The new 2012 Range Rover Evoque is a different kind of Land Rover, aimed at urbanites who want luxury, sport-utility usefulness, and reasonable fuel economy in a compact package. The new Evoque wraps it all in a refreshingly different exterior design.
A growing segment of the market, the compact luxury SUV class is currently dominated by German offerings: BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK, and Audi Q5. All three are bigger than this new Range Rover. Not quite 172 inches long, on a 104.8-inch wheelbase, the Evoque gives away six inches in length to the GLK, more than 10 inches to the Audi and the BMW. Evoque is closer in size to the new BMW X1 (not yet on sale in the U.S.), as well as the Acura RDX.
But while it's shorter than its key competitors, it's distinctly wider, at 77.4 inches, which is 3.3 inches wider than a BMW X3. This enhances elbow room inside. Its width and low roofline, the lowest in the class, contributes to the Evoque's athletic look and aggressive stance.
Though smaller than its key German rivals, the Evoque delivers cargo versatility with a hatchback design. Fold the rear seatbacks forward and cargo capacity expands exponentially, though to be accurate the Evoque's max cargo number, 51 cubic feet, is lower than that of the three Germans.
The Evoque's interior measures up well in terms of roominess for four passengers. All the vehicles in this class are rated for five passengers, but none of them provide anything approaching comfort for a center rear seat occupant. The Evoque's interior appointments are arguably more upscale than the others, even in base trim. That's why Land Rover applied its upscale Range Rover badge to the model.
The snappy styling descends almost undiluted from the concept vehicle Land Rover unveiled at the 2008 Detroit auto show. The show car was a three-door hatchback, a body style that made it all the way to production, and one not offered by any of the Germans.
There's also a more practical five-door model. It's essentially the same size as the three-door version, and Land Rover expects that it will account for about 80 percent of the Evoque's U.S. sales.
Beyond the visual distinction, the Evoque differs from its competitors in three key areas. The first is under the hood. Other Range Rovers are propelled by V8 engines. The Evoque employs a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder adapted from Ford's Ecotec 2.0-liter, allied with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The engine is rated for 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. A four-cylinder engine is a first for Range Rover. Even the Land Rover LR2, the entry-level product for the brand, has a six-cylinder engine, as do most of the competing models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.
On the other hand, the Evoque's tidy dimensions pay off with low curb weight (by class standards), which adds up to a respectable power-to-weight ratio and respectable fuel economy ratings: 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, according to the EPA.
The second area where the Evoque stands out from its Germanic rivals is when the pavement ends and there's no more road. With a sophisticated full-time four-wheel drive system, good ground clearance, and a short wheelbase, the Evoque can tackle some pretty tough off-road terrain.
That sustains Land Rover's tradition of exceptional go-anywhere proficiency, an area of performance that's absent in the pedigrees of its competitors, which have no off-road pretensions whatsoever.
The final distinction reflects the parent company's confidence in the Evoque's unique proposition. It comes to the market with the highest price tag in its class.
The new Evoque is the smallest Range Rover ever, and as noted it's the smallest vehicle in its class. This, plus the sloping roof, does restrict interior volume compared to key competitors. On the other hand, diminutive dimensions are a plus in urban environments, as well as in rugged terrain.
The Evoque three-door coupe and five-door bodies are nearly identical in dimensions. They ride on the same 104.8-inch wheelbase. They are the same overall length, 171.5 inches. They are the same width: 83.7 inches including the mirrors, 77.4 inches with the mirrors folded. Measuring 64.4 inches tall, the five-door models are 1.2 inches taller than the coupes at 63.2 inches.
The Evoque's sassy exterior design began with the LRX, a three-door concept unveiled at the 2008 North American International Automobile Show in Detroit. It was intended primarily as a statement by the company's new design chief, Gerry McGovern, and production possibilities were very much a wait-and-see proposition.
With its back-slanting roofline, rising beltline, and short overhangs, the LRX looked a little like a large scale Mini Cooper, an impression fortified by the option of contrasting roof colors, a design distinction the Mini has used effectively.
But uniformly enthusiastic response by show-goers quickly moved the LRX out of the dream car category into production reality.
Based on the compact Land Rover LR2 platform, the two models share the same 108.4-inch wheelbase. But at 171.4 inches long, the Evoque is shorter than the LR2, its sloping roofline is some four to five inches lower, and it's distinctly wider, 77.4 inches versus 75.1.
That combination, relatively low roofline, wide stance, not much vehicle extending beyond the axles at either end, gives the Evoque an eager, sporty look that's unique in this class.
