent height, there’s no hint of claustrophobia – not even for rear seat passengers – but however high you lift it, you’ll never get that commanding Range Rover view, thanks to the Evoque’s non-high riding stance.
On the road however, that design compromise pays off in spades. I should point out that this base car lacked the ‘Dynamic Pack’ that brings uber-cool magnetorheological adjustable dampers to the party, but even so, the Evoque is great fun to punt around. Despite my misgivings at the lack of cylinders, there’s plenty of punch from the (Ford) 240bhp 2.0-litre turbo unit. It’ll hit 100kph in 7.1 seconds – the same as a Golf GTI – but most importantly, there’s 251lb ft of torque available from just 1750rpm. As a result, this littlest of Rangeys feel as muscular off the line as its vaunted big brothers, never lacking the punch to keep up with traffic. The ZF six-speed auto is well matched, always keeping the turbo on boil and masking the fact this motor has the same capacity as a packet of milk. And if you fancy doing some work yourself, paddle shifters come as standard.
In terms of handling, even on the steel springs of the test car the Evoque feels just like a hot hatch, rather than some lardy SUV. This is nothing short of a minor miracle when you consider how resolutely un-sporty the old LR2 is – and remember, that’s what underpins the Evoque. Thanks to the use of every weight saving trick in the book, the Evoque feels remarkably lithe and nimble. You quickly forget that you’re driving a crossover and throw it around corners, plenty of grip on offer from those 20-inch meats. Turn in sharp and feel is predictable, but there’s a slight artificiality to the handling experience, almost as if you submit your inputs to a committee and then a higher power hands down the best possible result. Don’t get me wrong; the Evoque handles great and makes you feel like a proper hero, but be aware that it’s the car’s clever-clogs stability and traction systems that are doing all the work, all the time. Most people will never even notice.
What about offroad? With these tyres, forget about it. On the 18-inch wheels you get in other markets, the Evoque is actually a credible offroader, capable of even dune driving in ease. I should know – I attended the hot weather testing of the prototypes which conquered the fearful dunes of Hatta with ease. But with these GCC-spec meats, digging a hole to China is your only outcome. Nevertheless, the Evoque will handle damp surfaces, mud and grass fine; it’s the beach where your luck will run out.
So the Evoque is the new king of the crossovers, right? Well, not quite. Undoubtedly, it’s the best crossover in its class. Nothing from its German and Japanese rivals comes even close to its mix of practicality, performance and economy. And as for style, the Evoque’s in a class of its own. Land Rover had the right philosophy: to build the best car possible from the ground up, rather than trying to shrink a Range Rover down, and it’s paid off in spades.
But there’s a big but, and it’s price. This Evoque is so expensive, it’s not even funny. At a base price of AED235,000, you really have to want that look-at-me styling. Want it so bad you’re willing to ignore common sense, in fact. For this money, if you wanted the ultimate offroader, you could have the Toyota Land Cruiser, V8 versions starting at AED229k. Ultimate muscle car? Roush Mustang RS3, AED248k. Heck, for this price you could even get an LR4 V8, the ultimate family car.
Having said that, I think I get it what Land Rover is going for with the Evoque. They’re not chasing the muscle car crowd, or the hardcore offroaders, or families. They’re chasing young couples or singletons like me, people who value style and tactile pleasures over practicality and performance. The sort of person who would think nothing of spending AED250,000 on a fully loaded A5 or a 3-series coupe. For this (admittedly small) segment, the Evoque makes perfect sense as a way of capturing conquest sales.
For everyone else, it’s a tough sell.
Range Rover Evoque Coupe
Price: AED235,000 ($63,980)
Engine: 1999cc, direct-injection turbo four-cylinder, 240bhp @ 5500rpm, 251lb ft @ 1750rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 7.1 seconds, 217kph, 7.2L/100km
Transmission: six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive