by LARRY PRINTZ
photography courtesy of LAND ROVER
It sounded as if they were doing us a favor.
Range Rover execs had put us, a bunch of journalists who had traveled to Vancouver to sample the 2012 Evoque, into water taxis, explaining that we were being ferried to our test vehicles. They’d been parked on the north side of Vancouver Bay so we wouldn’t have to waste time fighting rush hour traffic. It seemed very thoughtful.
The vehicles were on the north side of the bay, all right, but they were parked on a barge just offshore. This is where I soon found myself, in a new five-door Evoque, contemplating what would come next.
The barge ramp lowered, and I was instructed to drive down the ramp, into the water and onto the beach before hitting blacktop.
This vehicle, like other Range Rovers, made easy work of the tide; it can ford up to 19.7 inches of water. But the Evoque isn’t your typical Range Rover.
It’s no secret that automakers must meet ever more stringent fuel economy requirements, forcing luxury brands to rework their lineups to please the EPA.
This is crucial for Range Rover and its parent brand, Land Rover. Its all-SUV lineup is an oil baron’s dream. The Range Rover is rated at 12 mpg city, 18 highway. The Range Rover Sport does little better: 13 and 18. The LR4 checks in at 12 and 17. Only the Land Rover LR2, at 15 and 22 mpg, breaks through the 20 mpg mark.
By contrast, the Evoque clocks in at 18 mpg city, 28 highway.
And it should come as little surprise that the brand’s newest model is its smallest. It’s a mere 171 inches long, some 17 inches shorter, 8 inches lower and 1 inch narrower than a Range Rover Sport. Yet it has all the expected Range Rover styling cues: the clamshell hood, the roof that appears to be floating and wheels pushed to the farthest corners of the vehicle.
These elements now blend with sporty design aesthetic that suggests an athlete ready to pounce. It’s quite a visual shift for a brand whose vehicle design traditionally has the formality of an upright four-wheel-drive drawing room.
Stylistically, there’s little penalty for choosing the five-door model over the three-door. Realistically, there’s little penalty as well: Cabin space is virtually identical in the two. There’s good room for four people, a feeling enhanced by a large, fixed, glass roof. The driving position has the same commanding, upright feel of tonier Range Rovers. And while you might miss the extra space you’d get in those models, the Evoque’s stark, contemporary interior exudes a hip, European vibe.
The base model is called the Pure, and its monochromatic interior has the fewest bits of excess, while its exterior most closely resembles the LRX concept car on which the Evoque is based.
Next in line is the Prestige, which boasts the softest leather, real wood and metal accents, and a dual-tone interior that looks custom-made.
For those stepping up to the Evoque from a sports sedan or coupe, the top-of-the-line Dynamic is the ticket. Outside, the body is trimmed with unique bumper sills, grille and exhaust. Contrasting roof and spoiler colors are optional. Inside, the dark ambience is offset by splashes of bold color and perforated leather.
Certainly the Evoque has style, more so than any prior Range Rover. But does it come at the expense of capability?
At first glance, you might think so, since engineers started with the Land Rover LR2 platform. But look a little deeper. Almost 90 percent of the car is new, with particular attention paid to the Evoque’s steering precision and low-speed feel. This is important given that the Evoque is expected to spend most of its time in urban environs. It drives like a great sports sedan, rather than a cargo-friendly SUV. This vehicle can cut and thrust through the worst clogged arteries with the agility of something with two doors, red paint and an unpronounceable exotic name.
Part of the credit goes to a system that Range Rover calls MagneRide, a name that refers to a magnetic fluid used in the electronic damping system. It measures vehicle motion 1,000 times a second, allowing the Evoque to detect changes in road surface and alter the car’s systems within two milliseconds.
Of course, there’s also Range Rover’s Terrain Response system, which allows the driver to adjust to specific road conditions, including general driving, grass/gravel/snow, mud and ruts, and sand. Other traction aids include traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, stability control, roll stability control and trailer sway assist. There’s also hill descent control, which allows you crawl downhill without doing a thing. The Evoque brakes for you. As the grade eases, so does braking.
Moving this 3,902-pound compact SUV is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine built by Ford of Europe. Power flows to an all-wheel-drive system through a six-speed automatic transmission. This may sound meager, but the Evoque easily reaches 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, faster than the larger Range Rover Sport.
The day’s driving took found us driving north, away from civilization through breathtaking vistas. About two hours north of Vancouver, we started climbing unpaved mountain roads. The air was growing thinner; the sky darkened. The landscape took on an intensely frightening beauty. Then it started snowing. Horizontally. With snow quickly accumulating on the roads, our guides from Land Rover debated how much farther to drive.
They decided to climb one more hill before heading back.
It wasn’t a large hill, but it had a pretty significant incline and was densely covered with a significant amount of freshly fallen powder. It seemed a fitting challenge to this new rig’s ability.
Our guides went first, effortlessly tackling it in their Land Rover LR4, which has a crucial advantage over the Evoque: The LR4’s four-wheel-drive system can be locked into low gear. The Evoque’s can’t.
So it wasn’t surprising when the first Evoque struggled to make it over the top of the hill. The second one had to back down the hill and make a second crack at it.
As I watched, I wondered whether this was the result of poor driving skill or a vehicle that appeared to be something it wasn’t.
I was next. I turned to my driving partner, a journalist from Connecticut.
“I don’t know about you,” I said, “but I have never gotten stuck in the snow and I am not about to start now. So hang on.”
I accelerated forcefully, pouring on the power right to the edge of wheel spin to ensure enough momentum to climb the hill. We plowed through the snow, the back end twitching but not losing traction. We maintained our momentum as we crested the ridge. The Evoque had performed flawlessly.
As we got out of the vehicle, there was cheering and clapping from the Land Rover team. “That’s how it’s done,” said one of the Land Rover drivers.
“I know how to drive in snow,” I replied. “Besides, I remember what I learned at Land Rover driving school.”
“What you don’t realize is that you are driving a Dynamic model,” the driver said. “You did that on 20-inch summer performance tires.”
I was shocked.
Until then, I expected this to be little more than a tarted-up Land Rover LR2, a pretender to the throne of legendary off-roaders. All looks, no brawn; big hat, no cattle. But my foray up the hill proved otherwise.
The Evoque is capable, like all Range Rovers. Its small size and agile manner make it the perfect vehicle for pub crawler and rock crawler alike.
And it does so with a fetching Savile Row swagger. But then again, I always had a thing for British accents.
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive wheels: All-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 104.8 inches
Length: 171.9 inches
Axle clearance: 8.4 inches
Wading depth: 19.7 inches
Weight: 3,902 pounds
EPA rating (city/highway): 18/28 mpg
Base prices: $43,995 (five-door) $44,995 (three-door)
Where to find it: Phillips Land Rover, Virginia Beach