Test Driven: 2012 Range Rover Evoque 2-Door, Al’s Take

Galloway Green looks great on the new Evoque.

Range Rover has been probably one of the best-known names in the world for the past quarter of a century.  Their products have been described as a luxury sedan capable of going off-road.  So, with that in mind, I took a drive of their newest offering, the Evoque, at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but see one and it’s impossible not to look twice.

The Evoque is a big departure from the normal Range Rover.  When Charles Spencer King designed the first one in the Seventies, it was a true off-road vehicle with lavish appointments–a Jeep for the wealthy, country-club set.  The Evoque is their first-ever crossover SUV, and Victoria Beckham (of Spice Girls fame) was on the design team.  When I first heard about this, I was shaking my head in utter confusion–a Spice Girl designing a Range Rover?  What’s next?  Well, color me a changed man.  I took a good long look at the dark green example of the Evoque I was going to drive, and the lines are intriguing.  The shape gives it forward motion, and the integration of that classic Range Rover front end has been modernized to bring this well-heeled name into the 21st century.  The 2-door model is an interesting bird in that (probably as a result of the “style over substance” approach) its roof is lower than that of its 4-door counterpart.  Step-in was reasonably low, a nice plus.  The interior of the new Evoque blew away my expectations–everything is covered in leather or a metallic-look finish, and none of it looks out of place.  The Range Rover cues are everywhere, but they’ve all been brought up-to-date.

For a crossover, this new offering feels a lot more sporty than I expected.  The visibility was commendable, but for some reason, I felt like I was held in place better than any other small SUV or CUV; the seating position was a bit lower than I expected, and the instrumentation reminded me more of the Jaguar XKR-S than a Land Rover LR4.  The dashboard felt a little confusing at first but after a quick tutorial, I picked up on most of the major settings and found them to be exactly where they needed to be.  I don’t, however, like the gearshift much–I thought I would love the idea of a rotary selector but it’s simply irritating.  That said, the Evoque has seats that feel wide, but hold very well, along with excellent legroom up front.  The rear, though, doesn’t look as promising (but if one wants to put people in the back, a 4-door model is for sale as well).

It has 237hp, but doesn’t feel underpowered at all. This engine feels perfect in the Evoque, espeically in the Dynamic model offered at Pebble.

I put it in Sport+ and got moving, and immediately realized that this new Range Rover was a lot more than meets the eye.  Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0L inline four with 237bhp, which feels a lot more powerful than it looks on paper.  Thanks to a very smartly designed transmission (and paddles that feel like they belong there), the Evoque feels explosive from lower RPMs and can scrabble up hills better than I was expecting.  In Sport+, the whole truck actually feels like an AWD sports coupe around corners, with below-average body roll and very well-coordinated steering.  The ride is stiff, but in Comfort, it’s a lot more reasonable for highways and byways.  The only other compact premium SUV I know of with a turbocharged engine is the Acura RDX, and the Evoque feels a lot stronger around corners and leans a lot less.  The brakes felt typical of a crossover, but weren’t at all poor.

The new Evoque feels genuinely driver-focused, and the paddles on the steering wheel felt much better than on other small SUVs.

Range Rovers are all about capability, though, and this one hasn’t forgotten about that footnote–the little Evoque comes equipped with Hill Descent Control, and has approach and departure angles fitting for an off-road vehicle.  I was pretty impressed with this car, and despite its higher price, the extra amount of prestige and performance makes the premium look very reasonable compared to its rivals.  The test vehicle was fully loaded, with a grand total price of around 60 grand.  This is a lot for a two-door style statement, but the blend of comfort and sport that the new Evoque offers is impressive.  Color me very impressed.

-Al

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