A new Land Rover is big news, especially when the new Land Rover is the smallest, most fuel-efficient Land Rover ever built. Meet the 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, with base prices from $43,995 to $52,895, a 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and EPA fuel economy estimates of 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway. Let's drive.
Available in coupe (two-door) or four-door configurations, the Evoque is a compact crossover vehicle. Land Rover has branded the Evoque as a Range Rover, and it wears the name and some of the brand's distinguishing features well. The front end is especially Range Rover, with a bold cheese grater grille and a strong, flat hood (or bonnet, as the British say). The bottom edge of the hood defines the top edge of the horizontally arrayed headlamp assembly, a sly quote of the full-size Range Rover design.
Evoque's profile is very sporty, with a steeply raked windshield leading up to a low roofline that tapers downward toward the rear of the vehicle. 19" wheels (20" wheels are fitted to "Dynamic" models) are highlighted by prominent wheel arches and muscular body bulges. The four-door is 1.2" taller than the coupe, though both vehicles ride on the same 104.8" wheelbase and share identical lengths (171.5 - 171.9") and widths (77.4"). To my eye, the coupe is the more striking configuration, with a much cleaner profile. Though the vehicles that I sampled were technically pre-production or early production, the level of exterior fit and finish was superb.
In the Driver's Seat
Inside, the fit and finish story was the same -- excellent. Great workmanship has been applied to clean design, and there are some interesting material choices on the various levels of trim. Dashboards are wrapped and stitched with a vinyl fabric that looks and feels like skate. Simple, elegant instrumentation is arranged smartly behind the steering wheel, flanking a 5" color LCD driver information center. Optional ($1,750) hard disk-based GPS navigation communicates through an 8" high-definition touch-screen display, mounted in the center stack. I'd prefer the screen mounted at the top of the stack instead of the middle, to help keep my eyes closer to the road, but the screen is big and clear and the system logical and easy to use. A new partnership with high-end audio provider Meridian has resulted in an available 825-watt sound system that ranks among the best, complete with a hard drive-based jukebox, single CD player and AM/FM/HD/Sirius tuner with dual device Bluetooth Audio streaming and iPod control via USB connection.
Double stitching adds a layer of class to the leather seats, both front and rear. Second row seating swallows up fully-grown adults. The four-door is obviously easier to access than the coupe, but the coupe would be fine for occasional use. Parents of young children will prefer the four-door. A big standard Panoramic roof gives the cabin a light and airy feeling, especially when the powered sunshade is fully-retracted. Evoque's driving position is much closer to a traditional sedan's legs front than to the command seating position I've come to expect in a Land Rover. Still, the seat is comfortable, and the view of the road acceptable. Only when I got off-pavement did I wish for a higher perch. I couldn't see all four corners of the vehicle, an important point of view when navigating through trees and other obstacles. It was also difficult to discern exactly where the Evoque's hood ended -- not ideal for parking and challenging approaches. The downward-sloping rear roofline also created some visibility challenges, though I felt confident changing lanes and reversing, especially with the optional ($1,900) Vision Assist Package.
On the Road - and Off
Evoque is available with just one powertrain choice in North America, a very capable 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers and direct gas injection, connected to a six-speed automatic transmission and full time four-wheel drive. The little engine produces 240 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, scooting the Evoque from 0-60 in 7.1 seconds with a top speed of 135 mph, according to Land Rover. With its low center of gravity and short wheel base, Evoque is the best handling Land Rover on-road, with little body roll or lean apparent in cornering. It doesn't produce the headlong rush of momentum that you'll find in the bigger Range Rover Sport or Range Rover Supercharged, but Evoque is plenty of fun to toss in to the curves. There's a sophisticated suspension upgrade available, Adaptive Dynamics including Dynamic Mode, that makes things even better. My very simple understanding of this system is that Adaptive Dynamics uses MagneRide, a computer controlled magnetic damping system that changes the properties of the fluid in the dampers at very rapid rates, responding almost instantaneously to changes in road conditions. Combined with very good cabin insulation and soundproofing, Evoque gets a serene ride down the road, without losing road feel. Electronic power assisted steering keeps the right amount of response in the wheel. I'd gladly drive an Evoque from coast to coast.
I love driving off-road, and I was extremely skeptical about Evoque's potential. If you're going to paste the Land Rover name onto a vehicle, it had better be ready to rock, or you're going to hear it from the LR faithful. Nothing devalues a brand faster than a vehicle that doesn't live up to its heritage. Are you listening, Jeep Compass?
The good news is that Evoque performs very well off-road. If your off-roading is more of the dirt and gravel path variety, Evoque will not disappoint. The compact SUV is also designed to ford up to 500 mm (19.7") of water, almost over its own wheels. Minimum ground clearance is a healthy 8.4". Modest approach angles (25 degrees/19 degrees with Dynamic) keep Evoque from being a great rock climber -- but that's not what this vehicle is about, anyway. Land Rover's Terrain Response system is standard, allowing you to select the right settings to ensure that your Evoque's power gets to the ground. Despite the potentially spiky power delivery of the turbochargers, I found it easy to modulate the throttle and deliver just the right amount of controlled input to the engine, just what you need for good off-road driving. I know that there's a version of Evoque that's being prepared for the Dakar Rally. No surprise there -- Evoque really wants to be a rally car, I suspect.
Evoque is an excellent new vehicle, but it is not without its flaws. As I mentioned before, the same proportions that produce a striking exterior shape also create visibility challenges from within the vehicle. I had a bit of a time finding a comfortable position for my left foot while I was driving Evoque. My feet are big (size 14) and wide, so this might not be an issue for you. It is possible to load down Evoque with expensive luxury features, pushing its price perilously close to $60,000.
German luxury automakers have seen the compact SUV market coming, and have already leaped in with all four wheels. Mercedes-Benz's GLK, BMW's X3 and Audi's Q5 have well-staked territory. Lexus' RX, Acura's RDX, Infiniti's FX, Cadillac's SRX and Lincoln's MKX could be considered competitors as well, especially in terms of price.
Smaller SUVs and crossover vehicles are the future, so a vehicle like the Evoque was inevitable for Land Rover. Though the prospect of a new Defender is enticing, Land Rover has got to build smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles for North America in order to stay competitive and to have any hope of reaching Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by 2016. Evoque manages to be a Land Rover, or even more specifically, a Range Rover, while taking a huge step toward the future. If you're looking for an urban runabout that can still take you to the estate on the weekends, and do it in style and comfort, the 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque belongs on your list of candidates, especially if you're an anglophile (like me).