Evoque jettisons Range Rover into new territory
Even if Evoque didn't have the burden and/or benefit of its intriguing role to expand Range Rover into a more fuel-efficient segment, it would still be a thing to consider and behold. The 2012 Range Rover Evoque is one the most arresting takes on the SUV genre we've seen so far.
Take a good look
In our week with a white Evoque -- five-door in Pure trim -- we didn't encounter one soul that wasn't smitten with its looks.
Evoque is the offspring of the LRX concept and the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Concept vehicles often get their dramatic looks by flaunting oversized wheels and tires that would never be viable on a production vehicle. But Evoque's 19-inch wheels, framed by great wheel arches and pushed to the corners of the vehicle, have the effect giving this relatively small production vehicle an heroic concept car-like stance.
Furthering the visual impact is a compelling shape that slants down in a racy way, and a Range Rover face that is both rugged and sophisticated at the same time. It's not just a great looking SUV -- it's a great looking vehicle, period.
But there is a price to be paid for style. Evoque's coupe-like profile creates a smallish greenhouse, and the whole vehicle, at 4,340 mm (171 inches) in length, is not exactly limousine material. It's about as long as a Toyota Matrix (4,365 mm).
Among competitors in its $50,000-ish snack bracket, such as BMW X3, Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, Infiniti EX35, and the like, the Range Rover Evoque is definitely the most compact. This won't matter much to the driver and front-seat passenger, but rear-seat room and cargo capacity are just adequate.
When you open the tailgate, you have access to about 420 litres of cargo space, about the same as in a BMW X1, and a moon shot from something like a Ford Explorer (1,240 litres). The 60/40 split rear seats don't fold quite flat either, but at least go down and up easily.
The view and feel from the driver's seat is pure luxury, with premium design and materials. The seats don't seem that large, but are beautifully contoured and fit my back perfectly. I couldn't find one piece of regular-grade plastic. Every panel is soft and luxurious to touch. The black-on-black interior theme is broken up with real burnished aluminum trim.
The display screen and console dominate the interior, the latter housing the rotary Jaguar/Land Rover gear selector, which rises when the engine engages, and retreats back into the console when the engine is turned off.
The steering wheel heater is very powerful. Controls are a combination of rotary dials, square dials, and touch screen. Not 100 per cent intuitive, but not bad either. Like any luxury vehicle in this class, the interior is chock full of electronic wizardly, but oddly enough this model doesn't come standard with a navigation system.
Push the pedal
Much has been made about the risky decision to equip a premium SUV with a 4-cylinder powerplant. We don't have to go over that ground again. I'll just tell you that based on my time at the wheel, it doesn't feel like a 4-cylinder.
The Ford-based 2.0L I4, fitted with turbocharging and direct injection, is good for 240 horses and 250 lb-ft of torque, and launches the Evoque with surprising force. Use the paddle shifters to keep the revs up, and you'll also be serenaded with some very visceral mechanical music.
It's also very refined. I walked away once with the engine on.
The only quibble might be that it is too touchy. I seemed to always feed in more throttle than I needed, and then had to back off and finesse the pedal to find my ideal acceleration rate. The turbo seems to be always on the boil and over-eager to please.
NRCan fuel efficiency numbers for Evoque are 10.9L/100km city and 6.9L/100km highway. For comparison, the 240-hp, I6-equipped BMW X3's respective city and highway NRCan ratings are 10.9 and 7.8.
Turn the wheel
With its eager powerplant, tidy proportions, big, grippy tires, and responsive steering, the Evoque encourages the driver to fling it about whenever conditions permit. It is a lively and thoroughly enjoyable experience, though predictably safe, with understeer being present however hard the Evoque is thrown around. We didn't quite go NASCAR with the Evoque, but it's hard to image that it would ever spin around to bite you.
The ride is on the firm side, but helps give the Evoque its very controllable demeanour. Only on very rough payment do you feel some choppiness, and are aware of its comparatively short wheelbase. Generally it's great blend of comfort and control. Not on this tester, but optional is Adaptive Dynamics, featuring continuously-variable magneto-rheological dampers, and promising an even wider envelope of comfort and control.
Go over the mountain
It wouldn't be a Range Rover if it couldn't get over a hill or two. Evoque features Land Rover's full-time all-wheel drive system, which continuously varies the front/rear torque split via an electronically controlled Haldex centre coupling.
It also features the Terrain Response System, with four selectable modes: General; Gravel; Snow, Mud and Ruts; and Sand. Combined with actual ground clearance, and aggressive approach and departure angles, and you have a luxury SUV that can actually walk the talk.
Open your wallet?
Prices start at $46,995, for the "Pure" trim line, like our test vehicle. This vehicle was fitted with the optional $2,250 City Package and satellite radio ($450), to push the as-tested price to $49,695.
But if you wish, you can spend a lot more on an Evoque. You can step up to the Dynamic line for $60,095. The Prestige line gets going at $60,495. In addition to content, Pure, Dynamic and Prestige all feature differentiating cosmetic and styling bits.
If you're past the point of needing or wanting size for the dollar, and would rather have something inspiring to look at that is unique in design and execution, then the Evoque is definitely an intriguing option to consider in the premium SUV segment.
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