Range Rover Evoque: Range extended
Range Rover's smallest vehicle is also its biggest seller. The all-new Evoque puts it right back at the top of the baby luxo-SUV class, says William Scholes
WHEN the Range Rover Evoque first sashayed into view in 2011 it caused a bit of a stir, writes William Scholes.
For a start, it didn't look like a Range Rover. In fact, it didn't really like anything else on the road.
It looked modern, futuristic even, a vaguely cartoonish Tonka toy car made real; the real, full-size Range Rover, meanwhile, was all about timeless elegance.
Nor did it drive much like any Range Rover or Land Rover product. An Evoque with one of the more powerful engines had the pace to keep a hot hatch honest.
It handled with surprising agility as well; tenacious grip was a given thanks to an expensively engineered four-wheel-drive system, but crucially it was fun to steer.
Meanwhile, the Evoque was kitted out with enough luxury fittings - its lovely leather-trimmed seats always impressed me - to do a passable impression as a mini-me Range Rover.
It was perhaps a little too mini in the back, though. An Evoque was scrubbed from the list of contenders for a space on the Scholes family driveway because its back seats were simply so cramped and hemmed in.
And that was the five-door version - there was also an even less spacious three-door model, though I've never met anyone who made it into the back seats of one of those.
The only other bodystyle that was offered on the Evoque was, of all things, a pram-like convertible. This was presumably the result of a practical joke or someone in the company marketing department losing a bet, badly.
However, the Evoque was emphatically the right car at the right time.
Arguably, it has been the definitive small premium SUV since it launched, with an authenticity that, thanks to that Land Rover heritage, its posh rivals simply cannot match.
For example, an Audi Q3 looks a lot like a jacked up A3 hatchback, whereas the Evoque packs a 'proper' Range Rover vibe and doesn't look anything like a regular hatchback. In an image-savvy part of the market, these things matter...
The Evoque maintained its popularity and desirability over the years but there was no doubt that the passage of time had dulled its lustre.
The flush door handles look great, though after pulling up to give someone a lift I thought I was going to have to get them to climb in through the window
The in-car tech was laughably outdated, the cramped rear quarters became harder to ignore against roomier and more practical opposition and the car was hardly a paragon of eco-efficiency.
Range Rover neatly addressed all this with its shiny all-new Evoque, which arrived earlier this year.
Whether it's put it back to the very top of this hyper-competitive class is debatable; in my opinion, Volvo's brilliant XC40 is today's class leader, though by only a slender margin over the Evoque.
As you can probably tell, the Evoque essentially still looks like an, erm, Evoque. Range Rover has Velar-ised the original car, with the Evoque gaining a very similar grille and headlamp treatment to its bigger brother at the front and having the rest of its surfaces smoothed, as if the old car's sharp edges have been carefully sanded away.
They've even rubbed off the door handles. These now pop out from the doors when you unlock the car, and retract flush as you drive off.
It looks great, though it did cause a hassle when offering someone a lift; they ended up standing kerbside, unable to get in, because I couldn't work out how to make a single handle pop out.
I was going to make them climb in through the window, but settled for shutting down the car and opening the driver's door, which made all of the handles emerge from the flanks.
The handbook offered no advice on this scenario, at least that I could find.
A longer wheelbase means that, once they've unlocked the mysteries of the door handles, your back seat passengers will find the new Evoque a roomier place to sit than before.
It still isn't as spacious as the Volvo or Q3, but is nonetheless a great leap forward. The three-door, meanwhile, has been sent to a sadducee's grave.
The boot is bigger, too, but it's from the front seats that the Evoque's interior is at its most persuasive.
This is a lovely place to sit. Literally, in the case of the 'textile and ultrafabrics' upholstered pews, an attractive cloth which I think I would choose in preference to the default leather trim.
Aesthetically, too, this is a great cabin. The front is dominated by a strikingly-styled but easy-to-operate dashboard.
The Evoque remains a very nice car to drive. Less 'sporty' than before, it's a very comfortable and composed cruiser - ideally set up for Northern Ireland's roads, actually
The tech is a huge leap forward - not quite like the jump from telling the time with a sundial to a Casio G-Shock digital watch, but not far from it.
A dual-screen, two-tier infotainment system in the centre of the dashboard is the star attraction here.
It's gorgeous to look at, with crisp, clear graphics and fast response, and cleverly blends digital screens with the tactility of knobs that rotate and push, their function changing according to the menu you have selected on one of the screens.
There's also over-the-air software updates, a bunch of USB sockets and smartphone mirroring via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
You can specify Jaguar Land Rover's 'Clearsight' rear-view mirror, which places the image from a rear-facing camera on a screen in the rear-view mirror.
Aesthetically, this is a great cabin. The front is dominated by a strikingly-styled but easy-to-operate dashboard. The tech is a huge leap forward - not quite like the jump from telling the time with a sundial to a Casio G-Shock digital watch, but not far from it
I've written about this system before, and while it doubtless can be of advantage if the regular mirror's view is blocked by a fully-loaded boot or a back seat full of tall passengers, it does take your eyes a moment to change focus as you look from the road to the screen in a way you never have to with a proper rear-view mirror.
Cameras are again deployed, this time in a forward- and downwards-looking direction with Land Rover's 'see through bonnet' system, called 'Ground View'.
This puts an image of whatever is around the front wheels on the interior screen - useful for off-roading, but also for more urban conditions to help you navigate kerbs, Fermanagh potholes and such like...
For now, the Evoque is offered with a choice of three diesel engines - badged D150, D180 and D240, with the numerals matching their metric power outputs - and three petrols, labelled P200, P250 and P300.
These are all 2.0-litre four-cylinder mild-hybrid units. A plug-in hybrid is due next year - it's likely to be welcomed as the Evoque's CO2 emissions are relatively high, a consequence of its proper four-wheel-drive system and heavy kerbweight.
Three-cylinder petrols are also coming but there's no word of a full electric Evoque.
There is an entry D150 model with front-wheel-drive and a manual gearbox, but everything else has a nine-speed automatic transmission and a four-wheel-drive system likely to be capable of far more than the vast majority of owners will ever demand from it. The 60cm wading ability would have been handy during this week's monsoon conditions, though.
On regular terra firma, the Evoque remains a very nice car to drive. Less 'sporty' than before, it's a very comfortable and composed cruiser - ideally set up for Northern Ireland's roads, actually.
One drivetrain irritation was the auto box's recalcitrance from a standing start - when pulling out of a junction, for example - though it generally juggled ratios smoothly once on the move.
Some software reprogramming along the way may sort that out, and it's an uncharacteristic blot on what is otherwise a highly polished gem of a car.
Prices start just over at just over £31,000 and stretch to £50k and beyond. However, because these cars hold their value so well, they also lend themselves to some appealing finance deals.
The Evoque has such strong residual values because punters love Range Rover's baby luxo-4x4 so much. Spend time with one and it's easy to see the attraction.
AT A GLANCE
Range Rover Evoque D180 S
Price: £39,015. As tested £41,185, with Touch Pro Duo infotainment £400, 20-inch alloy wheel upgrade £1,280, Clearsight rear-view mirror £490
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, nine-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 178bhp, 317lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 127mph, 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 38.4mpg-41.3mpg (WLTP combined), 37.6mpg (real world), 150g/km
Car tax: £530 in first year, then £465 annually
Benefit in kind: 37 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (94/87/72/73), 2019