Last May, I had the chance to drive the Range Rover Supercharged, the alpha dog of the Range Rover lineup. Though I was charmed by the incredible power and opulent cabin, I felt that the Range Rover was afflicted by a curse that affects many upper echelon vehicles – all the flash and features were spoilt by an underlying impracticality.
The Range Rover’s footprint was so large that it could have had its own branch of the Occupy movement, and its drinking problem was in league with Amy Winehouse. The Range Rover was conceived as a luxury vehicle to take you from your Scottish country estate to the theater and back again in total comfort, but lately, the Range Rover has been the mode of choice of wealthy urbanites, ignorant of the fact that the Range Rover’s original purpose was to serve double duty on one’s Scottish country estate as well as arriving in style at the theater. Living in in a dense, downtown core, the Range Rover was too large to quickly maneuver through traffic or parallel park with ease, and its truck roots made themselves known often.
The 21st century luxury SUV consumer may wear Barbour jackets (as an ironic fashion statement), but they’re far more likely to be an entrepreneur pitching their one-person marketing agency rather than living off an inheritance and setting off on fox hunts. Range Rover knows which way the wind is blowing it has adapted its formula accordingly with the Evoque. Gone is the big, boxy profile and the Jaguar derived V8 of the full-size Range Rover. The well-appointed cabin full of leather and aluminum remains, but the Evoque is compact, taut and futuristic looking, with a silhouette more like a MINI Countryman than a Defender 110. Sharing a platform with the Land Rover LR2 (which in turn is based on the Ford Mondeo), allows for the Evoque to opt for a much smaller form factor, and makes it the kind of vehicle you want for darting in and out of traffic, or parking in tight downtown spaces.
A transverse-mounted 2.0L turbocharged 4 cylinder (again, based off of Ford’s Ecoboost engine) makes 240 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. The Ecoboost is well-matched to the Evoque, with a broad torque band and minimal turbo lag, and the 6-speed automatic allows the Evoque cruise at a comfortably low rpm on the highway. Over 380 miles of mixed highway and city driving (and doing a steady 75 to 80 mph on the highway), the Evoque returned 24 mpg, 2 mpg better than the EPA rating. The Evoque’s demographic is likely to be the same type of person who doesn’t know if their BMW 128i is front or rear-wheel drive; the absence of a rugged track platform and V6 or V8 engine won’t bother them one bit. Despite its front-driver underpinnings, the Evoque still has a rudimentary all-wheel drive system, with classic Land Rover technologies like Hill Descent Control, but we’d give up Starbucks for a year if anybody took an Evoque on rougher terrain than a gravel driveway.
Inside, it’s clear to seasoned veterans that Land Rover (which operates the Range Rover brand as its “premium” line) has been dipping into the parts bin in a big way. The switchgear is an 80/20 mix of Land Rover and Volvo bits – hardly a bad thing, but the common usages were immediately apparent. A few Jaguar parts are included for good measure, such as the rotary shift knob that rises from the center console, and the touch-screen HVAC and audio control system, which is easy to operate and fairly intuitive. My litmus test involves asking a passenger to operate the iPod interface without any directions, and most cars tend to frustrate my guinea pigs. Not so with the Evoque, as multiple riders were able to easily and quickly navigate it without any annoyances.
The Evoque’s road manners were largely solid, but the combination of big wheels and low-profile tires, an unavoidable concession to the automotive aesthetics of our era, delivered a pretty harsh ride over less-than-perfect pavement. Road noise was kept in check much better than the ride quality, as engine sounds and wind noise were isolated from the cabin. The Evoque’s seats were especially comfortable on long jaunts, and the driving position was a good balance of both the “up high” SUV feeling that crossover buyers want, without the unnatural “lording over the commoners” stance that one finds in larger SUVs.
Such a small footprint does lend itself to some compromises. Rear seat comfort for two is fine up until the front seats are moved back to accommodate a driver or passenger over 6 feet – at that point things get a little cramped. Ditto for 3 passengers in the back. Cargo room was also diminished by the Evoque’s “evocative” styling. A grocery shop for two (at the local farmer’s market, natch) was fine, but trying to stow a full set of 15” snow tires was impossible. We ended up stuffing three in the small cargo area (which took some careful arranging) and rested one on the rear seat before the automatic tailgate would shut itself. The sloping roofline and small side windows are an obvious concession to form rather than function, and it was helpful to have the optional back-up camera on hand. To get the camera, buyers have to pony up another $1,900 for the “Vision Assist Package” or $4,000 for the “Premium Package”. Our Evoque Pure (yes, that’s the trim level) came out to $48,995 – roughly half the price of the Range Rover Supercharged we had last year. The base price of $43,995 is nearly $7,000 more than a BMW X3 xDrive28i, which seems to be the most appropriate competitor, given the X3′s turbo 4-cylinder engine and sporty nature. Other competitors, like the Volvo XC60, Mercedes-Benz GLK and Audi Q5 start closer to $35,000.
The main takeaway here is that the Evoque does everything that current Land Rover customers want – to look good, impress others, and have the satisfaction of owning a “luxury vehicle” – with only minimal drawbacks. Cargo space is reduced compares to the rest of the lineup, and rear seat comfort may not be the Evoque’s strong suit. On the other hand, the Evoque has style and presence in spades, and the overall packaging is unique, fairly practical and well-engineered (thanks in part to pilfering from other automakers). For childless young professionals, empty nesters or dog owners, the Evoque will be more than adequate, with better fuel economy and a smaller footprint than the full-fat Range Rover. For the supremely insecure, the thought of driving the “cheap” Range Rover may be paralyzing, but an informal survey of people during our photoshoot suggests that the Evoque draws a lot of positive attention from bystanders, more so than the ubiquitous black Range Rover Supercharged that so many bad drivers tend to favor in this town. Even though it is more expensive (and, for some, less practical) than the aforementioned competitors, Land Rover will sell every single Evoque they can make – and with the LR2 platform already paid off, the Evoque should be a cash cow for the brand, as well as parent company Tata.