Having British in-laws, I’m well acquainted with the national pride in all things Land Rover.
Whether it’s the rugged Defender or the older Series I, II and III that spanned post-war to the mid 1980s, these legendary off roaders have inspired more clubs and discussion groups than I care to count.
I get the Defender, with its uber-rugged, FJ-40 good looks and possibly the best vehicle name ever, but some of the older Land Rovers had a face that could stop Big Ben.
Fast forward to the current lineup, and it appears that world-class – possibly world’s best – offroad ability needn’t come at the cost of refinement, and dare I say it, sweet exterior styling.
Every model from the base Land Rover LR2, starting just under $40K, to the $150,000-plus, full-size Range Rover Autobiography, would be a welcome addition to my driveway. Yet my tester for the week, coming in at about one-third of the Range-topping Rover, is the most fetching of them all.
The 2015 Range Rover Evoque is unlike any of its brethren, more closely resembling a sport wagon than a sport utility, and is available with three or five doors. Some call it a crossover, some call it a compact SUV.
It has massive wheel arches pushed to the corners, a super-high beltline and chopped roofline, along with narrow-slit headlights and a whopping roof spoiler that colleague Jim Robinson once described as a “backward baseball cap.”
Sure, its narrowing side glass and tiny back window offer poor visibility, but when a vehicle looks this good, I’m willing to overlook a few things.
Besides, my tester came with a rearview camera.
And despite the Evoque’s visually lowered appearance, it’s only about an inch shorter than competitors like Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLK. And cargo room is competitive with 575 litres behind the 60/40-second row and 1,445 with them folded flat.
Pricing (five door) starts at $47,695, and although that may seem low for a Range Rover, it does climb sharply.
The base Evoque “Pure” comes with automatic climate control; pushbutton start; leather seating, heated and powered up front and with driver memory; heated leather steering wheel with audio, phone and cruise controls; Bluetooth; eight-inch touchscreen and 11-speaker Meridian audio system.
And on the outside, 18-inch alloy wheels, rain sensing wipers, and side mirrors with puddle lamps and integrated turn signals.
But if you want front parking sensors (not just rear), along with rear camera, heated rear seats, power tailgate and a full suite of driver aids, you’ll be exploring higher trim levels like Pure City ($49,895), Pure Plus ($52,195), Dynamic ($60,895) and Prestige ($61,295).
The Autobiography, as tested, kicks it up to $64,595, plus options like metallic paint ($1,200), satellite radio ($450), contrasting roof ($650), parallel park assist ($800), adaptive cruise control ($1,500), the driver tech package ($1,200) and freight taking the price north of $70,000.
That’s a lot of dough for a compact crossover – even the luxo variety.
The Evoque may look like a posh, urban soft roader, but it does carry serious off-road ability. Starting with 8.3 inches of ground clearance, a 25 degree approach angle and 33 degree departure angle, not to mention being able to ford nearly 20 inches of water, it’s good for more than just cottage roads.
Unlike other Range Rovers, however, which are powered by supercharged sixes and eights, the Evoque gets a turbo four.
That may seem puny for an RR, but this feisty 2.0-litre mill dishes out 240 hp and 250 lb/ft of torque, coming in at a low 1,750 rpm. That’s enough to take this 1,640 kg (3,616 lb) vehicle from rest to 100 km/h in 7.6 seconds.
And it’s smooth on the way there, thanks to the nearly imperceptible shifting of its nine-speed automatic. It’s much like a CVT, but without the offputting “rubber-band” feel under hard acceleration.
The Evoque powers up in Eco mode, which is fine in winter weather.
If, however, you expect the smallest Rover to live up to its aggressive styling, opt for ‘sport’ mode which sharpens the throttle response and remaps the transmission for later shifts. You can also choose your own gears via paddle shifters, but rowing up and down through nine of them quickly grows old.
Four-wheel-drive is on demand, with the Evoque employing an Active Driveline system.
It decouples 4WD at steady speeds above 35 km/h, but will re-engage the rear wheels within 300 milliseconds if it detects slippage. Less driveline drag means better fuel economy.
Active Torque Biasing distributes torque between the rear wheels and torque vectoring redirects it among all four wheels to counteract understeer when cornering.
My week with the 2015 Range Rover Evoque was an ideal test of the system, which worked seamlessly as I transitioned from bare pavement to slush and snow, and even to some black ice.
It was also an ideal test for the driver-selectable Terrain Response system.
Two buttons allow you to toggle between four options. “General driving” is best for those wanting to set it and forget it, “grass/gravel/snow” increases sensitivity to slippage and delivers power more gently, “sand” permits limited wheel slip, and “mud and ruts” is more aggressive in allowing wheelspin.
I did play with the settings, which worked as expected, but with infinitely variable road conditions that week, “general driving” was my go-to mode.
As much as surefootedness is a given with any Range Rover, so is interior craftsmanship – particularly in Autobiography trim.
Illuminated treadplates and soft leather upholstery welcome you to a passenger cabin that is modern, efficient and a treat for the eyes.
Chrome rings and metallic finishers surround all knobs, speakers and faceplates. A band of brushed aluminum bisects the padded upper and lower dash, with the bottom unit looking particularly sharp with its white double stitching that continues in the seats, door handles and console lid.
Autobiography models get a long content list: heated and cooled seats in front (heated in rear), five-inch multi info display, eight-inch touchscreen, InControl Apps (which acts like an extension of your smartphone), navigation, surround camera, front/rear parking sensors, heated steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, and a 17-speaker, 825-watt Meridian Sound system that really kicks it out.
Also included are 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive headlights with LED signature and powerwash function, rain-sensing wipers, power tailgate, and panoramic glass roof that fully covers both rows of seating.
My week in this vehicle ended all too soon. Some automakers claim their SUVs/crossovers “drive like a car” – the Evoque walks the talk.