Some days the stars will align and you’ll get very lucky. This just so happened to be the situation that I found myself in, on a beautiful sunny day when I was handed the key to a brand-new Range Rover Evoque.
This was a dealer model SD4 2.2L Diesel Auto with almost every toy inside. But we will come back to the inside. First let’s start with the outside of the Evoque. The Evoque has to be one of the most dramatically designed vehicles available to purchase today. This is true in both its five door and three door guise. I didn’t have the coupe, I had the five door to hand.
The first thing you notice is just how striking the vehicle is. The lines leading from the bonnet all the way to the tailgate are well defined and hinted at its off-road family heritage.
It is by no means a small car. Yes it may be the smallest of the Range Rover family but it is still considerably larger than the popular crossovers available today. This is a very good thing because today’s crossovers are merely extended hatchbacks and lack the level of respectability that the Evoque comes with.
For most people it’s an urban vehicle, that will come as no surprise given 90% of them will be driven by the affluent ladies and gentlemen of your local city centre. But don’t let that confuse the point that this vehicle will function perfectly well off road. It’s high ground clearance and it’s excellent choice of tires give you the feeling that you can actually use this vehicle anywhere. James May did put that to the test on Top Gear, driving it through the Nevada desert, but then again they’ve got considerably higher budget than a couple of blogs.
Let’s move inside shall we? That of course is a rhetorical question. The best place to be is in a Range Rover. This is undoubtedly true about the Evoque. The fit and finish of this vehicle is nothing short of German. That is meant to simply say that there are certain levels of workmanship available in the automotive industry. At the very top tier we have Rolls-Royce and we have Bentley, two magnificent British brands, both now German companies. Both of those marks exemplify outstanding quality, so does Jaguar Land Rover. Over the last few years the resurgence in excellence from Jaguar has been evident in XF and the new XJ. This quality has found itself transplanted into the Range Rover family. When you plant your bum into the finely upholstered seats and just run your eyes over the consoles you can really start to see where your money goes when you buy one of these. The stitched leather and leather effect plastic make for a very modern yet classically styled cabin.
Prior to getting into the Range Rover I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pre-released version of the Jaguar XJ, the most recent iteration. The steering wheel in the Range Rover is of the same quality and feel of that of the XJ. This is a very good start I thought.
As I mentioned above, the Evoque I had was filled with toys. The keyless system worked exceedingly well. Handy when you want to go for a drive. As ever it’s the small touches that outline quality. For example pressing the ignition button raises the gear selector out from the centre console. Again with the modern addition to many high-end vehicles of an automatic parking brake you can simply turn the gear selector to drive and go. If it were any simpler it would be electric.
Simple yes but not smooth. We will come back to the gearbox later.
Returning back to the cabin, above me was the panoramic roof option which opens out the vehicle beautifully, especially on a sunny day and really adds a certain level of grandeur to driving. It does feel like you’re piloting conservatory. It certainly doesn’t handle like one though. All of the buttons on the centre console and on the dashboard are made from a reassuringly tough plastic. Not quite as dense as that found in a VW group car but certainly better than that found an American or Japanese vehicle. This car happened to be blessed with full satellite navigation, television and the screen that lets the passenger to view one output and the driver to view another. A feature that first appeared in the Range Rover and in the Mercedes S class alike. Toys like this make vehicle feel expensive. It should, these are not cheep options. Inside are also fully adjustable electric seats with heating and a full complement of buttons to press when you want to go off road.
So now for the most important part of any car, what is it like to drive?
Well, firstly the Evoque does not feel as big as it is. Surprisingly nimble, with body roll comparable to a large saloon but less of that thank of a larger 4×4 vehicle. It’s certainly moved around a lot less than other crossover vehicles do, this may have a lot to do with adaptive suspension. The steering is relatively sharp for an electric steering setup. After driving cars with other electric steering setups you can feel very disconnected from the driving experience, some people call this a bad thing. I personally say that if you want to driver’s car, buy a Lotus. If you want something to cruise around in and go up and down motorways, It’s perfectly fine. That said, electric steering setups can very often be improved by a good chassis setup. For instance the VW Scirocco.
The issues start to appear when you want to change gear. Wanting to change gear is a very odd sensation in an automatic. The gearbox has several settings and several modes, when in normal Drive mode, the car is very comfortable but can be very slow to respond when you put the hammer down. The situation improves slightly when you engage Sport mode. This sharpens up the throttle response considerably and effectively means of the car changes gear when the revs start to tickle the redline. Using the paddles on the automatic to shift gear is just as quick as letting the automatic gearbox do the job. It is by no means anywhere near as good as a double clutch setups available or any of the fast responding BMW gearboxes. I would in all honesty save my money and go for the manual, especially with the 2.2 L diesel.
The driving position is very nice if a little alien. Again this car is considerably smaller than the rest of its family, thought you sat almost as high as you do when you’re in a Range Rover Sport. This does feel very odd but reassuring. After only a few moments driving you can understand why so many people buy these for the feeling of safety not only in size, but in how far ahead you can see.
So the overall verdict. The Range Rover Evoque is a fantastic addition to the company’s product line. Like some cars in different categories it really does have little or no competition. Like the VW CC or the Lotus Elise. Some will argue that the likes of Audi and BMW offer compellable vehicles, but the truth of the matter is that they are just simply stretched versions of their existing cars on their existing platforms. Whereas the Range Rover Evoque is a completely new offering and is styled so very differently from everything else that it is creating it’s own niche.
But can I recommend the car? Yes, is the short answer.
I can recommend it for anybody that wants an exceedingly well built vehicle with a huge range of options that will likely last for a considerable amount of years and given current trends, hold on to its value fairly well. This could be all the car you ever need, could be. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. Firstly in power. I foresee that there will be, at some point, a version of this vehicle offered with a 3 L V6 diesel engine likely termed the Evoque Sport Diesel. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the new F-type’s supercharged V6 petrol end up in there as well.
But would I buy one with my own money? No.
My personal preference leads me to other vehicles and getting more for my money. If I want to go out with £34,000 today I wouldn’t buy a mid-level Evoque. That’s what you get for this money remember, the model that I tested is priced somewhere in region of £41,000. I would take that money and buy a 2011 Audi A7 Sportback S-line 3 L TDI. It’s faster, just as economical, arguably slightly better built and has a higher level of standard specification kit.
But that’s just me. I’d pick a super saloon over a 4×4 any day.
[This review was written for Engage Sports Mode in July 2012]