For any readers who might have fallen behind on their Land Rover models since the brand’s departure from Ford into the capable hands of Tata Motors of India, the compact class Evoque is the fabled British carmaker’s smallest SUV. While small physically, it surely packs a big visual punch as the evocative shape is like nothing else ever offered from Land Rover.
Capitalizing on the venerable Range Rover moniker instead of any other previous model names that might turn off prospective owners, the Evoque nestles into a segment also populated with the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA, Volvo XC40 and the Lexus UX. Powered by the strongest base engine in the segment — a 237-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine — the Evoque also has the strongest starting price. Starting at $42,650 for the S model, the Evoque’s off-road capable chassis is more expensive by several thousand dollars over all of its car-based soft-roading rivals.
With the brand’s noted Terrain Response system (with selectable drive modes) aided by a nine-speed automatic and full-time AWD, the Evoque shows it is much more than a mall-conquering crossover. Now stocked with a range of electronic driving aids, more dependent on trim level than anything else, the Evoque also features the on-road capabilities that most buyers will readily use on a regular basis.
Driving, literally, over most of northern New England during the Evoque’s visit, it soon became evident that this smallest of Rovas is designed for those of a slightly smaller stature — perhaps a 38 medium, rather than a 44 tall. The footbox for the driver is smaller than anything of recent memory; the racy roofline, which looks great, is less so for visibility and cargo; and the large center console makes contact with your right leg and arm almost all of the time. This cabin is personal, snug to the point of feeling like you put the Evoque on rather than get into it — which will have strong appeal to the buyer who fits inside.
That sloping console houses a Volvo-like touchscreen panel to manage climate, terrain and traction, seat heaters and other functions, plus the electronic shift lever, which defied my intentions to quickly source “D” on too many occasions to be just sloppy hand effort. With push-button park and the slow interaction between hand inputs, the Evoque suggested that it didn’t like being hustled.
This point was reinforced as the automatic stop/start button needs to be reset after every start — a real nuisance in city driving when you want to jump into traffic gaps quickly.
Contrastingly, the powertrain is very peppy at road speeds, if sometimes too abrupt in its partial throttle reactions. Featuring a relaxed highway cadence, with a silky ride and composed handling, the Evoque helped soak up some high mileage days without protest. Fuel economy ranged from a best of 30 mpg, well above the 26-mpg EPA number, to a combined low of 22.8 mpg, which still exceeds the city EPA rating.
Definitely eye candy on the street (even standing still the Range Rover looks racy), the Evoque’s interior is equally pleasing and provides rich materials and the conveniences that buyers expect in the premium crossover class. Especially clever: if your cargo hold is full or your back-seat passengers too big to prevent seeing with your rear-view mirror, just click a button on the bottom and voila! — the mirror utilizes the back-up camera to create a color, crystal clear view to the stern!
During our time together, it was also coincidental to the debut announcements of the upcoming Land Rover Defender model, the most widely known secret in the industry on par with the mid-engine Corvette.
The Defender, the modern descendent of the original Series I and Series II Land Rovers, will go on sale in America next year. A midsize SUV with room for six with a unique front bench/bucket jump-seat layout, the Defender will be a premium off-roader that may operate in the Wrangler’s space, but certainly a notch above in price. Using a side-hinged rear gate, aluminum body, plus both four- and six-cylinder turbo engines, this Rova will be built in Slovakia for world-wide consumption. Pricing is expected to start around $50,000.
Great visuals on the Evoque, good road manners, but the electric shifter proved wanting and the expansive touchscreens would greatly benefit from some strategically integrated knobs. If you and your tailor are a trim Euro-fitted-suit kind of driver (male and female), then this baby Range Rover has a level of panache that will fit your style.