The minimum ground clearance, 8.5 inches, is at the front axle; rear axle clearance adds an inch, and the Evoque can safely ford water up to 19.7 inches deep without inhaling any of it.
The downside to the Evoque's dramatic styling is at the rear of the vehicle. The sloping roofline and ascending beltline conspire to compromise rearward vision, and sightlines in the rear quarters are limited.
On the other hand, if style wasn't important, we'd all be driving cars that look like the old Checker Marathon taxicabs. For someone who wants a compact luxury crossover that's a departure from the rectilinear mainstream, the Evoque merits a longer look.
A plethora of color combinations with two tones and different roof colors is available.
Consistent with other Range Rovers, the Evoque is handsomely appointed and attractively designed, with excellent materials and exemplary fit and finish.
An 8-inch info screen dominates the dashboard, the control layout has no mysteries, and there's the by-now expected array of telematics. We found the navigation system exceptionally easy to use. And the five-camera system that shows what's going on 360 degrees around the vehicle is very handy in tight places.
None of the foregoing is surprising. The surprising part is interior roominess. That sloping roof might suggest limited rear seat headroom, but that's not the case, even in the three-door coupe. The Evoque has 39.7 inches of headroom in the back seats, while the Coupe has 38.2 inches. Passengers over six-foot-two might find their hair brushing the ceiling, but leg room is plentiful and the Evoque's brawny width creates plenty of room, front and rear, to squirm around on longish trips. The Evoque has 40.3 inches of headroom in the front seats, the Evoque Coupe has 39.1 inches of front-seat headroom.
As noted earlier, the only caveat is the center rear seating position. The Evoque has places for five, but its center rear seat is a spot you'd reserve for people you didn't like. It's comfortable for four, not five.
Diminutive dimensions do have one other drawback, and that's cargo capacity. The Evoque five-door offers 20 cubic feet of stowage with the rear seats up, 51 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat, less than any of the German competition. For contrast, the Mercedes GLK, the next size up, offers 23 cubic feet behind the rear seats, 55 cubic feet with the seats folded down. The Evoque Coupe offers 47.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded. Evoque has 20.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, the Coupe has 19.4 cubic feet.
The Evoque's turbo four pulls smoothly, with very little throttle lag. The 6-speed automatic, which includes paddles shifters for manual operation, kicks down quickly for passing, and if the acceleration isn't exactly neck-snapping, it's respectable. Land Rover predicts 0 to 60 mph in about 7 seconds, which is certainly enough to keep up with urban traffic.
The turbocharger builds boost quickly, and it takes some practice to achieve smooth launches. We also found that it's not too difficult to confuse the computer controlling the 6-speed automatic; its electronic brain seems to balk at abrupt changes in throttle position. These are traits that become transparent to an owner over time, but there's room for improvement here nevertheless.
Suspension tuning is firm, and that trait, combined with a relatively low center of gravity (for a vehicle in this class), gives the Evoque a lively sense of agility without any apparent sacrifice in comfort. Directional changes are brisk, body roll is limited, brake feel is firm, and the words “car-like driving experience” seem to have more relevance here than with any other contender in this crossover class.
If there's any flaw in the Evoque's credentials as an urban warrior it's a limited view out the rear window, as well as in the rear quarters. Driver sightlines are critical in city driving, and the Evoque's could be better. Chalk that shortcoming up to style.
In really rough stuff, the Evoque's Range Rover credentials shine. The four-wheel-drive system employs a Haldex center differential that automatically apportions front-rear engine torque according to grip, no locking differentials, totally transparent, and very effective.
With its short front and rear overhangs (i.e., not much vehicle protruding beyond the front or rear axles), the Evoque's only all-terrain limits are its ground clearance, making its off-road limits very high indeed, in sharp contrast to its competitors.
If there's any soft spot in the Evoque's dynamic credentials, it's at the wheel. Range Rover has adopted a new electric-assist steering system that varies effort as a function of speed. It's quick, just 2.5 turns lock-to-lock, but it's also lacking in road feel. That's not a good combination. But it's another of those little quirks that owners adapt to over time.
The Evoque is a refreshing change of pace in the premium compact utility segment, with a high fun-to-drive index, off-road capability that leaves its principal competitors in the dust (or mud), good fuel economy, handsome interior design and first-rate materials, supportive seats, and, its trump card, head-turning good looks. The big question is whether those heads will continue to be turned after prospective buyers get a look at the bottom line on the window sticker.